Interview with Harold Goodwin on Irresponsible Tourists and the Future of Tourism

Harold Goodwin from the ICRT

Harold Goodwin

Harold Goodwin, is a leading promoter of the concept of Responsible Tourism. He directs the International Centre for Responsible Tourism, tourism has been a consultant for international organizations, countries and regions. It also helped boost the Pro-Poor-Tourism, a philosophy that wants to link development with turítisco poverty reduction.

Harold was kind enough to answer the following questions for this blog.

Tourism has been largely ignored as a field of study. Geographers and anthropologists are increasingly becoming interested in studying it. What aspects of tourism as a phenomenon do you feel deserve more attention?

I am not sure that this is the case. Geographers and anthropologists have written extensively on tourism and their disciplines have a great deal to contribute to the management of tourism. More recently the study of tourism has been provided alongside business and this has reduced both the breadth of the taught curriculum and the research taking place into the phenomenon of tourism. From a Responsible Tourism perspective it is important to draw on philosophy, ethics, public policy studies, political science, economics, psychology, cultural studies and many other disciplines in order adequately to understand and manage the activity – to use tourism to make better places for people to live in and to visit.

Attempts to establish a global Responsible Tourism certification have lost momentum. Do you think new attempts to establish a certification may be successful in the future? What would be the biggest pros and cons of a certification?

There has been no effort to create a local, let alone a global Responsible Tourism certification. The whole idea is anathema to the  idea of Responsible Tourism which recognises and celebrates the world’s diversity. The issues which matter vary from place to place for reasons of geography and culture. It makes no sense to have one set of criteria for certifying – responsibility is context specific. The other fundamental problem about certification is its lack of transparency – there is no way in which the consumer can know what the business is achieving; certificates are process rather than outcome orientated. As a consumer I want to know how much the hotel has reduced water consumption per bed night or how many local people it employs and how the wages compare with the local average or what a teacher earns. Certificates do not tell me that. The idea of a Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC)  is alive and kicking – there is a lobby of NGOs who see it as a worthwhile strategy.  There is very little business support for the idea. Think about it, after nearly a hundred years of graded accommodation there is still no global room classification system for hotels. This would be a far easier thing to achieve. With Justin Francis of, one of our alumni, I have been campaigning for more debate about the GSTC. We shall be redoubling our efforts in 2010 – the advocates of a global scheme need to demonstrate that certification schemes have reduced water consumption, carbon pollution and waste, improved labour conditions and/or secured market access or additional business for certified businesses. I know of no evidence to support their case. You can follow the campaign and support our call for debate at

Bhutan has developed a very restrictive tourism policy through very expensive visas. I know you have been involved in the development of this policy, how do value its results?

The Bhutan policy has been widely misunderstood.  The visa policy with its links to minimum spend does not apply to its largest international market: India. The policy has not ensured the sustainability of tourism in the way that many academics have written about it.

Recently the UK government has established a tax on flights, which has been criticized by the UNWTO. What is your position here? What would you expect next years regarding tax on flights?The UK government presented their new Air Passenger Duty as a green tax. It is a green tax only in that uses an environmental argument (we should fly less) to justify the raising of a new tax. For a green tax to be effective it needs to deter environmentally damaging behaviour by encouraging the polluter to pollute less and/or ensuring that the polluter pays to clean up the pollution or to compensate those affected. In 2010 I shall be continuing to campaign for the introduction of an international tax on aviation fuel to encourage airlines to be more fuel efficient and with the proceeds hypothecated to benefit those in economically poor countries having to adapt to climate change. See my aviation blog at

Recently, we have seen that Ryanair decline to close the deal with Boeing to buy 200 more planes. This has been interpreted as the beginning of the end of low-cost flights, what do you think about it?

The forecasts which have been made based on projecting recent growth in low cost flying from the UK dramatically overstated likely future growth, the market is probably saturated. Hence Ryanair’s decision – it does not mean the end of low cost flights, it does mean less growth in Europe. I expect that spectacular growth in low cost carriers will continue in Asia, and to a lesser degree in South America and Africa. The open skies policies and the increasing reluctance to protect and subsidise national carriers will continue to transform international aviation.

Will the tourism industry be capable of regulating itself and achieve better practices? Or do you think greater regulation is necessary to achieve real change?

When we started campaigning for ethical tourism with VSO in the mid-1990s in the period of Thatcherism it was clear that the only viable strategy was to campaign for tour operators, hoteliers and tourists to take responsibility for their action – that is what led to the Responsible Tourism Movement. The movement for Responsible Tourism has always been based on both market and regulation imperatives. The Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations, which I drafted for the first international conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations, advocated engagement by all the stakeholders, including national and local government, in working to create “better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” Neoliberalism was dealt a significant blow by the banking crisis and the politics have shifted – we shall see far more emphasis on regulation in the next 30 years.

In the Spanish case, after the end of the construction bubble and the increasing devaluation of the coastal destinations, in your opinion what is the right way to go?

It is a pity that so little is available in English about the way in which Spain used tourism to generate economic growth. I suspect that there is a great deal to be learnt from the Spanish experience about planning and the dangers of developing tourism rapidly to meet the needs of one market. The problems of the Costas are well known, they are similar to some of the problems confronting British seaside towns as consumer demand shifts and longer haul destinations become more accessible.. Spain has a very diverse product, the cultural tourism product in Madrid, Seville and Andalucia; the local distinctiveness of Catalonia, the city tourism in Barcelona and Madrid, the rural tourism experiences of walking, wine and the Paradores. Spain needs to continue to develop new more experiential products and to re-engineer its declining resorts – Spain has been very successful at this in Calvia and Majorca, but again the experience has not been written up and shared in English.

We keep speaking about change in the industry. The truth is however, that tourists misbehave sometimes as they leave their normal environment. What could be done to have tourists behave more responsibly?

I would argue that one motivation for travel is to misbehave. But only a small minority of all travellers are motivated by the pursuit of an opportunity for licentious or bad behaviour. Governments have intervened directly to address paedophilia and football hooliganism. Excessive drinking and public partying are a more widespread problem and one which originating or source market governments have been reluctant to deal with. Enclave development and “sacrifice” resorts are one way of dealing with this in the destination as is policing backed by the courts with appropriate punishment in the destination – mere expulsion is not enough to deter unacceptable behaviour. Destinations exercise quite a high degree of choice about who they attract – cheap accommodation, cheap alcohol and a party reputation will assure any destination of a hangover.  We need to encourage responsible behaviour amongst tourists about dress codes and appropriate behaviour. Tourists are a large part of what needs to be managed to make tourism more sustainable, it is one of the reasons that I see certification as the wrong route to go. That said tour operators, hoteliers, airlines and destinations need to be challenged when they seek to attract the kinds of tourists who trash a destination – the destination needs to organise to exercise choice and to attract the kind of tourists it wants. Local governance can achieve this.

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