The meaning of responsible tourism

29 Oct 2006

This morning Terra Madre hosted a discussion of responsible tourism and hospitality culture. The meeting’s objective was to allow people to share experiences and join forces in creating an alternative to the “plastic tourism” of the type offered by huge luxury resorts that offer prepackaged vacations. Smaller communities are meanwhile trying to find ways to offer more “slow” kind of tourism, one that would involve true sharing between guests and their hosts and a journey, not just a vacation, that could become an educational and cultural experience.

It is not easy to compete with multinational vacation providers, but there have been some courageous attempts all over the world. Today there are associations that represent them, as well as cooperatives, and tourism entities from all over the world, from Gozo in Malta, to Ecuador, to Belarus, have offered their advice on becoming involved in responsible tourism.

The fundamental issue is courage – no one should be ashamed of the activities or the products they offer, because teaching guests about the cultural context they are inhabiting, however briefly and simply, can add a great deal of value to a vacation.

One should also make an effort to expose tourists not only to culture, but also to practical experiences. In Wendey Barrey’s agriturismo in Scotland, for example, no guest can get out of helping prepare dinner. “If they don’t cook in a manner befitting Scottish tradition, they don’t eat,” laughs Wendey.

All of the presenters wished to emphasize that responsible tourism, if done properly, can become a lucrative enterprise. That aspect of it, however, should never become a substitute for the principles that inspire responsible tourism in the first place.

“We are first of all shepherds, farmers, herders; only then are we restaurateurs or hotel managers!” concluded a buoyant Ms. Barrey.

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