Tourism in the Asia Pacific region is growing, and it’s happening fast. According to global statistics from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourism growth is strongest in Asia and the Pacific, where the number of international tourist grew by 14 million in 2013. Pascal Lamy, Chair of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics and former Director-General of the World Trade Organization, weighs in on the impact of these staggering numbers.
There is a need for international guidelines, recommendations and codes of conduct.
Tourism is growing so fast in the Asia Pacific region. Does this raise any concerns for you?
My biggest concern in Asia, as in other regions of the world, considering that travel and tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors, is its sustainability. By that, I mean social and environmental sustainability. Furthermore, in the case of Asia the exponential rise in the number of tourists requires adequate infrastructure as well as tailored capacity building of tourism professionals.
How can we ensure emerging destinations are able to keep up with protecting their cultural, natural and human resources?
In my opinion, there is a need for international guidelines, recommendations and codes of conduct which can serve as a framework for the different tourism sector stakeholders.
One of such useful instruments is the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (GCET). This Code was adopted by the UNWTO General Assembly in 1999 and subsequently endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2001 as a roadmap for the sustainable and responsible development of tourism worldwide. It is addressed to governments, the travel industry, communities and tourists alike, helping to maximize the sector’s benefits while minimizing its potentially negative impacts. The Code sets forth various ethical principles and standards related to the environment, cultural heritage and societies across the globe which should be translated into national policies and business practices.
The implementation of the Code is monitored by the World Committee on Tourism Ethics, an impartial and independent body composed of reputed experts in the field of tourism and other areas of human activity. The current priorities of the committee are:
– Fighting the exploitation of children
– Combating all forms of trafficking
– Curbing poaching and the illegal trade wildlife
– Ensuring accessible tourism for all
– Promoting fair models of all inclusive holiday
– Discouraging unfounded rating of travel portal which may impact the reputation of companies and destinations
Get to know even more about Pascal Lamy in Conversation Insights, a series of interviews sharing personal stories and opinions from the experts.
How can industry leaders make ethics and sustainability part of their framework, instead of a marketing tool?
The businesses should adopt an ethical business culture, develop CSR policies and strategies and eventually consider committing to the UNWTO Code of Ethics, making this tool part of their corporate values. Most importantly, they need to understand that it is about doing good but also about doing good businesses.
Can the ethics be naturally built into tourism leadership, and how can they be applied practically?
There is no sound leadership in any sector without an ethical basis. Yet, it does not happen naturally! Implementation of ethical principles implies awareness raising, public policies, and proper follow up. Transparency and accountability are key.
What are some of your favorite tourism success stories in the Asia Pacific region?
I remember visiting community projects promoting art and handcraft in the region surrounding Angkor Wat which succeeded in creating a positive link between tourism and local employment.
When it comes to following the global code of ethics, is there any one area that you think is the biggest struggle? Are there certain failures or mistakes that you’ve seen repeatedly?
It depends on local circumstances. Properly inserting tourism into ecosystems necessitates a multifaceted approach. Impacts on water resources or on forest are obvious examples in my view. Not to forget the social impact on host communities, on their local beliefs and cultural heritage and the need to engage them in the decision that in terms of tourism development impact their lives.
On 27 September, we celebrated World Tourism Day on the theme of tourism and community development. This is an occasion to recall that host communities need to be at the heart of tourism.
What do you feel is the traveler’s role in terms of ethical tourism? Are there questions they need to ask, resources they should look to?
Travelers and tourists need to be aware that they do not just “consume” a service and that what they buy does not discharge them from their responsibility as humans.
Tourism should be practiced with a sufficiently open mind, with an attitude of tolerance and respect for sociocultural diversity. Just by following some practical steps – such as, for example, honoring local traditions and customs, respecting the environment and wildlife, and supporting the local economy by buying locally-made handicrafts and products- will make the visits more rewarding and gratifying for the tourist, as well as for the people and places visited.
Briefing travelers prior to their visit or on the spot seems to work reasonably well.
Where do you think the industry can improve on developing human capital, especially in emerging Asia Pacific regions?
Training, training, training!
How do you anticipate travelers’ needs to evolve in the coming years?
It depends very much on the market segment but one common issue will surely be the use of technology and the desire to “experience” the destination visited.
See how one tour company merged sustainable travel ethics with a successful business model in our interview with Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures.