The Future of Ethical Travel: an Interview with Tourism Concern.

by Ellie Cleary

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Ethical Travel

Image: On the way to visit small villages and temples near Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Ethical Travel, from where I stand at least, certainly seems to be attracting more attention of late.

Many travel companies and travellers, are becoming more involved in the discussions around Ethical, Responsible or Sustainable Travel.  I caught up with Helen Jennings of Tourism Concern in London to ask her about how things are progressing, and to get her take on Ethical Travel.

Established in 1989, Tourism Concern is a UK based charity which works to promote tourism that benefits destinations and their people.  Tourism Concern work to expose the worst human rights abuses in the tourism industry and campaigns against them.  They do not receive government funding and are funded entirely by membership fees and donations.

During our meeting, I asked Helen to share their views and some of her personal travel tips:

Q1: Responsible Tourism certainly seems to have been gaining traction over recent years and months; what do you see changing in the tourism industry as a result, or is it just ‘hype’?

TC: The hope certainly is that as travellers become more aware of some of the issues within tourism, that this provides a strong case for (tourism) businesses to adapt. We’ve seen something of a chicken and egg scenario before, where tourism companies say the responsibility lies with travellers, and travellers expect companies to take responsibility.

Consumers ultimately have the power to make the right choices and tell companies what they expect to see, then tourism companies have the duty to listen and act. As the case grows, more travel companies will have to sit up and take notice too.

I do see that people travelling are more aware and certainly care more than ever before about the impact of tourism.  Now they can demand more from the companies they use.

Q2.Tourism Concern are running several campaigns at the moment: on Cruising, Orphanage Tourism, All-Inclusive Holidays to Water Inequality in India. If you could call out one of these in particular which one would it be and why? 

TC: Cruise unfortunately is such a strong example that captures some of the worst traits of the tourism industry.  Overall, it employs cheap labour, provides poor conditions for workers, and there is a real divide on ships—not only between passengers and staff—but even between staff members themselves who are subdivided into groups according to job or nationality.  It’s a real picture of social division.  The Channel Four television programme ‘Dispatches’ recently showed this. This is aside from all of the negative environmental impact of the cruise industry.

On another note, our ‘Voluntourism’ campaign has helped channel peoples’ desire to help in the world in the right direction and use that energy positively.  There are many organisations out there which are doing great things and deserve peoples help and support. Sadly too many people, maybe through lack of awareness, end up wasting their time and money doing useless projects or worse, which actually doing harm. An example of this is ‘Orphanage Tourism’.  There are many organisations out there which are doing great things and deserve peoples help and support (Tourism Concern have a list of volunteering organisations that we think are doing it well).

When it comes to volunteering, one of the tips I’d give is to ask the following question: “would I be able to do this in my own country”.  It’s not black and white, but the answer to that question will probably give you a good indication of if the cause is a good one.

Q3. Responsible Tourism, Sustainable Tourism, Ethical Tourism—there seem to be so many different names.  Which one do you use and why?

TC: We use Ethical Travel.  With Sustainable Tourism, it risks being solely about environment.  Which is hugely important of course, but people and communities are such a big part of tourism.  We have seen sometimes that places have won ‘eco awards’ but have displaced whole communities.  So we feel the term Ethical Travel takes a holistic view.

Q4. What factors do you look at when you’re selecting where to stay on your holidays?

TC: I always look for locally owned places to stay.  There’s the famous saying “Every time you spend your money you vote for how you want the world to be”.  So I choose Homestays or look for small guesthouses that are community- or locally- run. It’s important that everyone benefits.

Q5. If all of us as travellers did one thing differently, what would you say that thing should be? 

TC: Research the place before you go.  The more we know and understand about a place before we go, the more the rest falls into place.  You more you connect to a place—through meeting different people and seeing different parts of it—the better experience and memories you’ll have to take home with you.

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Ethical Travel

Q6. What are some inspirational stories of Ethical Tourism successes you can share? 

TC: We ran a very successful campaign for Sherpas and Porters in Nepal, which resulted in a code of conduct which multiple Tour Operators have now signed up to.  You can read about the campaign here. We’ve also seen great success through the Three Sisters Trekking initiative which has now enabled nearly 1000 disadvantaged women from rural communities in Nepal trained to be trekking guides or assistants.

Q7. Where is your favourite travel destination, and where’s next on your list?

TC: My favourite places in the world as the ones that I’ve lived in.  So Canada, Norway, Finland and Ecuador.  When you live somewhere you get to know it so much better and connect with the place in a different way.  As for next—I’m going to the Netherlands to visit friends.  It’s not the first time for me, but I also enjoy it there.

Thank you to Helen and Tourism Concern for agreeing to take part in this interview.

If you feel inspired by this to help support Tourism Concern’s work, the best way is by becoming a member, or you can make a donation.  Tourism Concern provide updates on campaigns and cover Ethical travel stories regularly on their website.
Soul Travel Blog is a professional member of Tourism Concern.
What do you think about Ethical Travel? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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