Initiative for sustainable development

One might argue that local governments ought to play a vital role in destination level sustainability as they have the power to implement laws and regulations. However, it is notably difficult for them to know in what they are able to influence tourism and if there are ways to control tourist behaviour. It is difficult to anticipate how incoming tourists will behave as a result of their own awareness and knowledge, and so this renders local governments insufficiently aware of political and legal methods they might employ to impact the conduct of tourists (Kamp un-dated).

Swarbrooke makes a perfectly valid point where he suggests, “little will change until destination governments accept their responsibility and introduce regulations to control the activities of tour operators”. It is unknown to tour operators exactly how they are to ensure sustainable operation if there is no guidance as to what they ought to be abiding to. There is also only a limited amount of action that tour operators can be forced or encouraged to take with regards to sustainability.

He also goes on to say that “unless there is concentrated action by all or most destination governments, tour operators will simply withdraw themselves from those areas where there are regulated and move on to unregulated destinations” (Swarbrooke 1999, p. 281). Depending on how valuable a destination is to a tour operator as a resource base and the centrality of it to business functions, too much regulation will simply cause tour operators to establish themselves in other places unless all destination governments apply the same regulations, which would be impossible to achieve.

These factors make it difficult for local governments to take responsibility even should they wish to, despite their destinations being directly affected. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are able to promote destination level sustainability by providing information about the complexity of tourism and the objectives of sustainable tourism. Kamp talks of how they are able to educate tourists to become more environmentally and socially aware in order to make more calculated decisions on where there choose to visit and how they choose to behave.

Many NGOs have launched government-funded campaigns in order to do this and they have promoted much relevant research connected to impacts of tourism and the requirements for sustainable tourism. In conjunction with raising awareness, they have also set up schemes to observe the way in which tourists are received by local communities, initiatives taken by industries and development policies (Kamp un-dated). Whilst NGOs are clearly dedicated to destination level sustainability, it would be ludicrous to expect them to take full responsibility for it.

They are not the instigators of tourism, nor do they have appropriate funding, unlike tour operators, to implement as many schemes to improve sustainability, and so it would place large amounts of pressure on such organisations and charities to claim that they ought to be responsible. Having said this, their role of responsibility is absolutely vital to sustainability and has encouraged much awareness among stakeholders.

Although local communities do not invite tourists to destinations per se, indigenous people and local business still ought to hold some degree of responsibility for their surroundings, for if they don’t show that they care, it is difficult for other groups to display an interest in helping if they aren’t willing to help themselves. Local communities can benefit greatly from tourism, which provides jobs and can help to improve the economic prosperity of communities in general.

Despite suffering from disturbance of culture and effects of pollution, the economic benefits of tourism significantly balance out the negative impacts and for this reason, one would expect local communities to strive to encourage sustainable tourism. Local communities and businesses understand their environment superior to anybody else and so know the ways in which people are being affected. It is therefore sensible to assume that it is their responsibility to promote the protection of their environment and ways in which conservation may arise.

Again, however, it would not be feasible for local communities to assume full responsibility for sustainable development and tourism. Local knowledge must be used alongside tour operators’ frameworks for sustainability, placing a degree of responsibility on both. Responsibility is a very subjective concept. As can be seen from discussing the stakeholders involved, there are opportunities and challenges for many groups to enhance destination level sustainability.

Having assessed the differing roles that each group may assume in order to hold some degree of accountability for sustainability, it appears that, whilst nobody can be fully liable, the greatest scope for responsibility lies with tour operators. Tour operators are exert significant influence in determining who visits destinations and they have the capacity to adopt sustainable practices and market tourism responsibly, while simultaneously looking after the needs and desires of shareholders.

Although sustainable development requires vast financial and physical input which renders some smaller tour operators unable to help to a large degree due to lack of investment opportunities, larger tour operators have great potential to invest time, money and expertise in destination sustainability. This may sacrifice a small percentage of sustainability in the short run, but if tour operators are to remain fully operational in the future, it is vital that destinations are sustained and do not become exhausted.

The long term benefits of future holidays to such destinations would somewhat compensate for a short-term loss of profits. As stated by Miller and Twining-Ward 2005, with better information about the social-ecological systems being managed and with improved monitoring, tour operators can commit to conceptualising, planning and managing so that sustainability may thrive.

I do not feel, however, that destination level sustainability can be achieved without an integrated stakeholder approach and whilst I think that tour operators could assume the largest degree of responsibility on an individual level, I support the argument that “any successful quest for sustainability will be collective” (National Academies Press 1999, p. 3) and that “it is important to work with a cross-section of stakeholders encompassing the diversity of views and interests present in the destination – including the local authorities, the private sector, civil society and NGOs” (TOI un-dated).

This can be illustrated by the “Travel Operators for Tigers” initiative in which tour operators are working with local suppliers, government and communities to sustain tiger populations in India. This is a prime example of how tourists and tour operators can help to give something back to the destinations they are visiting and that destination level sustainability can be achieved if all interested parties share responsibility for, and work cohesively towards, this aim.

References

Carbone, G. , X. Font, and R. Tapper. Indicators for distribution channels: the Tour Operator’s Initiative for sustainable development. In G. Miller and L. Twining-Ward (Ed. ) Monitoring and Indicators for Sustainable Tourism. Wallingford: CABI Publishing 2005. pp 261-280. Carbone, G. Tour Operators’ responsibility and best practices examples. In Sustainable Tourism: The Tour Operators’ Contribution published by the TOI in Autumn 2003.