Category: Published content

How Responsible is Township Tourism in South Africa?

Today I’ll share a piece with you that I wrote for the organisation Tourism Concern, about my township tourism research in Cape Town.

Feel free to contact me to discuss the findings or other relevant topics related to this.

During a holiday in Cape Town in 2009 I went on a township tour. Not knowing much about tourism to urban impoverished areas at the time, but concerned about how the communities would benefit from my visit, I looked for an ethical company I could trust.

To my positive surprise I found out that not only tour companies, but also the government’s tourism body assure that tourism is beneficial to the township communities as well as very educational for the visitor. Any specific initiatives were not indicated, yet tours were promoted as a ‘must’ to learn about African culture.

I decided to book a tour with a small local company and liked the experience as it was indeed eye-opening and the residents I met were welcoming. However, ever since I was unable to stop thinking about what is in it for local populations.

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Therefore, three years later, the choice of subject for my final research project during the Master’s program Responsible Tourism Management was easy. I went to Cape Town to investigate the scope of community beneficial initiatives within township tourism.

During the 4 weeks of fieldwork in the townships Langa and Khayelitsha I explored six tour operators’ actions and opinions related to previously identified issues of concerns in the field of slum tourism, by interviewing them about their responsible practices and participating on their tours.

I also interviewed forty inhabitants from the most visited areas about their perceptions of tourism impacts and four representatives from the local government about current work on responsible tourism in the field. I will here reveal some of the findings from my research.

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Outside of a kiosk in Langa (before starting my own research there) I discovered a random flag…

While there is no doubt that the South African township tourism sector holds a large number of professional tour operators that mean well for the communities they visit, the evidences of their many positive impact claims are few.

And although I experienced that both companies and guides conduct tours respectfully in terms of friendliness, photography policy and information giving that assist in combating stereotypes, I detected ambiguity regarding fair pay of involved hosts, as well as several untapped potentials for maximised positive impacts on the communities.

One example of such is tour companies’ avoidance of fairly compensating the most deprived households they involve in their tour. During the distinguishing ‘labour hostel visits’ tourists are taken into the shared bedroom (which also serves as their living room) of four families to see and learn about poor living conditions.

Of the eight such interviewed households in my research half of them claimed to get more than five visits per day, and none stated to benefit economically, unless tourists occasionally left some money. Regrettably I was repeatedly told that donations occurred to a decreasing extent after more local guides had penetrated the market and the competition for the much wanted tourist money had grown.

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Labour hostels in Langa, Cape Town

 

Another example regards the creation of interaction, which ironically is one of the main promises on the many company websites. It may be a coincidence of course, but sadly I only experienced twice during ten tours that we as visitors were given the time and possibility to interact with the locals (even during the popular hostel visit as described above). The consequence of this is that the hosts (or any inhabitant present) turn into passive objects rather than active participants, hindering them to exploit the big potential for social and economic empowerment.

Regardless of these issues of concern, it became clear to me that township dwellers do welcome tourism because it represents the only industry through which many can enhance their living conditions and situations, in areas that are longtime forgotten by the government.

Throughout my time in Langa and Khayelitsha I couldn’t stop thinking that it is on behalf of this very hope, in addition to the inhabitants’ tremendous hospitality, that the majority of the tour operators earn very good money. And personally, until I know better how that income is redistributed and put back into the community, and the government begins to take the sector seriously and regulate it, I have my doubts for its sustainability. Sadly those thoughts reflect previous research within not only township tourism in South Africa, but also about slum tourism globally.

Lastly though, let it be clear that there is no doubt that good initiatives exist in this field, and some township dwellers indeed have got their livelihood enriched due to tourism. Besides, whether people like it or not, there are reasons to believe this phenomenon is here to stay. Hence is it crucial that the way forward is to actively find ways to awareness rise about its issues and require that government acts, while highlighting and rewarding the many (hopefully) ethical initiatives in place.

FYI. The above article was first published on Tourism Concern´s webpage.

Why mass tourism is unsustainable

One of the tourism academics I admire the most is Anna Pollock, the founder of Conscious travel.

