Overtourism the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland


“People are slowly waking up to the fact we are not going to run out of tourists…. it is environmentally sound and attractive destinations…. that are becoming scarce. People will not stop moving around the globe, but they will do it more selectively”

This quote was made by the property developer Tony Goldman to the author Arild Molstad in 2012, for his book, “Last Chance Destinations”.

It seems Tony Goldman wasn’t wrong, we are definitely not running out of tourists any time soon… and ‘overcrowding’, ‘over-tourism’ or ‘capacity issues’, take your pick of the framing, is now a recognised problem within the tourism industry. Forward-thinking communities, like those of us on the Loop Head Peninsula and leaders such as Ann Heidi Hansen and Hanne Lykkja in Nordland Co Co who care for the Lofoten Islands, have looked at what is happening elsewhere and decided the best, and most effective, way to manage an overcrowded site is actually by planning for it not to happen in the 1st place.

Others, like the National Trust (NT) at the Giants Causeway (GC) and Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge (CAR), with over 1.5m visitors to the site, have come to the realisation that enough is enough…that it will be unsustainable and irresponsible for them to continue doing what they have always done and expect a different result. So, they have embarked on a journey to understand how they can continue to deliver their primary mission, conservation, while still managing those assets responsibly, for themselves, the environment and the local community.

I believe the tourism industry has singularly failed to recognise that its viability, its very sustainability, is almost totally reliant on a social license to operate from the host community within which it takes place, a license that has been, mostly, freely given in the past because the perceived benefits have outweighed the perceived costs. But this has changed, and ongoing situations from all over the world clearly demonstrate that we cannot expect local communities to put up with the negative social, environmental and economic impacts any longer, communities have found their voice, they are becoming less understanding of the prevailing ‘tourism = good’ narrative and are more demanding of their right to live unaffected by tourism.

It stands to reason then, that if we want to manage these sites with a view to supporting a sustainable tourism industry, we have to really involve those communities in the decision-making process on a far deeper level. There are very strong advocates for the economy and the environment, but historically we have had no such strong advocacy for the local communities. That this would be required at all is such a ‘revolutionary idea’, that when the NT went to tender earlier this year for consultants to deliver the community engagement portion of their capacity study they struggled to get what was considered to be an appropriate response. My partner, Matt Scrimgeour and I, both consider community conservation as important a goal as environmental or cultural, and we designed a 15-month long program that would deliver meaningful, open, long term future communication between the GC/CAR portfolio and the host communities that will ensure a co-created, asset-based, sustainable destination.

Our work program is primarily about Identifying stakeholders and their stake, building relationships, opening clear communication channels, building trust, identifying projects, empowering community groups/clusters and ultimately creating a forum where all actors can discuss a common sustainable future for the area”, and drinking lots and lots of cups of tea…

One of the most important things we undertook was the neighbourhood survey designed to find out the local sentiment toward the NT, to tourism in general and to tourism to the GC and CAR.

And without boring you all to death with too much detail I will run through some of the interesting findings from the 315 responses we got.

Community engagement; 81% of the respondents were not involved in the industry. Historically tourism development, and operations, is undertaken with little or no engagement with the non-industry community. The volume of responses to this survey should make the tourism industry and development stakeholders sit up and pay attention. The community has a clear wish to be asked for their input, are willing to engage when asked, and have very strong views as to the impacts of tourism on their daily lives and how this manifests.

The environment; Approx. 64% of respondents across every sector felt the biggest negative impact of tourism would be on the environment. Given that the NT stated ethos is primarily about conservation they should be ideally placed to be local heroes in this regard, but they are not, far from it. This clearly indicates a breakdown between the perception by the community of the primary purpose of the NT, as custodians of a protected area, and their current role, as managers of the sites as a tourist attraction.

Access to the GC; There is a huge contradiction at play here; Historically, the NT has been seen to facilitate increased public access to sites that communities have not been allowed into, however in this instance, the local perception is “they”, the NT, are restricting access to a site that “we”, the community, have had public access to for 1000s of years, and this restriction is almost solely for monetary gain that doesn’t benefit us. This perception makes it almost impossible for the managers to manage the site. Finding a workable solution to this will be key to unlocking the capacity for the Trust to move from volume-based to a value-based metric, one that would deliver far higher benefits for the environment and the local community.

