"The real change in the next years regarding tourism sustainability is going to happen at the destination level. Destinations are the ones most affected by the not so pretty consequences of more and more tourist arrivals"
Dr Florian Kaefer is the Founder and Editor of The Place Brand Observer and the Sustainability Leaders Project, based in Girona near Barcelona, Spain. He holds a PhD in Management Communication from the University of Waikato, New Zealand and an MSc in Sustainable Development from the University of Exeter, UK. As a researcher, journalist and entrepreneur he is "on a quest to demystify Place Branding" and to connect academics with practitioners. His main interests are in the reputation and perceptions of places, sustainability and tourism.
ecoclub.com: You have researched tourism sustainability at the highest academic level and also interviewed over a hundred sustainable tourism leaders, as you call them, during the past years. The problem is when few follow the leaders, when real followers are even fewer than the leaders. Do you feel that large, mainstream, tourism businesses are finally following? Have they finally understood and endorsed the concept of sustainability and its linkages with climate change or do they mostly go through the moves without implementing serious changes, mostly for image-making purposes?
Florian Kaefer: At the moment we have both: tourism businesses whose sustainability initiatives aim at creating or maintaining a positive reputation in the eyes of stakeholders, and those who are taking bolder actions because they have understood that sustainability is no longer just about being a responsible corporate citizen or about promoting a ‘green’ product or experience.
Especially for tourism businesses and destinations, being sustainable - as much as possible - is about remaining competitive, surviving as industry and maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of those in charge of ensuring the livability, attractiveness and reputation of destinations, be they cities or rural regions.
For a long time, tourism got away with being a laggard in the sustainability sense because we all treasure our vacation time, which is also the time during the year where we want to disconnect and not worry about all those things. In addition, promotional campaigns in tourism have done a great job emphasising the beautiful, exotic and exciting, so unless you live in a tourist destination or make a conscious effort to look behind the scenes, you won’t notice the bad and ugly.
But I also think that we are now at a stage where we’ve realised that tourism activities will never be entirely sustainable, for instance, due to air travel which in many cases is necessary to reach a destination, especially islands. That’s why we now hear the more cautious terms Responsible Tourism, or – as South Africa’s Heidi van der Watt explained in her interview with the Sustainability Leaders Project, Better Tourism.
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