According to their website, Conscious Travel is a movement, a community and a learning program that enables places to attract and welcome guests in a manner that doesn’t cost the earth. They state that tourism is system of three elements: Places, Guests and Hosts.  And that as such; It’s all about PEOPLE, thus If people change their values and their perception of how the world works, then everything else changes.

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Conscious Travel refers to the Conscious Capitalism Institute for the philosophy of Conscious Capitalism (which has the same features as Responsible Capitalism). It is based on the belief that a more complex form of capitalism is emerging that holds the potential for enhancing corporate performance while simultaneously continuing to advance the quality of life for billions of people, and challenges business leaders to re-think why their organisations exist and to acknowledge their companies’ roles in the interdependent marketplace. Read more here.
I first heard about Anna Pullock (that has 40 years experience working as a strategist, analyst and change agent for travel destinations around the world) through Tourism Concern work as she has engaged with them throughout the decades.
Here you can read her recent article in The Guardian, presenting the six key reasons why the current tourism model is way past its prime and why more of us need to focus on creating alternatives.

(find Conscious Travel on facebook here).

Why love festivals

The internet has revolutionized the world in many ways; one being the way we’ve shared and got access to new music. But whilst file downloading facilities for long has been an issue of concern in the music industry because music artists earn a lot less on album sales than what used to be the case, the new paradigm for music sharing has indeed contributed to many positive trends; like for instance the clear increase in live music events.

Think about it. Today’s musicians can share, promote and sell their art via the internet in so many new ways at the same time as they deliver it all in person to their audiences in terms of concerts. Because indeed, the new paradigm has led to new music events popping up, and old ones becoming even more popular. And then I’m particularly speaking about festivals.

As a devoted concert- and festival goer since my early childhood I’m personally very thrilled about this development. And I’m not saying that solely from a hedonistic point of view, but out of the strong belief that we all earn on a world where competition within art sectors is more fair. People become better and happier in a world where we more often get together to enjoy art, created by many more artists because it generates new sources for inspiration and creativity as well as an increased feeling of community.

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Therefore I’ve put together 4 reasons why to LOVE festivals:

1. Festivals cultivate a special type of atmosphere. Festivals are massive events, they become experiences. Think about it, if you go see Coldplay on their own, for example, you might go with one or two friends, you might have a good time, and then the whole thing’s over in two hours. But if you go to a festival, you spend the entire weekend surrounded by a (bigger) group of friends and tens of thousands “alike” people and there are plenty of concerts to choose from.

2. Festivals are great places to discover newer artists. At a regular concert, you go because you know and like that band and want to see it, but at festivals the lineup is varied and really diverse. You can read about unknown bands and go to their set and discover new acts.

3. Festivals offer several alternatives to music acts for peoples’ get-together and inspiration, and cater for more diverse group of people. This means you are more likely to meet many interesting people (like yourself) on a festival. Hours spent in your camp, in toilet- and food & beer queues often means new friendships, or at least a fun flirt and timely deep random conversation with people you don’t know. And trust me, many of these talks wouldn’t be as natural to get into while queuing for an ATM on any high street during a working day. Because people relax and loose up when at a festival. This is what I refer to with ‘the feeling of community’.

4. Lastly, festivals are good for the economy – many ways. Recently I read that according to Steve Baltin from Rolling Stone magazine, the trend of festivals selling out earlier and earlier each year is a reflection of how people are watching their spending these days. He said that “due to recession people don’t have a lot of money, and the economy is struggling, therefore people rather spend $300 to go see 50 bands and get a feel for everything, or go spend $70 to see one of these headlining bands on their own”. I’m not a victim for recession, but follow that strategy anyway, because I feel I get much more value for the money.

Besides, how many concerts have you seen organised as non-profit events? Not many, right. What I early on loved with festivals like Roskilde and Glastonbury is their non-profit structure and choices of worthy causes. I’m confident that this attracts certain people and energies that we have to keep finding place for in this capitalistic world…

Here’s to a very happy festival summer!