Traffic; A great example of how having a deep community engagement process can be of benefit, increased traffic levels are cited as one of the biggest local concerns, but when we sat down with local people, drank some more tea, and dug a little deeper, we found their concern was more about how safe they felt on the road, rather than the volume of traffic. Foreign drivers on the wrong side of the road, in rental cars they are not used to, distracted by the wonderful scenery, large coaches driving too fast, on roads not designed for vehicles that size, vehicles of all types parked in inappropriate locations. This information, which was not captured by the quantitative survey methods, being run alongside our work, fundamentally alters the discussion about what the potential solutions might be.

In short, we need to radically rethink our tourism development strategies, we need to focus not on creating a ‘sustainable tourism industry’ nor indeed ‘sustainable destinations’, we need to focus instead on the sustainability of the host community and their environment, and we can only do that by putting them right at the very centre of the tourism development process, and, with a hat tip to Cormac Russell from Nurture Development, move from the current position where tourism almost always happens to the community’ in the destination and tourism development is done for the community’, to a situation where we on behalf of the NT are at the very least trying to create a destination with the community’  and where the ultimate goal is the destination and tourism development will be delivered ‘by the community’.

 We need to co-design an industry that best fits in with who they are, what they want, for themselves and their home, because in the midst of all this tourism development talk, we shouldn’t forget, for communities its not actually a destination, first and foremost it is their home, and it is to the credit that the NT have recognised this and have set in motion the mechanism to ensure the community have an equitable stake and voice in any discussions surrounding its development.

Cillian Murphy MSc & Matt Scrimgeour


“Responsible Tourism Development; Sustainable Tourism Destinations’

T: +353862780161

E: cillianmurphyconsulting@gmail.com

Twitter; @Tri2bResponsibl

Beyond Orphanage Visits: what are the responsible alternatives?

Guest post from Martin Punaks

Beyond Orphanage Visits: what are the responsible alternatives?

Between 2012 and 2016, I was the Country Director for Next Generation Nepal.  We worked closely with the Government of Nepal to rescue trafficked children from exploitative orphanages, rehabilitate them, trace their families in remote mountain villages, and reunify them with their parents or other family members.  We were committed to quality over quantity, and we had a 100% success record of no child we reunified ever being re-trafficked.  The problem was that for every child we reunified, another 50 were being brought to Kathmandu and placed in profit-making orphanages.  Well-intentioned but naïve tourists, volunteers and donors were giving their time and money to these orphanages believing they were supporting genuine ‘orphans’, whereas in fact, all the children had families who had also been deceived into believing that the orphanage was the best place for their children.

So we set about trying to tackle the problem at its source and raise awareness of the links between institutionalisation, trafficking and voluntourism.  We documented how the ‘orphanage business’ works in a seminal report; we persuaded embassies to adopt travel advice against orphanage volunteering; we worked closely with partners in the travel sector by running talks to potential volunteers in tourist pubs; we engaged the international media; and we joined a global movement of like-minded organisations campaigning against orphanage voluntourism.  Whilst we certainly started a lively debate, it was an uphill struggle to have an impact on the causes of this great tragedy – few travel and volunteering organisations (but by no means all) were willing to meaningfully engage with us or change their orphanage tours and projects.

Then one day in 2016 – boom!  JK Rowling tweeted about orphanage voluntourism, and everyone began to listen.  This was followed by a media frenzy around orphanage trafficking being included in the Australian Modern Slavery Act in 2018, and the US State Department including orphanage trafficking and voluntourism in its 2018 TIP Report.  The travel industry responded positively and began withdrawing from orphanage visits and volunteering.

Whilst this change in fortune was fantastic news and well worth celebrating, the sudden arrival of the tipping point caught many of us in the child protection sector off-guard.  We had been so focussed on campaigning against orphanage volunteering we were not properly prepared to respond to the plethora of calls for support from the travel sector into how to divest responsibly and safely, or to advise the travel sector in how to develop ethical alternatives to replace orphanage trips.

