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Original Source: Extract from the February 2014 newsletter for the Long Run Initiative

Everyone is aware of the large and increasing contribution of the tourism industry worldwide to economies, employment, environmental and cultural conservation and community upliftment. So why then does the tourism industry have such a marginal voice in the global sustainable industry?

I believe the reason is fairly straightforward. The most noise comes from the biggest sinners. They have the most to hide and the most to lose when forced to improve their sustainability performance. Industries such as energy, transport, mining, farming and manufacturing spring to mind. These industries are also very well funded and invest heavily in advertising and PR campaigns to create the impression that they are moving in the right direction. They also provide funding and publicity to many research projects that paint them in a good light. And the very industries that inform and create the buzz about sustainability (media, consultants, politicians etc.) will also hover around these industries because they are more likely to benefit from the association.

It stands to reason that we all have the most to gain if those big sinners do improve on their sustainability performance, and so its likely that most coverage in the sustainability space will remain focused on these industries.

Comparatively tourism is not a big sinner and does not have the budget to flood media with greenwashing and so it’s simply not able to gatecrash the party.

Another industry that gets a fair share of coverage is technology – and they are important players because their innovations help the big sinners to reduce their negative environmental and human footprints. Again, tourism does not produce any product that could conceivably help another industry improve its performance and so again tourism does not feature on the sustainability party radar.

I would suggest that the better question to ask is what the tourism industry can do to ride the waves created by the big sinners that continue to erode Earth’s precious resources – the same resources that many tourism operations depend on.

My advice to the tourism industry is to increase their involvement with communities and charities that are the effective guardians of Earth’s natural resources and wild places, to publicly lobby strongly and vocally against any unsustainable activity and not to be afraid of the political consequences. Use the power of social media and the ever-increasing political clout of the public to achieve greater transparency and accountability and to change the current system, which favours secrecy and questionable ethics.

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I am a proud African and honoured to be CEO of Africa Geographic. My travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, elusive birds and real people with interesting stories. I live in Hoedspruit, next to the Kruger National Park, with my wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells. When not travelling or working I am usually on my mountain bike somewhere out there. I qualified as a chartered accountant but found my calling sharing Africa's incredibleness with you. My motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". Connect with me on LinkedIn

Africa Geographic Travel
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