Sustainable tourism has received a vote of confidence from United Nations. 2017 has been declared International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. It is the second time in 15 years that United Nation recognises sustainable tourism. The first recognition came in 2002, when the year was declared the International Year of Ecotourism.
That sustainable tourism is significant in the future and growth of tourism is now evident. From 2002 to 2017 declarations, the momentum to create awareness and make sustainable tourism the norm and not a niche market has been sustained. Nations, private and public organisations have developed tools or put in place systems for enhancement, implementation, monitoring & evaluation, measurement, recognition, and reporting sustainable tourism and sustainability in tourism. Some of the international organisations that have engaged include:
- UNWTO – United Nations World Tourism Organisation
- GSTC – Global Sustainable Tourism Council
- IUCN – Green Destination Guidelines
- UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
- WTTC -World Travel & Tourism Council
The role of advocacy organisations like Global Ecotourism Network, The International Ecotourism Society, Global Sustainable Tourism Council, National Geographic, and SKAL has also escalated through conferences, awards, and development of standards. In academics, the contribution has come through curriculum development for graduate and postgraduate studies in sustainable tourism. The extensive research in this field is a further affirmation of the relevance and significance of sustainable tourism in the future and growth of tourism.
Suffice to say the engagement of these organisations, and the UN recognition has given tourism an opportunity to transform into a Real People Impact (RPI) industry. This has led to a shift of focus from simply complying with standards to enhancing visitor experience and safeguarding people and planet rights. However, obstacles remain to realising a real transformation of tourism into an RPI industry
Contrary to common belief, this year is not about creating events and celebrations with short-term focus. It is about making long-term commitments that will transform tourism to a Real People Impact RPI industry.
Therefore, if significant gains are going to be made from IYE2017, nations must put in place systems that will contribute to ending tourism as we know it. . Focus must shift to ethical people engagement. This will call for bold actions by all to confront and deal with obstacles. What are some of these obstacles
Sustainable tourism will not be realised if tourism remains exclusive. Tourism has become increasingly exclusive, locking out residents and/or, host communities from places and resources. Here in Kenya, our beaches stand out. Access to beaches, which should have been public areas, have been restricted, through exclusionist systems, perpetuated by capitalist tendencies, in the name of enhancing guest experiences. The old ways of doing tourism assume tourists do not want to interact with Properly designed host and guest interaction can enhance visitor experience
Parks are other examples of exclusive tourism. History has confirmed that locking out host community’s form interacting with parks has not saved our wildlife. Reports indicate that Kenya has lost more than 40% of our wildlife in 40 years despite running efficient exclusionist park systems. Yet studies show that integrating managed livestock grazing in parks can yield positive results.
Other forms of exclusion are manifested in designs that do not consider people with disabilities. They are excluded for using or working in these facilities by the design
Unfair labour practices
It is not enough that tourism creates jobs. It must create reliable work programs that respect employee rights. Unfair labour practices is, a problem among unconscious tourism businesses. Two forms of injustices define unfair labour practices in tourism
- Season-based employment, which deny employees benefits associated with continuous long-term employment. In areas where tourism is seasonal, companies are known to release employees, with no pay, during low season. Most employees can be described as casual labourers
- Denial of right to belong to a union. Most employers in tourism deny their workers the right to join unions. This is made easy because a majority of their staff fall in the casual labour group and the rest are considered management.
The consequence of season based contracts and denial of rights to belong to unions is low wages and poverty. How else can tourism explain high levels of poverty in established tourism destinations, where tourism in the key economic activity?
Persistent poverty in established tourism destinations in developing countries can also be attributed to high levels of leakages of tourism income. When there are no linkages between formal tourism sector and local economy, leakages occur. The percentages of leakages are high where there is limited capacity by local economy to deliver goods and services required by visitors. The importation of these goods and services reduces the amount of tourism income left in the local economy. As part of transforming tourism towards sustainability the overall tourism strategy of nations must provide for skills development and creation of linkages
Irresponsible consumption is an obstacle to transforming tourism to a Real People Impact (RPI) industry. Irresponsible consumption patterns in tourism are characterised by unwillingness to pay competitive prices for services and products procured from local areas, buying from brokers who exploit local producers instead of building capacity of local producers to attain consistency in supply and appropriate quality. Lack of attention to supply chain may result in irresponsible consumption if goods and service are produced from forced or child labour. Worst example of irresponsible consumption involve tourism denying local people access to water by ‘acquiring” the only reliable dry-season source of water available to the community so visitors can have unlimited access while people and their animals trek for kilometres in search of water. For real transformation, consumption patterns that reduce the quality of life of local people, or threaten their livelihoods must be avoided.
According to STTA, this should be the agenda for 2017:
Businesses should make new commitments to sustainable tourism by developing strategies and plans and setting specific goals.
- Tourism membership organisations should up their game, and extend their lobbying powers to compel their members and state to respond to call for sustainable tourism.
- It is the year for Destination Marketing Organisations to hand over power to local communities, and residents so they can create experiences for travellers.
- It is the year for investors to relook their partnerships and/or create effective partnership-based linkages with host communities
- It is the year for tourism operators to review the distribution of tourism towards a more fair and equitable systems that minimise leakages
- It is the year for public regulators to pay attention to positive impacts generated by tourism instead of focusing on numbers and revenue
- Regulators should come up with bold and disruptive sustainable tourism strategies to secure tourism into the future
- It is the year for sustainable tourism assessors to return credibility to certification programs by recognising and rewarding impact, not cost cutting measures and documented intentions
- It is the year for financing organisations to include sustainability considerations in their eligibility criteria
- It is the year to end Green-washing.
It is the year to end to tourism, as we know it