Thankfully the child protection sector is now catching up.  A number of exciting initiatives are on the horizon, including ReThink Orphanage’s forthcoming divestment resource to be launched in November, and ABTA and Home and Homes for Children’s Orphanage Tourism Taskforce.

WTM Responsible Tourism is also changing its focus this year – moving beyond its usual format of child protection experts explaining the problem, this year we will instead be showcasing examples of good practice from within the travel and volunteering sectors on ethical and child-friendly alternatives, and other solution-focussed schemes.  I am honoured to have been asked by Professor Harold Goodwin to moderate this year’s panel on “Child Protection – what is better than orphanages?”, on Tuesday 5 November at 11:30 am.  Intrepid Travel, The Code and people and places: responsible volunteering will be presenting their work.  I hope to see some of you there.

We have also developed an online resource called Beyond Orphanage Visits on the Responsible Tourism website.  This has been written for travel and volunteering organisations interested in safely and responsibly moving away from orphanage visits and developing ethical alternatives.  It showcases good practice that already exists so others can learn from this.  Please do take some time to review it and see how it could help you.

I often think back to my activist days in 2012, when we were figuring out how we could make a dent in the problem of orphanage trafficking – it seemed an almost insurmountable task.  So it is with great pleasure that I now find myself sitting side-by-side with incredible colleagues from within the travel and volunteering sectors, working together to make tourism and volunteering the force for good we know it can be for millions of children and families around the world.

Martin Punaks is an International Development Consultant with a focus on child protection, volunteering and responsible tourism.  For more information see www.martinpunaks.com.

Martin Punaks

International Development Consultant
Strategic Advisor for Next Generation Nepal
Linked-In: https://linkedin.com/in/martinpunaks/


Can Travel Broaden the Mind?

At Arabian Travel Market in Dubai in April 2019 there was a panel debate about this question.

Tourism Broadens the Mind – can we do more?
Tourists are increasingly demanding memorable experiences, opportunities for meaningful connections with local people, One of the great benefits of travel and tourism is the opportunities it creates for people from very different religions, cultures and backgrounds to meet and for the traveller or tourist to learn more of the history and way of life of the communities they visit. As Krippendorf, the founder of Responsible Tourism pointed out, “every individual tourist builds up or destroys human values while travelling”. What can those of us in the industry do to foster understanding and celebrate diversity?

Mejdi Tours are leaders in socially conscious tourism and the originators of the Dual Narrative Tour ™. They are the world’s leading experts on post-conflict tourism now operating tours in 20 countries.

Husam Jubran of Mejdi Tours made a strong case for well-guided tours achieving this.

What is unique about Mejdi?  Presenting complexity with two guides, one for each side of the conflict.

The Guide as Educator - addressing multiple narratives

Broadening the minds of tourists - deconstructing stereotypes.

Aziz Abu Sarah, co-founder of Mejdi Tours with Scott Cooper, his TED talk is important for all engaged in tourism.

Aziz Abu Sarah is a Palestinian activist with an unusual approach to peace-keeping: Be a tourist. The TED Fellow shows how simple interactions with people in different cultures can erode decades of hate. He starts with Palestinians visiting Israelis and moves beyond.

Responsible Tourism at WTM Latin America in 2019

WTM Latin America launches its own Responsible Tourism Awards to bring light to the best initiatives for the sustainable development of the continent 

Since its first edition in 2013, WTM Latin America has been carrying on the Responsible Tourism Programme as in its fellow events in London, Cape Town and Dubai. A team of specialists, tour operators, associations and consultants from across the continent came and brought valuable information on how to tackle some of the emerging themes the Latin American travel and tourism industry has been facing.

2019 sees the launch of the WTM Latin America Responsible Tourism Awards, which will be part of the prestigious family of World Responsible Tourism Awards launched in 2004 and now awarded globally and in Africa and India.

