Prompted by travel blogger Nomadic Matt’s petition against dolphinariums, Bret Love and TBEX set an actionable example with the event itself by diplomatically negotiating with the Cancun Tourism Board to request that they exclude swimming with dolphins from activities offered to media attending the conference, declaring the organization’s opposition to this use of animals in captivity for touristic sport. This form of advocacy and action represents an important step for the travel media as proponents of responsible travel who can use their influence to initiate change.
Dr. Martha Honey commented on broader issues of animals in captivity related to tourism and cited the 5 Freedoms statement created by the UK organization Born Free and endorsed by Crest to clarify their position that whenever possible animals should live in their natural environment, and when this is not the case, 5 essential freedoms should apply: 1. sufficient and good quality food and water;2. a suitable living environment; 3. an opportunity to exhibit natural behaviors; 4. protection from fear and distress; and 5. good health.
In producing a new edition to her book Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise?, Honey discovered effective progress had been made across the globe in the growth and viability of geo tourism built on an ethical impetus to tourism development that privileged educational aspects of travel, enhancing travelers’ memories of their trip. This form of “exponential travel” benefits local communities, as Love remarked, “The saying ‘Take only pictures and leave only footprints behind’ has evolved into ‘Take only pictures and leave a better place behind.’”
The general travel media has a responsibility for educating the average traveler about the importance of being socially conscious when selecting travel options. The panelists emphasized that whereas the travel media should take the lead, the drive for change should occur at every level—consumer, government, and industry, as the need to reduce the damages of traditional tourism development is urgent. Honey commented that the traditional media tends to report on the travel industry as a fairly benign topic, steering clear of controversy. She urged the TBEX audience to have courage and integrity in raising the tough questions. We can no longer travel in a manner that is destroying local habitats and cultures. According to Honey, “Climate change will shutter resorts. We can't continue to build right on beaches.”
The Center for Responsible Travel has consolidated some important statistics on the economic benefits and profitability of sustainability options in the travel industry. The organization undertook its own study on the income generated from bear viewing in Canada’s Great Bear Rain Forest, prompted by the conflict between First Nations’ call for a ban on bear hunting permits and the Provinicial government. The study revealed that nature viewing generated significantly more income for the Province than the sale of hunting licenses. Surveys and reports from the travel industry over the last 3 years indicate that geo tourism is on the rise. A 2012 National Travel and Tourism Strategy study found that for Americans traveling abroad, “Nature-based, culture-based, heritage and outdoor adventure travel represent a significant segment of the outbound tourism market.”
Other issues discussed among the panelists as a part of the movement for responsible travel included fair wages, sustainable food cultivation, and human trafficking. Calvert and Honey debated the controversial topic of carbon offsetting programs for air travel, with Calvert questioning the tangible benefits of such programs. Honey responded that reducing international travel would have devastating effects for many countries reliant primarily on tourism for revenue, such as Tanzania, Kenya, and Costa Rica. She suggested that rather than boycott air travel, travelers can travel smart, be more eco conscious at home and while traveling, and pressure airlines to develop greener airplanes.
Among other trends, Honey noted that luxury travel is, contrary to many assumptions, a primary market for green travel, with high-end properties and tour operators initiating some of the most innovative changes.
In general, best practices for travel for our future, in Honey’s words, are to “Travel in a way that is light on the land, paying fair wages, giving back to the local community, and providing great experiences.”