How do we celebrate responsible travel?

10 days until Responsible Tourism Week begins and there’s a surge of views on the Planeta Wiki which bodes well for an engaging discussion. What’s a surge? How about 5,000 views for the wiki page in January?

This is Year #12 I’ve hosted an online dialogue and frankly, there’s no way to adequately plan since it’s impossible to get a read on other people’s faces since the participants are around the world, instead of being in the same room. Do they understand the protocols? Do they have working internet access? Are they motivated in creating local events? We get some indications via messages on Facebook and tweets on Twitter (and responses to this blog!), but for the most part, we have no idea what will unfold.

‘Treat others the way they would like to be treated,’ advises the Platinum Rule (which takes the Golden Rule one step further). It has been a great way to imagine the form ‘responsible tourism’ takes when locals and visitors are mutually respectful.

Author, journalist, blogger and apper Catherine Mack asks whether punters give a toss about responsible tourism? If we replace ‘responsible tourism’ with what matters to them, the answer is an easy yes.

Personally, I’d like to think of Responsible Tourism Week as an opportunity to celebrate what we truly, dearly love about travel and what we want to protect precisely by sharing tips with others. This is already the defacto essence of websites such as TripAdvisor as well as Foodspotting and Pinterest. This is a celebration, rather than a campaign. It will be good to reflect on some of the misdeeds in tourism, but I’ll ask participants to take responsibility and show us what they’re doing or willing to do to make things better. Inspire us.

In Oaxaca I’ve put together a directory of local restaurants, stores and markets with the title ‘Leave a Positive Footprint‘ because I’ve seen visitors arrive with their limited time budget and they are seeking some clues. This coming year the directory should make the transition to a more interactive format using Foursquare. Heck, we could even stack the places and people to visit using Delicious or Storify.

The options in Oaxaca and elsewhere are limitless, but rarely are visitors briefed about the practicalities and less so are locals informed of changing trends sought by visitors. What’s needed are ground-level activities in which we talk this out together and unpack the conceptual framework of ‘responsible tourism‘ in more accessible language already being used by visitors and locals, whether it’s supporting the local economy and treating one’s tastebuds via local cuisine or seeking out traditional artesanos who would love to have some fans knocking on the door in search of handmade crafts. Fans of parks and protected areas want to know how to make the most of their journeys, but to get to where the wild things are, there needs to be a better communication.

I’m counting on you to surprise and inspire us with some examples from your backyard, from your travels, from your friends. For those who want to get stuck in to responsible travel: Be engaged, be creative, be generous, be curious and be empathetic. Let Responsible Tourism Week be a catalyst and then tick the boxes. If you’re creative but not generous or curious but not empathetic, you’ll learn something but you won’t get the full experience.

Tick the Boxes: Be engaged, be creative, be generous, be curious and be empathetic

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5 Responses to How do we celebrate responsible travel?

  1. Isn’t that great, an unconference with no expectations. Let us do small things that are “good enough” (they don’t need to be excellent or not even fine) and share them with others. Let this week be a starter for minor local events such as photosafaris, or give an extra discount on your trips this week. Anything counts as long as you share it with us curious people out there.

  2. What I am looking forward to is a conference where noone says ‘sorry we only have five minutes for questions’ when twenty hands go up to contribute! That, and a lot of inspiring voices.

  3. I encourage all to join in – Catherine Macks article Do punters give a toss? should make us all think – how do we make better places for people to live and better places for people to visit without being too worthy – how do we get the message out there to the “unconverted” that responsible tourism does not mean less fun and less r and r. What tools and ideas can we share for getting these messages out there? My particular intest is ofcourse volunteer travel – a niche fraught with “worthiness” and irresponsibility in equal measure – I look fwd to learning lots and sharing ideas – bring it on

  4. ronmader says:

    Thanks, everyone! For the comments and the retweets, the favoriting and the facebooking.

    It’s easy to see how many good people don’t care about top-heavy, conceptual, policy-wonk terms and if we allow ‘responsible tourism’ to be interpreted in this manner, then we have only ourselves to blame. If we say things like ‘Fall in love with responsible travel’ or ‘You’ll love the … fill-in-the-blanks’ then we have a much better chance of getting these ideas across if we fill in the blanks with things visitors and locals actually want. ‘Fall in love with chocolate in Mexico or ‘Fall in love with the reindeer’ in Sweden could be and should be the slides we use to promote travel. If I were Sallie, I would make a visual slide that said something like ‘Build the capacity to build the capacity’ (a quote of Sallie’s as she was explaining how volunteers assist teachers instead of replacing them). Besides telling us what we can do, show us.

    Finally, I would add a small disagreement with Anders. This unconference has no set agenda, but there are plenty of expectations and goals, including more news stories, more participation from travel companies and language schools featured on, new translations of ‘responsible tourism’ in other languages and improved collaboration at the city and national levels. I’m hoping that the week brings some new blood into the World Travel Directory and new editors onto the Planeta Wiki. Blue sky thinking, yes, but it’s good to have goals.

    That said, I agree 100% with Anders that travel operators and local tourism pros need to be nudged to participate and small efforts when multiplied have a big impact. I’m reminded of Poi Dog Pondering’s brilliant line: “the poet’s voice dried with the search for perfection.” Let your voice be heard! Please contribute what’s good enough.

  5. Jenny Morgan says:

    Thank you for the invitation to introduce myself. Having worked for a number of years operationally in the travel industry, I became passionate about the responsible development of tourism in supporting the positive impacts, and negating the negative impacts of tourism. I currently work in international development research and continue to be passionate about the impact tourism can have on improving livelihoods. I joined Twitter relatively recently, and since doing so have been inspired. I am very much looking forward to getting involved in responsible tourism week 2012.

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