Since launching its tourism and travel health and safety protocols, Kenya has been open for tourists in its now safe to visit attractions. However, it seems that the country just opened up tourism to a playful crowd of tourists who pay less attention if any, to park rules and responsible travel. A twitter user described the situation as a circus, commenting on a news article’s portrayal of transgressive behavior of tourists at the Maasai Mara, getting out of vehicles while at the park, obstructing wildlife right of way, and crowding, which today is a concern for COVID-19. Maasai Mara is famous for its wildebeest migration and is a wonder of the world. Misconduct at wildebeest crossing sites in Maasai Mara Kenya has led to reserve authorities banning several companies from the park. Some of the banned companies are certified for responsible tourism by global certification labels while others have received media attention for other social goods. These companies have come out to defend themselves, exonerating themselves from the behavior of their clients and guides, who are their employees or service providers. Where should the buck stop when clients misbehave while on safari or any holiday?
Some roles are clear in shaping responsible behavior from tourists. Destinations put in mechanisms to encourage responsible behavior, through rules and regulations. The tour company creates awareness in the pre-trip planning phase and on-site behavior. They have the power to influence responsible practice of the tour guides they work with and empower them to handle well exuberant behavior of tourists. Tourists may have internal controls, e.g. sustainable lifestyles to promote responsible travel. Nonetheless, holiday providers should be able to work out ways to restrain their possible misbehavior, especially through effective communication.
Actions of individual tourists have an impact on overall tourism sustainability in destinations. Tourist misbehavior can have negative impacts and erode the resources on which destinations depend on for tourism promotion. For instance, research evidence cautions that tourist encounters pose a risk of disease spread to the endangered species of mountain gorillas found only in East Africa. Likewise, the incidence at the Mara Wildebeest crossing site poses severe negative consequences on wildlife and creates risk for human-wildlife conflict. Aware of the need to encourage responsible behavior while holidaying, many places of tourist visitation usually have codes of conduct to guide tourists and other tourism stakeholders. This is based on the understanding that responsible behavior on the part of the traveler can only be attained by awareness and learning. Because many travelers book their travel with tour companies, organizational responsibility on the part of tour companies is fundamental in ensuring sustainability in tourism and responsible client behavior.
At the destination level, the tour company has simultaneous relationships with the destination authorities, the tour guides, and the tourists. Apart from certification labels used by tour companies for corporate promotion, these relationships are proving to be a sure way of evaluating organizational responsibility. Take the example of relationships between a tour company and its tour guides, which is revealed in how the company addresses the guides. While some companies will have hosts to take guests around for experience in destinations, some simply have drivers to take travelers on a journey around a destination. The two have different outcomes for both destination and tourist markets, the difference being either lasting relationships or transitionary ones. The suspension of tour companies from the Mara shows a temporary break in the relationship between the companies and the destination, and this is less likely to be a lasting relationship.
In contemplating about sustainable practice, tourism stakeholders sign contracts to abide by destination rules, but the dilemma comes to actually committing to sustainable practice. The situation in the Mara will continue to happen if tour operators do not effectively communicate responsible behaviors to tourists. As much as it is important to master all possible itineraries in a destination, it is essential that tour companies are aware of guidelines for responsible behavior in destinations, and communicate these effectively to tourists. This is where tourism companies are able to implement their sustainable tourism practice and build lasting relationships. Many tourists are mindful of sustainable tourism, so travel information on brochures and other promotion spaces should communicate on issues other than “tipping” and itineraries.
Certainly, our latest poll results on COVID19 & Restarting Tourism reveal that the buck stops with the tour company. Ultimately, a truly responsible tourism company has the opportunity to influence the behavior of its clients and supply chain because the organization’s identity and values will be evident at every point of interaction.
Where should the buck stop when clients misbehave when on safari or on any holiday?
Guides – 18.5%
Tour company – 37%
Client – 27.2%
Destination Authorities – 17.3%
Tour companies must educate tourists about guidelines on responsible behavior while holidaying. Otherwise, we will keep on releasing misbehaved tourists to our parks, reserves and other pristine environments.