Professor Harold Goodwin: "Travel and tourism still lags behind some of the other sectors in retailing where organic, fair trade and eco-friendly products are much more evident on the high street".
Professor Harold Goodwin teaches Responsible Tourism Management in the post-graduate International Centre for Responsible Tourism at the Leeds Beckett University. He has worked as a consultant and researcher for the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the European Union, the UK's DFID, the World Bank, KPMG, Deloitte & Touche and the International Trade Centre. In 1998 he wrote a briefing paper on Tourism and Poverty Elimination which led to DFID's initiative on Pro-Poor Tourism at CSD7 in 1999. He is a member of the PPT Partnership (Web: www.propoortourism.org.uk) and has worked on tourism and local economic development in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. He drafted the World Tourism Organization's 2002 Report on Tourism and Poverty Alleviation and is working on their PPT Manual. In August 2002 he co-chaired the WSSD event which produced the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations. Professor Goodwin has worked on national and local policy in Bhutan, The Gambia and South Africa.
The International Centre for Responsible Tourism (ICRT) (Web: www.icrtourism.org) at Leeds Beckett University is a post-graduate training and research centre. The ICRT has played a leading role in the responsible tourism movement through research and development work with the industry and government, and our students are playing leading roles in this movement. The MSc in Responsible Tourism Management is taught by Professor Harold Goodwin, Dr Xavier Font and Dr Janet Cochrane and visiting faculty, all of whom are active in tourism businesses, government, the media, campaigns, national or international consultancy or research. The course is taught by expert practitioners and we provide high quality tutorial support in Leeds and London - and where appropriate elsewhere. This course tackles the key issue of how to make better places for people to live and work; and for people to visit. The course adopts a triple bottom line approach to sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – and is market orientated, looking at both the supply and demand issues.
(The Interview follows:)
ECOCLUB.com: If a Martian being landed on earth and read about the urgent need for Responsible Tourism, it would deduce that Tourism on this planet was largely irresponsible. Is Tourism irresponsible, compared to other sectors?
Professor Harold Goodwin: The situation is mixed there are lots of different kinds of tourism in many different environments and cultures, one of the problems is that there is far too much crass oversimplification. If asked specifically about the UK I would say that travel and tourism still lags behind some of the other sectors in retailing where organic, fair trade and eco-friendly products are much more evident on the high street. Our campaigning has had success in the adventure and activities markets in particular – but there is a long way to go in converting the mainstream operators to a proactive approach.
ECOCLUB.com: How easy is it for the layperson, but also the academic, to determine if a tour operation is responsible? And in this respect is Responsible Tourism Certification feasible? is it useful, or can it only be little more than a marketing exercise?
Professor Harold Goodwin: One of the key principles of Responsible Tourism is transparency; the enterprise or NGO initiative has to be clear about what it is saying is responsible about its practice, it cannot hide behind an ecolabel. There is a broad agenda and no enterprise or project does everything which may be possible. Travellers and holidaymakers are increasingly aware of the issue and they can talk with waiters and chambermaids about wages, they can tell whether the towels are left on the rail or whether they get clean ones even when they do not ask for them. One of the strengths of the concept of Responsible Tourism is its respect for the diversity of the earth’s environments and cultures. There is no one label for grading hotel rooms, there is a plethora of ecolabels mostly meaningless to the travelling public. A certification label is not the way to go.
ECOCLUB.com: You are currently launching the International Centre for Responsible Tourism in Leeds University, UK. Was this mostly in response to increasing demand from students, or from businesses? In fact, how easy is getting a job in responsible tourism, for someone who would have completed courses as yours? Some employers complaints that people who graduate from tourism university courses do not possess the technical skills, or even the basic knowledge required for the day to day operation of tourism businesses, such as geography. Conversely, the vast majority of tourism employees will never go anywhere near a university. Do you have any plans for them also, perhaps through distant, on- line courses?
Professor Harold Goodwin: Moving the ICRT to Leeds Beckett has provided a much stronger base from which to built its work and the inclusion of Janet Cochrane and Xavier Font in the core team has given us a lot more capacity. Most of our students are mid-career or wanting to move into some form of responsible tourism. Our alumni include people, who have gone on to work in consultancy, to work in local government, for tour operators, in journalism, or wildlife tourism and national parks; some have established successful businesses. ResponsibleTravel.com was born out of the ICRT course when Justin Francis was a student, and I co-founded the company with him although I have since sold my shares and I am no longer involved. The ICRT is working with the UK Federation of Tour Operators on a training programme for the industry.
