June 12, 2012, by Rob

‘Getting away from it all’: further reflections on responsible tourism

….In the last holiday blog I mentioned that tourism, even ostensibly responsible forms of ‘spending time away’, embodies certain tensions and contradictions. One question posed was:

1. To what extent can tourism be responsible for the environment when most holidays involve flights to foreign destinations, and require comparatively high usage of resources?

This excerpt fleshes out some of the environmental aspects of these issues….

Tourism is embedded in a particular imagery that defines the collective imagination of the ‘tourist-scape’ – an iconic blur of sandy beeches, lush green palms and Disneyesque-blue skies. Captured in a million postcards, tour guides, brochures, billboards and holiday snaps, the tourism imagination gets its energy from a highly romanticised and much celebrated view upon nature. The natural environment is presented to us in numerous ways; as a ‘natural’ space to escape to (from the ‘unnatural’ urban city), as a transcendental space of spiritual and experiential immersion in nature (e.g. walking/bathing) and, more ideologically, as a way to re-build our original, ‘authentic’ human state by ‘getting back to nature’. The natural environment is therefore an integral feature in the development and sustainability of the tourism industry and indeed human systems more broadly.

However, it is well known that tourism places numerous demands upon nature. Tourists use food and water for sustenance and pleasure during their time away, and will often use up resources at many times the rate of the indigenous population. Fishing stocks are often most under pressure in coastal areas of tourism development. International hotel chains are well known for shipping or flying in a variety of foods from around the world to cater for the demands of the global tourist’s palette. Walking, hiking, diving, swimming, boating are all tourist activities that can profoundly damage nature at the same moment, and indeed as a result of, the tourist’s experience of it. I could devote a whole blog to air travel and carbon footprints but it is enough to note that the fundamental model of global tourism – involving travel overseas – threatens the sustainability of the natural system.

It should be noted that this global threat has been acknowledged by many involved directly and indirectly in tourism. We have had sustained campaigns against airport expansion to curb international traffic, airlines are buying more fuel-efficient aircraft, some countries have imposed ‘tourism taxes’, hotels are beginning to source food more locally, ‘eco-holidays’ are being offered by the market and for the more radical, some tourists are even enjoying ‘staycations’. Whilst these measures will be judged to have varying levels of success in limiting planetary destruction, they are at least on the agenda.

However, in a rather twisted irony, it is quite possibly the romanticised tourism imagery of the ‘pristine’ and ‘untouched’ – the very image that has popularised tourism and consequently endangered ecosystems – that offers the most promise of coming to its own rescue. As tourism grows and disperses into ever more remote (as yet) ‘untouched’ regions of the globe, the very real impacts caused in this process will be harder and harder to mask from tourists (there’s that ‘instrumental case’ for CSR again!). If tourism is to be a positive force for sustaining ecosystems then tourists, corporations, NGOs, governments and local communities will need to collaborate to identify innovate ways of depressurizing the natural environment. Failing that, tour operators will have to work even harder still to convince tourists of the new order of the global ‘tourist-scape’, a sludgy wash of browns, greys and beiges, littered across billboards, brochures, postcards and holiday snaps.  

By Dr Rob Caruana, Lecturer in Business Ethics at the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility.

Image by epSos.de. Licensed under the Creative Commons License 3.0. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/epsos/5444678656/

also see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00rk1hq
for more information or to take action: http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk


Posted in THEMES in Better Business