May 14, 2013, by Rob
Responsible Tourism – a research note
Ever since ‘sustainable tourism’ emerged in response to the negative impacts of the tourism industry, it has been the subject of much scepticism and critique. Of particular note is the question of whether tourism can be thought of as a sustainable practice at all; “it’s either sustainable or its not!” As these (absolutist) debates rumble on, the term responsible tourism (RT) has emerged as a more robust concept for tourism practitioners. Avoiding the rather inflexible trappings of ‘sustainability’, the term ‘responsible tourism’ focuses on how relations between tourists, culture and the environment can be managed to enhance benefits and lower impacts. The rapid growth of the responsible tourism market provokes a number of pertinent questions such as; what does responsibility mean to tourists? How do they experience a responsible holiday? Are their views of responsibility reflective of industry views? Is there a shared perspective of responsibility between tourists? This blog provides a brief summary of findings from a piece of funded research between academics in the UK and Canada (Rob Caruana, Sarah Glozer, Scott McCabe and Andrew Crane), that sought to answer some of these questions.
RT as a heterogeneous concept
Whilst the industry commonly defines RT around practices such as sharing wealth, conserving nature and participation in local communities, consumers of responsible tourism have far wider and more fluid views. In addition to issues of sharing wealth and participation, our respondents noted strong concerns about commercialism (generally), about being stereotyped as a ‘typical tourism’, about the ‘scale and noise’ of the holiday as well as about how much they can trust the tour operator about the claims made about the holiday. This last point was summarized neatly by one respondent who said “RT, for me, means a holiday that does what it says on the tin!”
RT as involvement
Whilst accounts of RT were often varied, they did share common ground in certain respects. In particular, all respondents tried to convey the extent to which they felt they were part of a Responsible Tourism culture. For example, whilst some identified very closely with core ideals of RT (participation, conservation, sharing wealth etc.) others were at pains to distance themselves from what they viewed as ‘radical environmentalism’ or committed deeply to social justice: “I’m not really an ‘all out ’ responsible traveller” or “I am responsible, yes, but more at arm’s length”, were typical descriptions of involvement here.
RT as goal-direction
A final theme that emerged from the data was that of goal direction. In sum, respondent’s accounts indicated the extent to which their participation in RT was driven by inner-directed goals (i.e. self-interest concerns) or outer-directed goals (i.e. a concern for others). This was not an ‘either/or’ distinction but rather a matter of degree. For example, some respondent’s descriptions of RT focussed on the increased quality of the tourist experience as well as the higher levels of product trust that they perceived to be derived from a responsible holiday (as opposed to other types). However, more outer-goal direction could be viewed where RT enabled the cementing of familial relationships and/or the benefits of RT for wider communities. Interestingly, in some cases, the same respondent conveyed both inner- and outer-directed goals. This unexpected insight highlighted the complex nature of responsible tourism, and the intricate ways tourists can marry together the more hedonic, personally liberating elements of holiday, with an ostensibly virtuous type, focussed on obligations and duties to others.
More research to be done here!!
By Dr Rob Caruana, Lecturer in Business Ethics at the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility.
Image by LexnGer, reproduced under Creative Commons License CC-BY-NC-2.0 Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lexnger/47250028/