Future priorities in sustainable tourism and the origins of ecotourism are two of the topics discussed in our Sustainability Leaders interview with Martha Honey, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) in the USA.
- What triggered Martha Honey’s interest in sustainability;
- How her view of sustainable tourism has changed over time;
- Why she co-founded the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), and its main purposes;
- Her thoughts on the future of academic research focused on sustainable tourism;
- Two of her favorite books on sustainability and tourism.
Martha, when and where did your sustainable tourism journey begin – when did you discover your passion for sustainability?
My interest in ecotourism and sustainable tourism began during my 20 years as an international journalist, based first in Tanzania and then in Costa Rica. I came to both love travel and to see first hand the importance of travel and tourism as a foreign exchange earner for developing countries.
I also saw many of the social and environmental problems caused by conventional tourism and that, sadly, most of the tourism dollars did not stay in the destinations.
With the emergence of the concept of ecotourism in the late 1970s and its rapid growth beginning in the 1990s, I became curious about whether this ‘good idea’ could really bring tangible benefits to communities and conservation.
In the mid-1990s I set out to look more systematically into ecotourism by writing a book on the topic (Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise? Editions in 1999 and 2008).
Initially I thought I would find that ecotourism was largely a marketing gimmick — ‘greenwashing’ – but the more I got into my research, the more I found that ecotourism, done well, has great potential. I became a convert to ecotourism – or to today what we more often refer to as responsible or sustainable travel.
What was your view of sustainable and responsible tourism when you first started your professional career?
Initially when I began working in the field of responsible travel, I was most concerned with how to measure the sustainability of tourism businesses. I felt without clear tools for assessing the environmental and social impacts, tourism businesses could get away with using ‘green’ language without putting in place good practices and that this ultimately would undermine the very concept of ecotourism.