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Accountability and Transparency

February 3, 2022
Harold Goodwin
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Accountability and Transparency: 'never mind the patter watch the hands'

Responsible Tourism is a broad movement comprising businesses in source markets and destinations, communities and their governments, travellers and holidaymakers. Each playing their part in making tourism better, changing the product they offer or the way they consume it, choosing to use tourism to make better places to live in and to visit. Accountability is at the core of responsibility, and transparency is fundamental to accountability.

Avoiding Greenwashing

Responsible Tourism and sustainable tourism then are not the same thing. Responsible Tourism emphasises what individuals and groups do to address those sustainability issues that arise in particular places, addressing local priorities, transparently reporting what is being done to address the local priorities. When individuals, businesses or governments assert that they are engaging in Responsible Tourism, ask them for the specifics. Ask:

  1. What are they taking responsibility for?
  2. How are they taking responsibility, what are they doing and how much are they doing?
  3. What have they achieved?

The outcomes and impacts are the evidence we need to judge whether responsibility is being effectively taken.[1] Too rarely is the evidence published, only evidence can counter greenwashing.

Certification Plus

Presently certification schemes are opaque and process-driven; certificates fail to communicate anything meaningful to the traveller or holidaymaker. The consumer can't discover anything about the business's performance on the issue(s) that matter to them, whether employment conditions, water use or carbon emissions. Water consumption matters in areas where the water supply is stressed; it does not matter everywhere. Certification needs to evolve, recognising local priorities and reporting achievement rather than effort. Local authorities representing communities need to determine the priorities, the certifiers need to audit what is reported.

Certification needs to be more meaningful if it is to achieve more traction with consumers: "Certification Plus". Certification needs to evolve with hotels and operators publishing their operational performance. The certifiers can audit that performance and sign off on the evidence, thereby taking real responsibility for their certificates and providing meaningful information to consumers.

[1] Goodwin H (2016) Responsible Tourism Goodfellow, Oxford: 17

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