Responsible travel means not "haggling over wooden beads"

By Hilaire Avril

, by IPS

Tourism as a concern found its way onto the agenda of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro because of its potential for development but also due to its adverse effects on some populations and natural resources, particularly in Africa.

Sustainable tourism was defined at the summit as tourism that "meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future".

The many definitions of "responsible travel" all insist on the conservation of nature, of cultures, and on economic and social development. Meanwhile, the market has been booming.

Global figures are hard to come by. But "Responsible Travel", a British tour operator that sells "travel which respect and benefits local people and the environment", says it has sold 39,000 holidays since 2004.

ATES, the French Association for Fair Tourism, says it has sold holidays to 20,000 "responsible travellers" since 2006. Their annual numbers doubled between 2006 and 2009.

Tourism has indeed been hailed as the key to development in many countries. But its unintended consequences have included environmental degradation, as well as community factionalism and social stratification whenever communities do not enjoy a fair share of jobs and revenue.

"The history of tourism has been mostly negative for local communities and ecosystems," says Amanda Stronza, an environmental anthropologist who teaches at the Texas A&M University. Read more