The launch counted with the presentation of businesses which have previously won the World Responsible Tourism Awards and explained why the entered and what the benefits were for them. The categories for 2020 match some of the most important topics for the continent, including conservation of wildlife and cultural heritage and poverty reduction and inclusion.  

Other panels added the responsible tourism programme in São Paulo. The issue on certifications and labels, a hot topic landing strong in Latin America, was discussed among a group of certification organisations, among them Teresa Llusa from Green Tourism, Erica Lobos from Earth Check and Alexandre Garrido from ISO - these last 2 working on labels for destinations as a whole.  

The carbon emission made the panel for day 3. Prof. Dr. Marcos Buckeridge from the University of São Paulo - USP and partner researcher at IPCC brought a lecture with the most recent information on climate change, the level of responsibility the travel and tourism industry has for the current levels of CO2 emission and the consequences for destinations in the next few years if action is not taken among all.  

Mr. Buckeridge was followed by tour operators and travel associations that are working on internal solutions to develop awareness among their suppliers, clients and associates.  

From June the WTM Latin America Responsible Tourism Awards entries will be open at latinamerica.wtm.com . First awards will be presented at the 2020 edition in São Paulo, Brazil.

Responsible Tourism Award Features in Barcelona Elections

How a Responsible Tourism award can help to empower a local community

Himalayan Ecotourism was Overall Winner, in the 2019 India Responsible Tourism Awards.

"The judges recognise the co-operative structure linked with a more internationally oriented marketing and management company, but with guaranteed profits for the staff owned co-operative as a model for tourism development which ensures local benefits and control, empowers local communities and provides a viable route to market as a model which could, and should, be replicated." more of the judges' reasons.

How a Responsible Tourism award can help to empower a local community

Stephan Marcal, Director, Himalayan Ecotourism

My life as an active conservationist started in India, in the state of Jharkhand, in the forests inhabited by the Munda tribe. I found evidence in the lifestyle of these local forest-dwellers that humankind could live in harmony with nature to a great extent. And so, this tribal area, infamous for its Maoist presence and unparalleled economic disparities, and steeped in tensions between inter-religious groups became my foray into social activism with rural communities in India.

Years later, when I moved to the Himalayas, I found that I still had the motivation to work for conservation with the local community, but I decided to drop the non-profit methodology and instead opt for a social enterprise model of working.
Tourism appeared to be the most natural and obvious entry point to this path. And after anchoring myself on the periphery of the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP), outdoor and adventure activities have become my focus. Our initial idea was quite simple: get tourism activities to generate income which would enable the local people with whom we were collaborating to grow economically. This would also enable us to undertake conservation projects independently of any grants or donations from outside bodies.

The local people who were already working in the field of trekking in the national park quickly took to the idea very naturally. After a couple of weeks of meetings and discussions, we decided to establish a cooperative society with a maximum of members so that they could become socially strong enough to work towards and defend a sustainable model of tourism.

That’s how I began working for conservation through tourism. We called ourselves Himalayan Ecotourism. But implementing what looked like an excellent idea was really not that easy. Trying to mobilize the locals became a disturbing thought to those in the local system who dominated the tourism business in Tirthan valley.
There is an intriguing fact about the GHNP and the community around. The villagers living close to the park are still natural resources-dependent for their livelihood. While the creation of the National Park took away their rights over these resources, it created a conflict between the community and the park administration and sense of distrust.

A few committed members of the GHNP administration tried to address this issue by creating the possibility of an alternate source of income for the villagers – through ecotourism. An “NGO” was established to see this through. Some people with the best possible profile for the job were identified (if not appointed) and encouraged to collaborate with the NGO. Unfortunately, very few of them were genuinely invested in the long term well-being of the Park or of the local community, but this aspect played out much later. For now, things looked to fall in place with the Park administration, with its members satisfied that the local community and the Park would coexist peacefully.

