Tourism: a Question of Perspective

I’m finding out good things here at Contemporary Perspectives in Tourism and Hospitality Research: Policy, Practice and Performance. (That’s the “TPPP conference” for short, and to be honest, although I’ve been planning to come here for at least six months, and I still have to Google “TPPP conference” and use copy and paste when I have to name the event. But maybe that’s just me.)

The conference got off to a very promising start with a keynote by Anna Pollock, founder of Conscious Travel. “We’re not being honest,” she warns: the industry doesn’t protect the resource upon which the industry is based.

Author of the forthcoming ‘Social Entrepreneurship in Tourism: the Conscious Travel Approach’, Anna spoke of a “Tourism Tsunami” – brought on by a growth in the global middle class that sees more and more people acquiring the capacity to travel internationally. 4.9 billion of us, by 2030? It seems we can expect nothing but crowded roads, skies, and even seas. It’s a wake-up call somewhat similar to Anthony Day’s “Seven Billion People Want Everything You’ve Got”, and it’s a subject that I have been known to lecture on, as well.

Crowds of tourists at Angkor Wat

Be careful what you wish for: expectation and reality at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

It’s not all doom and gloom, though: some initiatives are delivering positive outcomes. Abby Paton described how music festivals have become more environmentally conscious, a trend that has been well-received by festivalgoers. There were still some shocks for me, though: I never knew how many people abandon their tents at the end of a festival. The link between wealth and waste couldn’t be demonstrated more clearly.

I think my own paper on the carbon footprint of the cruise industry went down well: there were some good comments afterwards. I don’t have any solutions to offer, but I feel that it’s important to quantify the level of harm associated with cruising… and that isn’t something that the industry itself has any interest in sharing with you. (Here’s the paper, and the presentation.)

Day two began with another excellent keynote, this one from Dr Xavier Font of Leeds Beckett University. He demonstrated how businesses in the tourism industry communicate their work in the area of sustainability very poorly.

“You wouldn’t let the hotel manager mess with the boiler,” he says, “so why let the environmental manager mess with the marketing?”

I learned a lot about those dismal, dreadfully ‘worthy’ bits of green reporting that you see on so many websites. The things that actually increase perceived risk, and could cost you business. For example, when you say “this is a sustainable hotel”, you’re actually planting the idea that it might be sub-standard: a limited supply of hot water, perhaps, or servings of morally deserving but bland food?

Don’t write about “sustainable food”, says Dr Font; write about “local heroes” instead – for a web page that has a chance of actually getting some traffic. Communicate with the customer in ways that are relevant to them: that the hotel saves money because it has solar panels fails the “so what?” test, but often a simple change in the wording that customers see can lead to positive outcomes including longer stays, a longer tourist season, and repeat business. 

The presentation was packed full of good examples, and it was very encouraging to see, because it shows how mere words can can deliver an affordable but substantial ‘green’ achievement.

Food for thought.

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