ECOCLUB.com: Tourism and Responsible Tourism Academic institutions are increasingly getting involved in business research & projects. Is there a downside with responsible tourism research quality and agenda being driven down by private sector interests, rather than by higher ethics & responsibility, or is this simply a win-win process of "linking research supply to industry research demand"?
Professor Harold Goodwin: As is often the case the reality lies somewhere between these two propositions, without mainstream commercial engagement we are doing no more than rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. Academia has the responsibility to demonstrate what can be done, to demonstrate what difference it makes and provide reliable information. Academia failed to do that for ecotourism and for community-based tourism. Too many nice stories, too much blah, blah – too little objective measurement or reporting of impacts. Academia is lagging behind the industry. At the ICRT we are pushing for properly researched examples of good practice with quantifiable evidence.
ECOCLUB.com: Responsibility is a noble, hard to dispute principle, but how easy is responsible tourism to practice & attain? Is it essentially getting tourists to follow willy-nilly a certain practical code of conduct, does it require a higher level of education & ethics, does it involve costly adjustments and sacrifices by private tourism interests - higher salaries, donations, lower profits - or does it also require deliberate state policies & planning?
Professor Harold Goodwin: Responsible Tourism is about all those involved – tourists, local government, hotels, tour operators in the destinations and the originating markets, journalists and communities – taking responsibility for doing what they can to “make better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” There may be additional costs, it may require that people improve their knowledge and practise – it all depends how the responsibility is being exercised and what is being achieved. Very often it pays off in a better product, a better experience, lower operating costs or better PR exposure. It is about changing the way tourism is delivered in ways that provide a better experience for the tourists and a better environment and living conditions for local people.
ECOCLUB.com: Are large tour operators guilty-until-proven-innocent? Is there genuine interest in responsible tourism in large , mainstream tour operators or are they simply wary (and tired sometimes) of being labelled irresponsible, and lose sales? Are smaller outfits, by definition, or in practice, any more responsible?
Professor Harold Goodwin: One of the problems about this debate is that it is little more than name calling, It is not the scale of operation that makes the difference, the questions is in what way is the business being responsible, in what ways is the business being irresponsible, what are it impacts? There is a lot of mindless criticism of all inclusives, it all depends on how the all inclusive is run. Some are goods, some are less good, some have serious negative consequences, and we need to be able to tell the difference and work to make them all better.
ECOCLUB.com: Some journalists endlessly 'worry' that travellers, or 'consumers' as they prefer to call them, are getting 'confused' by all the different brands of tourism and then they inadvertently oblige by trying to define these genres by themselves, adding to any confusion. With the clout of a respected tourism academic, would you say that Responsible Tourism is essentially different than Ethical Tourism, pro-poor Tourism, or Sustainable Tourism or even less successful terms such as Geotourism? Is there a natural cause for the proliferation of 'Tourisms perhaps due to competition by underlying organisations and interests - or could it be simply that the 'market' needs new 'Tourism brands' every few years. And if so, should we be expecting the next brand soon?
Professor Harold Goodwin: I am often interviewed by journalists whose basic ignorance of these debates I find quite shocking. I think that we need to get travel and tourism on to the agenda of other parts of the papers where there is often more awareness of the ethical and responsible consumer debate. Travel journalists need to behave more responsibly about how they report and write – that said there has been a dramatic improvement in the UK as research by Cathy Mack for her MSc at the ICRT demonstrated. Responsible Tourism is about stakeholders taking responsibility for making the changes necessary to make tourism more ethical and sustainable. Pro-Poor tourism is not a product – any form of tourism can increase the benefits which it creates for the poor, pro-poor tourism is any form of tourism which creates net benefits for the poor. Full stop. It is that simple. Pro-poor Tourism is one of the ways in which a business can increase its responsibility. My first work on tourism was a three year comparative study on the impact of tourism at three national parks - two in Asia and one in Africa. What I learnt from that was that the good practices of ecotourism operators had little impact at those three parks because the mainstream industry used the same places, without making any significant contribution either to conservation or to the livelihoods of local communities. The reports are available on line at www.haroldgoodwin.info/resources/vol4.pdf What I took away from that work was the importance of addressing the mainstream operators, we have to address the mainstream industry and we have to be able to quantify the impacts of different kinds of tourism in practise. For example I do not think that all-inclusives are inherently worse than non-all- inclusives. Circumstances alter cases. What matters are the net impacts- positive less negatives - of particular forms of tourism in practise in particular places. One of the key challenges is to be able to quantify and report the results of different initiatives. We need to move on from the theoretical to the empirical and we need to challenge the mainstream industry to perform better.
