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Published on : Thursday, November 7, 2013
The World Travel Market panel on Responsible Volunteering today (Thursday 7 November) combined signs of progress with revelations of continuing failures to clean up the voluntourism industry, especially concerning issues around child protection and orphanage tourism.
On the previous day People and Places had won the award for Best for Responsible Tourism Campaigning. Today its programme director Sallie Grayson opened with a look at developments in the voluntourism industry over the past 12 months. She commended responsibletravel.com for removing all orphanage tourism from its site, hoping that such high profile leadership might encourage other companies to make similar changes. However, she was not optimistic as she revealed that she had recently contacted 90 volunteer organisations and asked if they had child protection policies. Just 26 responded, of whom 15 declared yes, but only five of them either make their policies publicly available or sent her the requested proof.
“You can work with organisations that support children, but those organisations must be doing everything they possible can to keep those children in their communities and with their families,” said Sallie.
Vicky Smith from the International Centre for Responsible Tourism focussed on the responsible marketing of volunteering, and revealed that average monthly Google searches for keywords “volunteer abroad” number 9900, but for “responsible volunteering” it is just 10. She did, however, believe the internet could be used promote transparency. “Social Media offers volunteers the chance to hold voluntourism organisations to account,” said Vicky, citing examples of individual volunteers exposing problems on Facebook and companies changing their policies as a result. This is particularly important, she said, because currently “lack of regulation of volunteering means volunteers are buying poor products and not able to hold bad companies to account.”
In one final significant positive development, Sallie Grayson announced that People and Places would this year be launching a directory of responsible volunteering companies, enabling those wishing to find ethical volunteering opportunities to have a starting place they could trust.
The last session of WTM 2013’s responsible tourism programme looked at the economic contribution of heritage to tourism. Dr Jonathan Foyle, Chief Executive of World Monuments Fund Britain, revealed that heritage tourism was now worth £26 billion to the UK economy. However he said, there was another side to this growth, citing the example of Venice, where the native population has halved to 50,000, but 80,000 tourists arrive each day. “The age of mass tourism has enabled people to enjoy Venice but inflicted a huge toll on its resources,” he said, revealing that cruise ships now bring 20,000 a day into the city, but without adding much benefit to the economy or community. The guests sleep and eat their meals on the ship, and just spend a few hours on the streets of Venice, where their main purchases are snacks and souvenirs. This in turn is creating a huge waste problem for the city.
He described a similar situation in Cambodia, where the popularity of the Angkor Wat temple complex has seen many new hotels built. But unfortunately they are drawing heavily from the water table, and as a result monuments are subsiding. This damage is compounded by the volume of tourists eroding structures as they walk across them.
Well-managed heritage tourism, however, can bring huge benefit to regions, and Oliver Maurice, Director of the International National Trusts Organisation revealed that 78% of holidays to South West England were motivated by the conserved landscape and supported 43% of all tourist related jobs in the region. Chris Warren, a Sustainable & Responsible Tourism Consultant from Australia, explained that heritage tourism was also about far more than just the money it brought in. He cited examples of the importance for communities to connect with ‘intangible heritage’ such as their culture’s stories and events in their past, adding that: “The value of intangible heritage helps to reinforce a community’s identity and contributes to community development and resilience.”