Responsible Travel and the Travel Industry

The issues of Ethical and Moral Travel must be jointly considered with the Travel Industry. Is is right that the onus of responsibility be placed entirely on the Holidaymaker? Is it just about planting trees? We think not! Recently we have seen some tour companies placing an 'eco' charge on their customers, we think to satisfy the current soundbite. However, we also have to give credit to this first tentative step, a step that leads to a greater corporate ethic within the early years of the 21st century.

We recently had the privilege of meeting with a young Gambian who explained his own country's concern with regard to the operation of 'bulk' European Tourism. His complaint surrounded the fact that large tour companies were bringing tourists to the Gambia, but effectively keeping them captive from the local community. This created an economic model whereby a large proportion of the money earned from the holidaymaker went straight to the tour company, not into the local economy. He cited the fact that many local artisans were prevented from entering hotels to sell their wares. The hotels would buy their products for a very low price, and then sell the same products at a much inflated price to the 'captive' holidaymakers. The artisan would have to produce more work, so that he could receive the kind of return he could get if he were able to sell directly to the holidaymakers. Other complaints included scaring holidaymakers from contact with local people, thereby preventing the creation of a true holiday experience, and a benefit to the local economy.

In other recent stories, we have heard of the impact of hotel complex creation on local water supplies, or simply the lack of use of local food products or services, with tour companies importing such items from outside and island or country.

HolidayTravelWatch has commented extensively on the issue of travel safety. We agree that local economies should not suffer the after effects of a natural or man made disaster, but we query, why send people into areas where either events can be predicted with a now greater certainty, or where through a common sense analysis, such matters of safety can be reasonably determined. The examples here relate to hurricane (or extreme weather events) or tourist terrorism. We have much experience in dealing with the effects of hurricane's and terror situations. In the case of extreme weather events, we simply say, that these are events that are predictable, and therefore a more mature and developed response to holidaymaker safety MUST be adopted.

In cases where terrorism is a threat, we simply ask why do we send people to these potential risk areas. We recently dealt with a Nile River Cruise complaint, which had the usual range of complaints. However, what was more disturbing was the fact that when this cruise boat had pulled into a mooring on the Nile, the boat was joined by up to 12 men with machine guns. They prevented holidaymakers from walking further than 50m from the boat. No explanation was given either by the representative nor by the brochure from where these holidays were booked. The holidaymakers were very angry that they had not been warned about the potential threat to their lives, if there was no threat, why so many with machine guns they asked?

HolidayTravelWatch recently had discussions with senior members of the Travel Industry, and a healthy debate ensued on the use of force majeure in holiday contracts. Our argument was simple, using FCO advices as the basis of whether you send someone to a particular country, did not end their responsibility toward the holidaymaker or for that matter to the people in the countries that rely on that holidaymaker. We considered that if individuals or this organisation can identify risk factors, then they as corporately responsible companies should also be able to identify those factors and add to the basic FCO advices.

We have commented previously, that those holidaymakers who are trapped or involved in weather or terrorist events, often feel great anger toward the tour company, and many, rightly or wrongly, to that particular country. Hardly an advertisement for sustainable tourism! If the holiday experience is turned into a dangerous shambles, what motivation then exists for that holidaymaker to return to that country?

The issue is quite simple, it is an issue of respect. Respect for the holidaymaker and the country in which business is done. It is not a radical idea, but an idea that should now be firmly routed in corporate life in the 21st century.

Tags: Corporate Responsibility FCO Foreign and Commonwealth Office Terrorism Risk Destination