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Sustainable tourism in 2012

This week, the Dutch tourism industry gathered in Utrecht (Netherlands) for its annual trade fair – which included a green-themed ‘Changes in Tourism’ event. At the last fair, two years ago, you could just about see the beginnings of a shift toward greater sustainability in tourism. Progress takes time, so we were curious to see what kinds of new initiatives had been developed for tackling climate change, protecting the environment and improving labor conditions. After an (environmentally responsible) train ride to Utrecht, we were ready to find out. So what does responsible travel look like in 2012?

Focus on climate change
The words “carbon emissions” were mentioned everywhere, like a mantra. Especially with regards to transportation. Floris Fluitsma, representative of Sawadee, brought up an interesting case study during a workshop: “73% of the emissions from the average trip are released in actually getting to and from your destination, and a further 12% come from using local transportation to get out and about.” That means a full 85%, on average, of a trip’s total CO2 emissions come from transportation. Just the day before, Sawadee had received an industry award for its green initiative to give away reusable water bottles. It was also mentioned and praised many times during the trade fair for its sustainable activities. No wonder it’s at the top of our ranking for the sector.

“Do you know where these fjords are?” asked Fluitsma. “Well, the one on the right is from New Zealand. But the best online casino one on the left is Norway. So why go to the other side of the world to see this kind of landscape, when you can get a great view after a 2-hour flight from Amsterdam?” According to Fluitsma, holiday-making is now all about buying an “experience”. “It’s become a kind of competition of the ‘I’ve been to New Zealand.’ ‘Oh yeah? Well I’ve been to Antarctica’ variety. So it’s crucial to convince travellers that visiting near-by places can also be an incredible experience.”

No change when it comes to labor conditions
There were loads of initiatives to combat CO2 emissions on display at the Expo. Also under scrutiny were the effects of tourism on local communities. Part of the program included a discussion of eco-lodges in Kenya, which have been studied in-depth by the research organization CelTor. Their conclusion: that communities can indeed benefit from having these businesses on their doorsteps, but that the size of the benefits vary from huge, to barely noticeable, depending on the lodge.

Aside from this rather academic diversion, there was very little indication of any concrete plans to improve the labor conditions of the tourism industry. It would have been great to see some evidence of efforts to set a maximum working week for staff, to institute living wages, or to prevent child prostitution and child labor – a subject that was on everyone’s lips a few years ago. Does that mean the travel organizations and their local partners have fixed all the problems? Unlikely…

@ Dutch branch organization ANVR: We are putting these issues on the agenda for 2012. In February, we will release a new question list including new criteria for ranking travel organizations.

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