ECOCLUB.com: As someone who has been closely involved with responsible tourism from its birth as a term, what do you consider milestones in its short history?
Professor Harold Goodwin: Responsible Tourism originated in the work of Joist Krippendorf in Switzerland, Auliana Poon and others developed and applied it in the South African White Paper on tourism development post-apartheid in 1996. I worked with Dan Rees at VSO, he is now with the Ethical Trade Initiative, and others in the nineties campaigning for change in the UK industry and in 2000 the Association of Independent Tour Operators committed to RT. We did the technical assistance for the South African government’s guidelines for practice in 2001 and these became the sector planning guidelines for South Africa in 2002. In the same year we held the Cape Town International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations as a side event to the World Summit on Sustainable Development and agreed the Cape Town Declaration. This remains the best most inclusive definition of RT, one which respects the diversity of the world’s cultural and natural heritage and the diverse responsible efforts which are made to maintain it. In 2003 we launched the annual Responsible Tourism Awards sponsored by First Choice and now by Virgin Holidays. The next stage is the 5 year review in Kerala in March 2008 and the launching of a web forum to encourage whistle blowing and debate about irresponsibility.
ECOCLUB.com: Whose responsibility, whose ethics? Is it an accident that responsible tourism was born in the UK? Are perhaps current UK/ 'western' / 'free-market' / 'social-democratic' ethics, rather than - say - 'Venezuelan' ethics or 'World Social Forum' ethics -driving the responsible tourism agenda? Or by holding the Second International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations in 2008 in the south Indian state of Kerala, a state famously ruled by Marxist governments for most of the past 50 years, you wish to prove the opposite? In the end, is responsible tourism an apolitical industry sector, or some sort of a loose social movement? Which of the two would be more effective?
Professor Harold Goodwin: Responsible tourism was not born in the UK, its antecedent’s are in Switzerland and South Africa. It worked in the UK because we campaigned and pushed over a prolonged period. In the UK it is primarily market driven, so is action on climate change. The UK like other tourist originating countries is unable to regulate what happens in other people’s destinations – and nor should it be. There is also a case for government action at local level to regulate tourism impacts and much of my more recent work has been addressing that agenda. Unfortunately governments are reluctant.
ECOCLUB.com: Some sceptics argue, perhaps a victim of its own success, the agents of responsible tourism reform, i.e. the average tourist, does not have either the time or the will to feel accountable to the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, during their 'sacred' 'hard-earned' holidays, or to comprehend local sensitivities. They mainly choose a responsible holiday on the grounds of price, novelty and exoticism, of being trendy and perhaps being compatible with shallow, mainstream political correctness back home, or for some work-related or egoistic motive, such as adding a catchy paragraph in a CV. Is this constructive scepticism that points that a lot more needs to be done to win the minds and souls of responsible travellers, or is it destructive, utopic cynicism, as there can only be a few considerate tourists, and businesses can not live on those?
Professor Harold Goodwin: This is an impossible question to answer briefly and it is an area where we need much more research, but it is expensive research. We know that a growing proportion of the population aspires to have a holiday with responsible elements up from 47% in 1999 to 52% in 2001, same survey same question, same polling company. There is an aspirational trend, increasing numbers of people have the aspiration – if price and other elements are broadly comparable they’ll choose the more responsible option. Why is a more complex question – wanting a guilt free more satisfying, more real experience. Most people want to feel better about themselves and to feel that they’ve done good, or at least done no harm. It is that human spirit that responsible tourism appeals to – and I think it will continue to appeal. This is not fashion it is a clear consumer trend. Travel and tourism companies will ignore it at their peril.
ECOCLUB.com: Finally, how satisfied are you with the progress of responsible tourism around the world thus far? How responsible is responsible tourism today? And can a responsible tourism business really be ethical and profitable at the same time?
Professor Harold Goodwin: I am not satisfied. There is a long way to go, but we have made considerable progress, and the ICRT and others are creating more and more activist professionals all the time. When we did training for AITO on RT in 2001 one of the directors of a company who turned up said that he’d come along because the best applicant at a recent interview had asked about their RT policy – he now wanted one. There are many responsible and profitable businesses – RT is one of the ways of avoiding competing only on price, it can be a route to profitability. Responsible Tourism has many of the characteristics of a broad and diverse social movement.
ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much
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