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TRAVEL FEATURE

'Responsible tourism' booming in South Africa says travel expert


March 4, 2004

Julian Matthews, founder director of Discovery Initiatives
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa is at the cutting edge of responsible tourism, a leading international tour operator said on Wednesday.

Julian Matthews, managing director of Discovery Initiatives, a UK-based travel company which supports conservation and communities around the world, was speaking at the first annual meeting of Fair Trade in Tourism SA (FTTSA), in Sandton.

FTTSA was established by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to certify businesses which promoted fair and responsible tourism. Those awarded the FTTSA logo must meet certain criteria such as fair wages and working conditions, ethical business practices and respect for human rights, culture and the environment.

Matthews gave examples of irresponsible poor businesses practices in tourism. These included the overdevelopment of some of Spain's coastline; the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef and "enclave" tourism in the Caribbean, where outside interests reaped the rewards of local tourism.

Matthews said that four years ago the media in the United Kingdom said eco-tourism "turned people off", but now "they can't get enough".

The benefits to practitioners of responsible tourism included rapid growth; more returning clients; a greater sense of purpose among staff; better working partnerships and improved media presence.

Dr Tanya Abrahamse, director of the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) said operators had a number of "hidden supporters" to assist them in marketing themselves as responsible tourism operators.

She said the country's Constitution and Environmental Management Act automatically protected the rights of the citizen and the environment. National parks were already employing best business practices, and black empowerment was part of the commercial world behaving responsibly.

"It makes business sense," she said. "We are a unique, world class African destination. We focus on our people and our natural resources."

The Responsible Tourism Handbook, jointly published by the IUCN and a number of government agencies, offers guidelines on fair trade in all aspects of tourism.

It suggests employing local skills where possible; buying products locally; developing the community; facilitating health, education and literacy development; respecting local culture; designing buildings according to local architecture using sustainable materials from the region; and conserving the environment in all its forms, whether that be the conservation of water, recycling, correct waste disposal or the planting of indigenous trees and shrubs.

The handbook suggests operators increase what they now spend on conservation; charge tourists a levy of R10 a night to be used solely for conservation purposes and earmark at least 15 percent of the land for conservation by building a pond or planting indigenous trees.

Tourists for their part should be encouraged to interact with the local community and be made aware of poverty and the need for development so that they can become involved if they so wish. They should be informed how to interact with the local community and encouraged to buy crafts made in the vicinity. –Sapa


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