So often, tourism is a “bit player” in the health of a community. In the traditional models of tourism, tour operators come and – at best – the visitors they bring spend money that contributes to the local economy. While the tourism income helps, there is a lot of what economists call “leakage”.
Imagine a new type of tourism company – a company founded for the purpose of enhancing the cultural and economic benefit of the host community. Imagine a social enterprise – like Tom’s Shoes or Ethos Water – that plows back profits from tourism operations into the community itself . This is the model that responsible tour operator Adventure Alternative and its sister charity, Moving Mountains have brought to the villages of Bumburi and Bupsa, high in the Himalaya. Congratulations to Gavin Bate, Ang Chhongba Sherpa and Pasange Tendi Sherpa and their team, for finding a new path for tourism in this special part of the world.
Sustainable tourism definitions almost always combine two big, important ideas. The first idea comes from the Brundtland Report – Our Common Future – in which they say sustainable development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” . The second big idea is John Elkington’s ‘Triple Bottom Line” that requires consideration of not only the “profits” but “people” and “planet” as well. These big ideas provide a great foundation but they also present a real challenge for anyone attempting to develop sustainable tourism.
The challenge of sustainable tourism is striking the balance between people, planet and profits – to meet the needs of the present without compromising the future. This challenge is easy to grasp – conceptually – but it is hard to know where to start. Adding to the challenge – there is plenty of scope for well-intentioned folks to disagree on what should be done and there really is no single, black and white, “right” answer.
Fortunately, there is a growing body of great advice on what to do. Practical advice on environmental practices, cultural and social tourism and even market development information. But the challenge of sustainable tourism remains because the best answers incorporate another level of thinking…
The key to arriving at the best answer lies in finding the right balance. Too often we treat element separately – addressing environment separately from social and cultural issues or economics. Sustainable tourism is more programs for people, planet and profit – it is programs that integrate all of these things together – to come to the best possible outcome for today – and tomorrow. Sustainable tourism requires looking at them all together as a whole system.
Consumer behavior is really core to many of the issues in smart, sustainable tourism. Just how people are adopting green behaviors is still an unanswered question but it is nice to see bits and pieces of evidence that attitudes and behaviors are improving !
Here’s the latest from Tripadvisor on green travel behaviors…
I really like grocery shopping every now and then and I don’t mind going to Walmart. I’ll happily wander down aisles looking at stuff. As a marketer, I find it fascinating. The other day I was struck by how many organic /green products were on their shelves – and in my trolley. For the main part I choose these products not because they were “green” but because I generally felt they worked better, tasted better or were better for me. There is no doubt I bought more organic products because they were there and easy to pick up off the shelf. A lot of this stuff I would’t have gone out of my way to find. Interestingly enough, if you’d asked me if I needed organic chicken or free range eggs I probably would have said “no”. Indeed, if you asked me if I’d pay more for some of these organic products I would have said “no” to that too – and yet there they are – in my trolley – and I’m pretty sure those products are a bit more expensive than the standard products I once bought. If I am any example, it is no wonder understanding the “green” consumer is so challenging !
Walmart’s commitment to social responsibility is impacting not only its own behaviors and the actions of its supply chain partners but allowing me – and other consumers – to make better decisions. Here’s just one news story highlighting Walmart’s green supply chain management.
In recent months I have been looking at the supply chain and the impact of organizations that take the lead on social responsibility and green activity. It is great to see the influence that some companies are having on the way we all do business in hospitality and tourism. Iit has been fascinating to learn of the work of Marriott, Wyndham, Darden and Sodexo, to name just a few. More on these organizations in future posts. Nevertheless, there is still much to be done. Hospitality and tourism companies still struggle with how to present their green activities in a meaningful way to consumers. There are a couple of lessons to be learned from my field trip to Walmart for the tourism industry. Green tourism products must be able to answer these questions:
- Does the product provide greater benefits to the consumer?
- Can the consumer see the value they get from the product ?
- Is it easily available?
As we get better at answering these questions we will truly see tourism becoming more green !