Responsible Tourism without Professor Harold Goodwin would be like the peace movement without leaders like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi. Harold Goodwin’s conferences, research and writing have become crucial instruments for making sure that those in charge of travel companies and tourist destinations won’t forget their social and environmental responsibilities when dreaming up new ways of making money.
In this interview, Harold Goodwin tells us how it all started and how his views on sustainable – responsible – tourism have changed over the years.
- How sustainable tourism discourse and practice has changed over the last decades;
- Why priorities for sustainable tourism differ for each destination;
- What Responsible Tourism is all about;
- The key ingredients needed for more sustainable destinations;
- How the WTM Responsible Tourism awards have changed during his term as chair;
- Why he founded the International Centre for Responsible Tourism;
- The best way to teach responsible tourism;
- How to measure/quantify responsible tourism on a destination level;
- Which media Harold Goodwin follows for updates on sustainable tourism.
Harold, what was your view on sustainability when you started your academic career in tourism – was it a topic at all back then?
I started working on tourism in 1994 when I was research director at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology. It was a government-funded project investigating ecotourism, the relationship between tourism, conservation and sustainable development – so yes, sustainability was an important issue for me.
I was quite shocked by how little attention was being paid to sustainability by tourism academics and the industry. Ecotourism was all the rage but there was little understanding about sustainability among those promoting ecotourism and we were already two years on from Rio and seven from Brundtland.
Now in 2015, how has your view on sustainability in tourism changed?
By 1996 when I was asked to assist with the VSO campaign for ethical tourism, I had realised that since we couldn’t define sustainability in any operational way it was best to avoid the term. There is a triple bottom line sustainability agenda, it is easy to draw up a long list of issues.
What is more important is to identify what matters in particular places and address those issues and set local targets. It makes sense to conserve water in lots of places, but it is not a priority everywhere.
The sustainability agenda is less dominated by environmental issues now than it used to be, but it is still a challenge – despite the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] and now the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] – to get economic and social issues included on the sustainability agenda.