 

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Please note: This post is also published on www.RhythmTravels.com

Key findings from my Master’s research

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Like I mentioned a time ago, I want to share some of the findings from my research about Cape Town township tourism with you.

After agreeing to share my report with whoever is interested to read it, and hoping to assist Tourism Concern in developing an awareness campaign about slum tourism, as well as having initiated good contact with the City of Cape Town in order to share and discuss new knowledge, I can only think of good reasons to publish some of it here too.

The names of the involved companies or specific details about them is obviously confidential. And please let it be clear that I am not one of the critics that wants to see an end to township tourism or other forms for slum tourism. In fact, I strongly believe this increasingly popular phenomena can have vast potential to “do goods” for both hosts and guest.

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However, as with any other tourism form, there seems to be plenty of unused opportunities for improvements and if I can contribute to an increased awareness and attention to this topic by sharing my findings, that is fulfilling in itself. Moreover the very fact that slum tourism per se is a quite controversial topic due to poverty being the authenticity many visitors are attracted to see (read more about those theories here, Id also claim that this field in particular needs to be extra cautious and regulated in order to be fully sustainable.

For more info on why I chose to study township tourism please read here.

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MY FINDINGS and personal statements:

While there is no doubt that the South African township tourism sector holds a large number of professional tour operators that mean well for the communities they visit, the evidences of their many impact claims are unfortunately few. And although I experienced that both companies and guides conduct tours respectfully in terms of friendliness, photography policy and information giving that assist in combating stereotypes, I detected ambiguity regarding fair pay of involved hosts, as well as several untapped potentials for maximised positive impacts on the communities.

An example of such is tour companies’ avoidance of fairly compensating the most deprived households they involve in their product. During the distinguishing ‘labour hostel visits’ tourists are taken into the shared bedroom (which also serves as their living room) of four families to see and learn about their poor living conditions. Of the eight such interviewed households in my research, half of them claimed to get more than five visits per day, and none stated to benefit economically, unless tourists left some money now and then.

Regrettably I was repeatedly told that donations occurred to a decreasing extent as more local guides had penetrated the market and the competition for tourist money had grown.

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Another example regards the creation of interaction, which ironically is one of the main promises on the many company websites. It may be a coincidence of course, but sadly I only experienced twice during ten tours that we as visitors were given the time and possibility to interact with the locals (even during the popular hostel visit as described above). The consequence of this is that the hosts (or any inhabitant present) turn into passive objects rather than active participants, hindering them to exploit much potential for social and economic empowerment.

Regardless of these issues of concern, it became clear to me that township dwellers do welcome tourism because it represents the only industry through which many can enhance their living conditions and situations, in areas that are longtime forgotten by the government. Throughout my time in Langa and Khayelitsha I couldn’t stop thinking that it is on behalf of this very hope, in addition to the inhabitants’ tremendous hospitality, that the majority of the tour operators earn very good money. And personally, until I know better how that income is redistributed and put back into the community, and the government begins to take the sector seriously and regulate it, I have my doubts for its sustainability. Sadly those thoughts reflect previous research within not only township tourism in South Africa, but also about slum tourism globally.

Lastly though, whether people like it or not, there are reasons to believe this phenomenon is here to stay. Hence should the way forward be to actively find ways to awareness rise about its issues and require that government acts, while highlighting and rewarding the (hopefully) many fair and ethical initiatives in place.

 

Edit July 2013: For recent updates on what the locals think about this tourism form, please read here.

Edit January 2014: This article has been published on http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk, and went viral on Twitter the weeks after.

Issues with slum tourism

After two months of representing a living dead due to having overtaken a way too big project as an individual for my Master’s research, I finally managed to hand it in and got to enjoy life in Cape Town again. As I wrote about some days ago my new life included traveling in the Cape Town region with my mum and drinking wine. Lots of wine.

Though I’m delighted the time as a living dead is over, I’ve also suddenly felt rather empty not having to get up every morning to write on the report. And since I’m very devoted to continue with more township/slum tourism research, I’ve thought to channelise some of the things I’ve learned about the field on my blog, as it seems it’s of growing interest among not only academics and journalists but travelers too.

