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RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL - Timeout Magazine in July

Duc Hanh talks to Kai Partale, Tourism Sector Specialist at the ESRT Programme, about the sustainable development of Vietnam's tourism industry.

What are the key tenets of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in tourism?

CSR is not only about charity, it is about an understanding and acceptance of responsibility toward society and the environment. Every decision and action we make can have an impact, be it positive or negative.

CSR is about the responsibility of an organisation for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour. In short, responsible tourism asks us to be accountable and respond in order to create positive change.

Do you think companies practice responsible tourism as a way of enhancing their image and because of public pressure? Or do you think there are other, more altruistic reasons?

Offering an experience or product that is sustainable based on CSR can be a point of difference with other companies; destinations and attractions and can therefore use it to help drive increased business. Moreover, it meets growing consumer demand for organisations to implement good corporate social responsibility. So, it is not only because of public pressure, but makes business sense.

However, when promoting sustainability credentials it is important that the link between sustainability and consumer benefits is clear. Moreover, it is critical that what is being promoted is genuine and truthful to avoid the negative associations of 'green-washing'.

What is the ESRT working toward in Vietnam?

The EU-funded Environmentally and Socially Responsible Tourism Programme (ESRT) aims at building the capacity of stakeholders in the Vietnamese tourism sector for responsible tourism, which incorporates the concept of CSR.

Taking hold of the principles of sustainable tourism, Responsible Tourism offers a potential pathway forward to a more sustainable future for tourism policy makers and planners.

Responsible tourism results in optimal use of natural and cultural resources whilst still conserving and respecting their integrity and authenticity. It also fosters viable, long-term economic benefits for all stakeholders that are more fairly distributed.

Moreover, it leads to more culturally and environmentally attractive destinations, attracting a more consistent flow of tourists, and further strengthening the local economy and creating a happier society. Lastly, it helps businesses to increase demand.

Tourism stakeholders must have an understanding of the practical and realistic tools and strategies that they can implement in order to act more responsibly. To help meet this challenge, ESRT will join forces with Vietnam Administration of Tourism to implement a nation-wide multi-stakeholder responsible tourism awareness-raising and capacity-building programme that will provide key sector stakeholders with the knowledge and skills needed to act more responsibly in tourism.

How are you working to change local practices for the better?

At first, we have to take into account how tourism can be seen to directly support an economy. We need to consider how tourism contributes to government revenues through sector based income and business or service taxes.

An understanding is also needed of how tourism generates the employment of local people through its many labour intensive sub-sectors such as hotels, restaurants, and tour operations. Tourism also stimulates infrastructure and investment and contributes to local economies including the informal sector, such as street vendors and informal guides.

The key challenge, however, is to ensure tourism growth is not at the long-term cost of a nation's local people, culture and its environment. Sustainable tourism is generally seen as one of the best ways for a country to achieve this because of its triple bottom line objectives of achieving economic growth whilst protecting the local culture and society as well as the natural environment.

The ESRT responsible tourism capacity building seminars cover the critical areas that impact upon sustainability in tourism, including product development, marketing and communications, employment, capacity building, supply chain management, destination development, impact monitoring, cultural and natural heritage planning and management, accommodation provision, food and beverage operation, policy and planning, and community action.

How can the tourism industry expand sustainably?

Responsible tourism development is seen as the solution for balancing competitive growth with sustainability and encouraging business development, while ensuring social development and resource conservation. Achieving such a future will depend greatly upon more effective management of the sector, and effective engagement of all stakeholders in the process.

The ESRT programme emphasises how destination governments, the business sector, communities and tourists can adopt and benefit from responsible tourism with the help of prepared resource materials, policies and strategies, capacity building programmes, awareness raising campaigns and the facilitation of public private dialogue forums, workshops and conferences to generate a greater understanding amongst all stakeholders of the social and environmental impacts of tourism and ways and means by which the negative impacts may be minimised and positive impacts enhanced.

Created Date: 8/12/2014
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