Opinion: Our responsible industry will act, we just need leadership

Opinion: Our responsible industry will act, we just need leadership

By Fiona Jeffery, founder of Just a Drop and former chairwoman of World Travel Market

It was good to see the debate on tourism and the environment given such a high profile at the World Tourism Forum recently.

But it was depressing that the predictions were so negative. One thing is certain ­- tourism will continue to grow.

While we can take heart from the growing business opportunity this provides, we also need to act responsibly and not simply think tourism's impact on the planet is someone else's problem.

I saw this 19 years ago when I launched the Environmental Awareness Day initiative at World Travel Market, now known as WTM World Responsible Tourism Day and the largest event of its kind.

Having spent these last years trying to encourage a longer-term vision for our industry, I am more hopeful given some of the outstanding examples of practice.

Good examples are companies such as Tui Travel, Rezidor Hotels and destination management organisations such as those found in Cumbria and Destination Roros in Norway.

The Peaks of Balkans, which won the Tourism of Tomorrow Award, united three previously war-torn countries, Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo.

A joint project creating a hiking trail across the three destinations resulted in greater community cooperation and jobs.

I¹m a big believer that great oaks from small acorns grow ­- the collective actions of many can create a movement that generates change and change for the long term.

It becomes embedded in companies' psyche, philosophy and normal business practice.

The smaller operators have made real progress by engaging with local communities and delivering local economic benefit in a responsible, sustainable manner.

But I worry we are not moving fast enough in relation to the big picture and wonder where the solution to this lies?

It would be great if tourism ministries could really sharpen their teeth in this area.

They should be playing a critical role in securing the futures of their countries and pushing an industry that is capable of harnessing good.

UN agencies also need to do more than flag the problems; they need to explain what can and should be done to improve matters.

Tourism professionals are responsible people. Show them what needs to happen, how to make it happen and they'll respond.

With insight and cooperation, the UN World Tourism Organisation and UN Environment Programme could provide constructive enlightenment that can be shared with tourism government leaders across the world.

There is a need to show leadership and provide constructive insight, best practice and education. That is what World Responsible Tourism Day has been all about.

But who will lead the charge to ensure governments bring the changes needed to protect the world from the marching footsteps of the next billion travellers?


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