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I’ll start with sharing some subtracts from my academic research report about the issues with slum tourism.

The growing tourism to the developing world often come with discussions about how tourism can benefit the world’s poor. And many claim that whilst the discussions go on, tourism is actually instead benefiting from poverty, as the touristic valorisation of poverty­- stricken areas of metropolises is growing.

Such recognition is accompanied by heated debates, and journalists and academics have for long attempted to identify the purpose of slum tourism. In this post, I’ll first go through the issues of defining tourism to disadvantaged areas:

Unlike most other tourism forms, slum tourism is ethically and politically ambiguous. It is subject to widespread debates polarizing opinions, and there exists no official definition of it. Disparate terms like Poorism, Zooism, Voyeurism, Slumming or Poverty-, Dark-­, Justice-­, Political-­, Social-­, Reality-­, Development-­, and Culture & Heritage tourism are all used to describe this phenomenon (e.g. Ramchander 2004; Rolfes 2010; Ma 2010), which reflects the many efforts made to debate and comprehend its manner and purpose (Butler 2010; Outterson & Selinger 2009; Frenzel et al. 2012). Also, while the applied terms depend on the author’s discourse, they will undeniably also depend on which actor is being studied in the real world. This indicates that the many expressions probably can correlate during one slum tour, giving it different meaning and purpose according to how and who it impacts.

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Looking at slum tourism as a dynamic product this way demonstrates its complexity. Consequently is it complex to reach an agreement on slum tourism’s purpose and outcomes. Let’s look at some debates based on this tourism form’s many controversies:

The major controversy attached to slum tourism is the notion that poverty and deprived people are slum’s main attraction (Freire-­Medeiros, 2009; Rolfes et al., 2009; Steinbrink, 2012). It relates to the fact that the distance between the ways of life of slum tourists – wealthy enough to be having a holiday in the first place – and the ways of life of slum dwellers is obviously colossal. This distance therefore provides a perverse power of attraction (Frenzel et al. 2012), and consequently much debate is sparkled by judgements and speculations about the tourists’ unethical motives. Their assumed desire to see people living in poverty fosters accusations of voyeurism, often blaming tourists for taking part in a form for human zoo (Whyte et al. 2011; Frenzel et al. 2009).

A common opinion is that albeit tourists’ caring personal intentions, their presence in a slum can be perceived as voyeuristic and intrusive to people’s private spheres (Briedenhann & Ramchander, 2006; Freire-­‐Medeiros, 2009; Whyte et al., 2011). Whereas some may argue that privacy intrusion is an issue in other forms of tourism too, what is evident in slums is that residents already lack privacy due to poor housing (Huchzermeyer 2011; O’Brian 2011). Is it then “ethically acceptable for financially privileged tourists to visit places for the purpose of experiencing where poor people live, work, and play” (Whyte et al. 2011:2)? Tightly connected to that question however, is another: Who is in charge of delivering that purpose responsibly?

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It is argued that slum tourism in many ways turns the reality of the underprivileged into entertainment for tourists to experience for a moment and then freely escape permanently. This critique of displaying reality on slum tours is by some linked to reality television.

Tour operators, such as television producers, can basically write a script for tour guides on what to tell and show, playing on emotions such as compassion, fear and delight. A crucial question in slum tourism therefore, concerns how slums are represented and if these representations are fair (Butler 2010; Rolfes 2010; Frenzel et al. 2012). To counter the critiques, slum tour operators often argue that the purpose of their tours is to dispel negative stereotypes surrounding slums by educating tourists about slum life and residents (Rolfes et al. 2007; Teixeira 2011; Frenzel et al. 2012). However, Fennel 2009 (in Whyte et al. 2011) argues that when tours’ mission and purposes are laid, slum residents’ wishes are rarely considered. Instead they are turned into passive objects – a product in the service of an industry.