Unfortunately, things began to change when the original thinkers within the GHNP administration left the park. It was they who had found it necessary and essential that there should be a buy-in from the local community who should feel invested in the National Park. But when they (GHNP Government officials) were transferred as is usually the norm, the very people who were entrusted (people with business interests) to be the mediating body between the local community and the Park began to now focus on their own interests.
Things were back to square one after the setting of the Park. The local community found no interest in the existence of the National Park since there was no economic benefit for them, and the access that they used to have to the protected area was no longer available.
The villagers continued to sneak inside the park to exploit its natural resources, except that it was now illegal to do so. And this situation if any was bound to be disastrous for the people by being in eternal conflict with the GHNP.

This was the time when we stepped in. On July 2, 2014, with 65 members, the GHNP Community-Based Ecotourism Cooperative Society came into being. Things were not easy since the local elite (advanced folks with business interests) tried their best to ensure that the project never took off. It took us nine months of struggle to do it, but we didn’t know that our real troubles were yet to start.

The stories from the following four years are typical of a social effort happening in an area where the regulations are either inadequate or not implemented and undermined by corruption. The Tirthan Valley, a small world nestled between high mountains was far too removed from the democratic ecosystem of India, and everything that unfolded here was suited to the needs of certain local powers: and it reminded one of how banana republics of South America would have functioned.

Not the ideal environment for a grassroots movement to flourish.

And then there was another factor that compounded the existing problem. Our cooperative members have a limited understanding of world affairs, as their awareness levels were hyperlocal, similar to small island communities of the world. This also meant that they were easily discouraged by the negative response from the same elite who were once upon a time a reference point in their lives. Some of the members of the cooperative group began to see their own work as counterintuitive. And this was very discouraging.

The only positive response came from our clients--the people who were taken on treks by the cooperative members. I always made it a point to make these trekkers understand how a cooperative society is supposed to empower their trekking staff. But I was getting the feeling that the motivation and commitment required at this level were not enough for keeping the idea and group together. I could keep the cooperative going by coaching key people; offering better work conditions compared to competitors; and by gradually increasing the volume of business through marketing efforts.
This is when we got nominated for the Indian Responsible Tourism Award 2019 in the category of the Best Adventure Operator. First longlisted, and then shortlisted.

Suddenly, the cooperative members felt that there were in the spotlight for the right reasons. The recognition they were getting was from beyond their valley, and that people from beyond Himachal Pradesh were affirming their good work and calling this an excellent organization!

After we were shortlisted, we had a meeting of around 10 members. We didn’t talk much about the nomination, but during the meeting, an idea of launching a tree plantation project emerged. Of course, I immediately responded positively. And so it was the first time that Himalayan Ecotourism decided to implement a conservation project that is the initiative of cooperative members. Without a shred of doubt, I am positive that the nomination for the Responsible Tourism Award was the trigger behind this unexpected idea.

I went with two members to Delhi for the award ceremony. Keshav, the President and Sanju the Treasurer of the cooperative. Not only did we win the Best Adventure Operator medal, but we were also the Overall Winner of the 2019 award. This news spread across the Tirthan valley like a wildfire.
When we came back in the valley we could feel the immense joy that this created. I could see cooperative members congratulating each other in the streets of Gushaini. They understood it was their award! And they knew it was granted for to their efforts to work as a cooperative society, a promising model of local responsible tourism.
And at the next meeting, we had many more members than usual. The usual resistance to ideas had evaporated: we even discussed aspects of how the functioning of cooperative could be improved. In short, we agreed that, with a double award in hands, we should let the past behind and look ahead for a brighter future. Meanwhile, our local competitor who had given us a very hard time during our initial days reacted by mobilizing other locals in making a second cooperative society.

We hope our awards will increase the visibility of our model and inspire locals to replicate it in other areas where tourism is developing. But we strongly feel that it should not come at the cost of our cooperative.

One area, one cooperative… A second cooperative would defeat the very idea of a cooperative which is to bring people together. It would only bring in a destructive competition between locals, and be at cross purposes for the original idea which is to ensure better conditions for everyone.

Now looking back at the entire scenario, I strongly believe that the main reason that brought us the award is not just our cooperative model, but the fact that we are genuinely working with the community for conservation, and not merely for the sake of greenwash!

Stephan Marchall, Director, Himalayan Ecotourism