By Nikki White, head of destinations and sustainability at Abta.
How things have changed.
Only a year ago, attending a responsible tourism event could be interesting and stimulating but also depressing. It often seemed that I was talking to the converted and was asking myself how that would move things forward.
Ten years on from the Cape Town Declaration, which set out the principles of how to make tourism more responsible and sustainable, Abta co-hosted a Progress in Responsible Tourism conference last month.
The first striking difference was that the delegates and speakers came from all types of travel companies and also, most encouragingly of all, from different departments, from purchasing to overseas operations. Progress has clearly been made involving other disciplines.
It’s not often we take a moment to look back and check where we’ve come from, but only by doing this can we measure our progress, learn from the challenges and chart the next 10 years.
The key things I took away from the event are:
- Leadership for change doesn’t come from a company, it comes from individuals. So whatever size company you are, you can get things done.
- Collaboration is powerful. When the largest operators worked together to find a solution, the certification scheme Travelife was the result of that approach.
- Working together with overseas governments is critical.
While it’s easy to focus on what we haven’t done, it’s important to recognise what has been achieved. Tourism has made real progress in the complex area of sustainability.
As well as looking back at our achievements over the past 10 years, the event also gave the opportunity to discuss what the broader Abta membership will be doing in the next 10 years.
The answer is multi-faceted. It includes reporting and measuring their own impacts and working to reduce them; replacing printed brochures; building sustainability standards into contracts; and developing board-level management strategies that encompass sustainability as a way of working, not as a bolt-on.
This is by no means an indication that everyone is already doing what they can. While good progress has been made, this has come from those with a specific interest or those that have started from having to report more.
In the future, Abta will be guiding members on these issues and giving them the advice and tools to review what their business can do to help sell and contract more sustainable holidays, which ultimately provide better places to live and visit.
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