Indeed, it is commonly assumed that slum dwellers are relatively powerless compared to visiting tourists and tour operators, thus easy to exploit. Research has found that slum tour operators typically are for-­profit companies and donate little money to slums (Outterson & Selinger 2009; Ma, 2010; Maliepaard 2010; O’Brian 2011; Teixeira, 2011). Questioning slum tourism’s suitability then, it is important to ask who benefits from slum tourism. How are profits from tours distributed and do the tour operators pay slum dwellers for adding value to their tours (Whyte et al. 2012)? Do tour operators support or initiate social projects (Frenzel et al. 2012)?

In order to combat misbalances of power and benefits, many authors argue that residents should play a bigger role in the planning of tourism, not a role as tourist attractions in itself (Rolfes et al. 2009; Whyte et al. 2011). As in other tourism forms, is it essential that host communities participate and have some control over tourism in order for it to be both economically and socially empowering (Goodwin 2011).

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Voila!

Those are the main issues predominantly debated in the academic sphere (hence the references). Ill write about the pro’s in another post soon, as they are indeed as important, considering that this tourism form whether we like it or not, is expanding rapidly and globally as we speak.

If you have any questions about my research, findings and how I worked, please email me on gipsygiraffe@gmail.com

(All photos in the post are my own).

Sim sala bim – soon there

Aai aai I’ve wanted to jump out from the balcony so badly this week. Writing the research report is killing me slowly.. I’m going mad inside of this cave as well, knowing the sun is shining outside, my mum is in the country and people are out enjoying themselves..

I know I know, I chose to do this on my own, it will soon be over, see it in perspective, one day I’ll look back at this all and laugh etc.  Just that some days the brain seriously seems to stop completely. But time doesn’t stop and now deadline is just around the corner.

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I got the foreword done today, and thought I’d give you a peak. Im quite happy with it actually, even though THIS obviously isn’t the most difficult part to write.

Funny enough it refers to the beginning of my fascination for township tourism, like I wrote a way too long post about back in 2009.

Here it goes:

Foreword

The foundation for this research report stems from a visit to Cape Town, in December 2009, during which I wanted to experience a township tour. Not knowing much about townships at the time, but curious (especially after having seen the shantytowns on the highway on the way to and from other important tourism landmarks), I was concerned to find out how the communities would benefit from my visit, and therefore started some online research in order to find an ethical company I could trust. To my surprise I found a list of various township operators in the category ‘responsible tour operators’ on the government’s tourism website. The specific actions these operators were taking were not indicated, yet tours were promoted as a ‘must’. It was emphasised that it was safe to visit with a guide, very educational for the visitor and that tourism was beneficial to the communities as it employed local people. At the time, I had not started to study responsible tourism, and besides I was in a typical holiday-­‐mood with little time to investigate these companies in depth. Nevertheless, I decided to book a tour with a small BBBEE (Broad-­‐Based Black Economic Empowerment) company and liked the experience as the tour was indeed eye-­‐opening, and the residents I met were overall welcoming. Since, I have been unable to stop thinking about what was in it for local populations. This work attempts to finally provide an answer.

Already happier now..

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International Congress on Ethics and Tourism

Two weeks ago I decided to go to Madrid for the first congress on Ethics and Tourism hosted in Madrid out of curiosity about what a congress like this would look like. As I’m just about to do a Masters in Responsible Tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University I though I could benefit from the experience, as well as Tourism Concern, the campaign organisation I hold an internship in, that was not even invited to attend, could benefit from having a represent there whose critical eyes and ears, could deliver some views on the whole fest.

I say fest cause that’s the impression I got. Important (tourism) ministers from all over came dressed in black to share their opinions on Ethics and Tourism. And from early on it was highlighted that even the Spanish prince would come and give his opinion on the last day of the congress. No wonder we were excited. Food and drinks were included both days in stylish surroundings, and high tech conference solutions like speaker translations into three languages on head phones were offered the attendants. But did the congress come up with anything new?

Here is the summary I wrote, also published on Tourism Concern’s webpage

This Congress earned the UNWTO and big travel agencies lots of attention in Spain. I’m left with mixed thoughts and feelings.

