I woke up one morning, in a tent, to the sound of birds chirping. Adapting to my surroundings, I slowly became conscious of where I was. I opened the tent door, stepped outside and thought: “Wow! This is why I am here”. I was on Tiwai Island, a place of significant biodiversity, located on the Moa River, in the middle of the Gola Rainforest, in Eastern Sierra Leone. I had decided to visit the island on my trip of research and discovery in a country renowned for a brutal civil war and child soldiers. Those images couldn’t be further than the truth.
I was travelling by local transport from tourism project to tourism project, assessing the level of responsible tourism principles that had been implemented within the current activities, or failing that, the potential for implementing responsible tourism ethics within already established tourism ventures.
You can read more about this journey of discovery here, but I think that responsible tourism needs explaining first.
So, what is responsible tourism? It can be summed up with this quote from Prof. Harold Goodwin, founder of the International Centre of Responsible Tourism, on the occasion of the drafting of the Cape Town Declaration on responsible tourism n destinations: “Responsible tourism aims to make destinations better places to live in, and better places to visit”.
Responsible tourism also aims to:
This type of tourism, this movement, this ‘new’ (not so new in the grand scheme of things) way of thinking is growing. The idea that tourism can be used as a tool for poverty alleviation, for peace, for the understanding of new cultures (whether from a hosts perspective or that of the visitor) is slowly taking over the ‘mass tourism’, only for profit, generic model. Responsible tourism may be considered a niche by critics, a ‘fad’ that will fade with time, but it is far from it. Responsible tourism guiding principles can be applied to all forms of tourism that cater for all age-groups, all markets, in all destinations. It is here to stay!
West Africa is an example of an emerging destination, full of potential, and a great place for responsible travel. West Africa Discovery (www.westafricadiscovery), a web portal aiming to raise awareness towards the region as a destination for travel by listing a variety of tours, accommodations and volunteer projects, is one of the leaders in West Africa responsible tourism promotion.
Another pioneer in the responsible tourism movement is Travel Matters (www.travelmatters.co.uk), a family focused travel agency based in South West London. Their ‘Make Travel Matter’ campaign aims to inspire others to take a more ethical approach to their holidays by picking accommodations, tours and volunteer projects that have a track record of successful implementing responsible tourism values within their activities.
Together, these two organisations are organising an event for this year’s Responsible Tourism Week (search twitter #RTweek2012). The theme of the event will be: Volunteering – Good, Bad or Ugly? To discuss the up-to-date debate of whether ‘voluntourism’ operators need to be more transparent and organise their activities by consulting the local communities and preparing the volunteers better.
Speakers at this event will be Ben Keene from Tribewanted, and Christopher Hill from Hands Up Holidays, who will be expressing their views of voluntourism and the way they think it should be done properly.
About Thomas Armitt
"During my 4 years at university, whilst doing a degree in Marketing and French, I had the opportunity to spend a year in Senegal researching the possibility of developing community based ecotourism and how to market it to the UK. Thanks to this experience, I developed a passion for responsible tourism, and decided to create West Africa Discovery. Currently I am doing an MSc in Responsible Tourism Management and have just come back from Sierra Leone where I conducted some research on the potential for implementing and developing the concept of responsible tourism."
This event highlighting Responsible Tourism week, on Wed 15 Feb at 7pm GMT will be a very interesting evening. We are live streaming, so do go to www.justintv/wadiscovery to register and participate.
Thank you for registering!
You are on your way to a greener future!