Who are the true providers of sustainable (or responsible) tourism? What are the real issues and solutions in terms of marketing?  These two questions have been with Florie since the very beginning of her adventure through Latin America. We have shared some answers on the subject over the last few months with all of the team at Hopineo (You can read Defining responsible tourism and Why). However, during the journey, by facing the realities of this subject, Florie has realised that to answer these questions in a concrete manner is not always that simple. So, for this entry into 2016, after 18 months of travelling, visiting about a hundred tourism initiatives spanning 16 countries from Mexico to Brazil, she would like to share her more recent thoughts on the subject.

1. Who are the true providers of responsible tourism?

In theory, the easier option is to follow the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) international standards. According to their definition, sustainable tourism professionals are the ones who are adopting a sustainable management plan allowing less negative impacts and more positive benefits, for both local communities, cultural heritage and the natural environment. Have a look at the quick presentation that we did to sum up the GSTC criteria illustrated with videos of good practices collected during my HopTour Latin America : click here.
GSTC Definition to Sustainable Tourism
In practice, nothing is so black and white, and I am no one to judge the ´sustainability´ of a tourism initiative. During the course of my HopTour in Latin America, in order to select which place to offer my visit, I research them asking recommandation to tourist organisations representing the destination in question. I ask them things such as

          ´Which are, in your opinion, the professionals in the tourism sector that have passion for what they do and contribute in a positive manner towards local development, allowing for more profits to benefit the local community, cultural heritage and the natural environment?´

I contact inbound agencies, tourism professors and consultants, through my networks (thanks to LinkedIn in particular) and searching on Google Lilo.
I visit all kinds of tourism initiatives: from the indigenous community-based tourism association, to very luxurious lodges. I do not think that a tourism provider can be 100% sustainable, or that one type of accommodation is more sustainable than another. All concepts and levels of comfort have their place in responding to different needs of the modern traveller. Diversity is the spice of life!
Sustainable Tourism Providers
So the idea is to find the tourism providers who:

  • are conscious of the impact of their activities, and wish to manage them as best as possible without the sole goal of benefiting economicaly to the detriment of society and the environment.
  • have put into action creative solutions to allow for positive growth and development in their tourist destination.

In order to assure that the offer is also economically beneficial from the business point of view, I would add to the GSTC definition the criteria of the Travellers’ Benefits (read Xavier Font – Respondeco), illustrated in the above diagram by the ´+services´. And therefore, if in addition the organisation is creative in the way that they provide the travellers’ benefits, it can stand out by proposing a memorable and original experience… and that is the key to success! This happens a lot when the people leading the projects are passionate about what they are doing: when tourism is a means to an end and not the end itself.

2. Which are the main marketing challenges in sustainable tourism?

I think that the three main marketing challenges, for the tourism sector in general, but even more for responsible tourism, are:

  • Tourist Product: to improve the quality of services and experience offered to the traveller.
  • Destination promotion: to develop new destinations to share the offer all over the territory (to avoid the “Machu Pichu” phenomena).
  • Digital communication: to increase visibility of all the ´small´ responsible tourism providers on the internet, right next to the ´bigger´ ones.

Marketing Diagnostic for Tourism Organisation
During the first few months of the trip, I made the mistake of concentrating too much on the digital communication around tourism companies services, whereas sometimes the two first crucial stages of improvement to the tourist product and promotion of the destination were not yet ready. I’m now better aware of the importance of an initial global diagnostic.
The majority of responsible tourism providers are small businesses who have very little marketing know-how (strategic marketing in general and digital marketing in particular). I started by working on an open, online resource in the form of a marketing manual. It consists of a series of questions to aid businesses with this diagnostic task in order to prioritize points of action. I also publish all of the marketing case studies that have been worked on during this HopTour in Latin America, alongside the case studies of my fellow HopAmbassadors colleagues.
The aim is to allow free access for all of these resources and educational tools:

  • For the ´smallest´ responsible tourism providers (who usually have limited financial resources), in order for them to have equal access to the marketplace (to be visible to potential visitors) and to secure their economic viability;
  • For HopTrippers, who travel from place to place to exchange their skills and time for room and food;
  • For all the tourism students and professionals in general, in order for the continued development of the responsible / sustainable tourism field and to improve these tools together, in a collaborative manner, to co-produce a better world, thanks to tourism!

If you have enjoyed this article, and wish to be a part of the Hopineo collaborative platform for a better tourism:

  • Join the team, bring your energy and skills: www.hopineo.org/en/contribute
  • Comment on the article below and share it with your social media networks 🙂

A very special thank you to SusanaViajero Responsable, Sara – Sustainable Tourism World and Ana – Viajar Verde for the rich exchanges about the subject these last weeks. And a huge thank you also to Holly Cooper Chima for the english and spanish translation!
FlorieContact Florie Thielin
Blog www.floriethielin.com
Twitter @floriethielin
Facebook Hopineo Latin America

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