Nikki White, head of destination sustainability at Abta, says the tourism industry must act as a force for good and not be seen as exploiting a local environment
One of the things the travel industry can be justly proud of is the significant economic benefit that tourism brings to local communities. In many countries, and especially in developing nations, tourism makes a vital contribution towards wealth and job creation.
Just how important tourism can be is often starkly highlighted when events turn visitors away. The political turmoil in Egypt, which for a time saw many countries advise against travel to the capital and Luxor, left usually busy sites deserted and thousands of locals who relied on visitors out of work.
Likewise, the recent uncertainty surrounding the Greek economy, and the deluge of negative media coverage, made people think twice about visiting Greece.
Thankfully, the progress towards a bailout deal has brought some much needed stability. But once again, the fear that tourists would stay away emphasised the important role the industry plays.
One of the consequences of the devastating attacks in Tunisia has been the harm it has done to the country’s tourism industry.
Although the safety of holidaymakers must come first, it was almost certainly one of the gunman’s intentions to deter people from visiting the destination, which relies heavily on income from foreign tourists, and so harm one of the few stable, secular democracies in the area and the birthplace of the Arab Spring movements.
These are all clear examples of what happens when tourists don’t visit, but if we are to maximise benefits for local people we must also ensure that our suppliers don’t rely on importing goods and services, that they source their food and drink and other supplies locally, and that they pay their staff a decent wage.
Travelife encourages best practice in these areas and provides expert guidance and advice to suppliers on how they can achieve these aims. Our training module, Better Places, will help you to see how you can incorporate these ways of working in your day-to-day dealings with your suppliers.
Force for good
As an industry, we need to be seen as a force for good, not as foreign interlopers simply exploiting a local environment. Resentful, disenfranchised people do not make for a welcoming atmosphere.
Destinations will also, quite rightly, want to make sure there is a proper balance between the business interests of foreign travel companies and the local economy.
Initiatives such as Travelife and Better Places offer compelling arguments that we are a responsible industry intent on putting in as much as we take from the destinations we visit.
Encouraging sustainable working practices is a fundamentally commercial and sensible decision. To have a successful economic future ourselves, we need to ensure we do everything we can to minimise our impact on some of the most beautiful, and in many cases fragile, parts of the world.
If we can do this successfully, we will be able to take pride in helping to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of millions throughout the world.
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