Friday 25 February 2011

Being Responsible

One of the first TBY-Vayali micro-credit beneficiary

Last year at the World Travel Market in London, one of the leading destination management companies from Cochin asked us this question. “All your talk about responsible tourism is fine. It’s easy for a property to be more responsible than a tour operator like us. They can make simple changes like install energy saving bulbs or setup rainwater harvesting in their property. They might purchase local produces. Even if we had aspirations to be a responsible tourism operator, frankly we don’t know how to do this. Do you have some suggestions?”

We work with several social sectors in India and the world over. Tour operators claim to be ‘destination experts’ and in most cases, the insight on the destination provided is limited to the quality of hotels or the best restaurants, mostly in touristy locations. So called ‘cultural creatives’ who travel to destinations like India are no longer happy with what conventional travel companies are offering. Enquiries are very much focused on local experiences, interactions with local people. Most travelers also want to understand the social fabric that makes India what it is.

We find today that the borders of social engagements between organizations are fading. Organizations like Institute of Palliative Medicine (IPM) and The Blue Yonder are finding common grounds despite the differences in their respective core-competencies. We believe, this is opening up the potential of tourism as an industry to be engaged in social business.

The Blue Yonder uses its national and international networks to bring the attention of the world to the unique work that is done by thousands of local volunteers in the Palliative care movement. Our travelers bring in small revenues as well as volunteering opportunities to IPM and IPM-supported projects in Kerala. Some of these initiatives may be small presently, but they have possibilities of scaling up, creating opportunities for the rest of the travel industry in terms of partnerships and business and social engagements.

Mary Mulvey from Greenbox, Ireland while travelling with us gently reminded us that we might be ‘green muting’ by not talking about all that we might be engaged in. Her view was that that her choice of holidays we offered might have been different if she knew how deeply we were involved in local issues. This opens up a new opportunity for travel companies and tour operators in particular, where we can keep interested travelers more deeply engaged in tourism destinations.

Perhaps this is one direction where tour operators can demonstrate their commitment to responsible tourism. It’s a good direction to take- not just for doing a business well but also for the well-being of the business of tourism.

1 comment:

Ron Mader said...

I think Mary has the right idea. Too often the good providers of responsible tourism services and products keep their stories to themselves. Whether it's humility or 'tall poppy syndrome' there is often a reluctance to recount what was has done and is still learning in the field.

For those who talk up responsible ethical sustainable tourism without actually doing anything, i say 'practice what you preach.' To those who are doing the good work of responsible ethical sustainable tourism, i say 'preach what you practice.'