The Congress focused very little on human rights, or on practical actions being undertaken or required for a more ethical tourism. Civil society, including grassroots campaigning groups representing those negatively impacted by tourism development, was hardly represented or mentioned at all. The primary purpose of the Congress seemed to be showcasing the new countries signing up to the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (adopted by the UNWTO in 1999 and ratified by the UN General Assembly in 2001) and publicising the attendance of the Prince of Spain. He went along to show his support for what a ‘brilliant’ idea it is to (finally) make tourism more ethical. Forgive me if I sound a little cynical, but I felt that most participants talked about the ethical tourism concept as if it was: totally new; lay outside tourism as a whole; and could be neatly implemented with yet another code.

On day one The Minister of Tourism of Ecuador, Freddy Ehlers, was apparently one of the strongest and most radical speakers at the event (unfortunately I missed his slot), urging the industry and government representatives ‘to start the walk and stop the talk’. Jorge Sampaio, High Representative of the UN for the Alliance of Civilizations, also talked of the challenges for local people touched by tourism.

In the second session, ‘The Global Code of Ethics as a Guarantor of Equality and a Bulwark against Exploitation’, human rights violations were discussed in relation to child sex tourism. The president of UNICEF Spain, Consuelo Crespo moderated this session and one could feel her passion for this very serious topic. Kathleen Speake from ECPAT international reminded us of the harsh truth of tourism facilitating sexual exploitation of children in tourist destinations and claimed companies in the sector could do a lot more in the fight against this. This very serious topic is critical in the work for a more ethical tourism industry.

However there was no mention of all the other human rights violations that can come with tourism, such as forced displacement, livelihood impacts, poor labour conditions, and loss of access to water and other essential natural resources.

In the third session “Fair Tourism and the fight against poverty”, the director of International centre for Responsible Tourism, Harold Goodwin, stated that much too little has happened in tourism since the Global Code of Ethics was introduced. He argued that it is not enough to develop codes of ethics without actually taking actions to implement them and demonstrate what is achieved. Furthermore, he stressed that companies must be more transparent and willing to report in order to seem responsible.

The rest of the speakers elegantly danced their way around the core issue: Ethics. There was little attempt to define this concept beyond linking it with ‘sustainability’ and ‘responsibility’ (which also needed a common definition for the purpose of the conference). Figures were frequently bandied around that showed how big and important tourism is, both for development in poorer countries and for Europe’s economy. The tourism ministers in attendance largely framed the ethical challenges of tourism as an environmental issue.

Meanwhile, the corporates focused on the negative impacts of the financial crisis on the industry, which I didn’t feel had much to do with what ethical tourism is supposed to be.

The topic of social and cultural tourism – as a product in which there is increasing interest amongst consumers – and the particular challenges this could present, was discussed. However, there was little room for meaningful discussion about tourism’s wider ethical impacts.

However the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism of Tanzania addressed the problems in his country due to tourism, and underlined the need for the international tourism industry to address these. He said that responsible tourism is possible, with actions and adherence to regulations and laws by international companies. The the South African tourism minister followed up this topic in his speech, highlighting the new Responsible Tourism standard of his own country. Its focus is to achieve the goals of sustainable development, environmental integrity, social justice and economic prosperity.

The topic of Day Two was Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The Sri Lankan Chairman of PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) said some interesting things about the ineffectiveness of CSR codes, using tourism in Sri Lanka for the last 10 years as example. He argued that actions have to be taken more seriously and followed up. However, he ended his talk with a point about tourists’ unwillingness to put their hands in their pockets to pay for ethical products (with the implication being that companies are therefore not improving their ethical practices). At this point, journalist Catherine Mack asked: “isn’t it about time the multinationals put their hands in their pockets and pay back the societies from which they benefit so enormously”.

Like Day One, there was little time for the audience’s questions and thoughts. Presenters spoke at length about all the good they do with different community projects. However, there was no serious discussion of the problems of green washing in the tourism industry (though it was mentioned!), or of making CSR obligatory and regulated by law.

On the other hand, there was a surprisingly responsible speech by Andrew Cooper of Thomas Cook. I thought he was spot on about concerns about human rights challenges in tourism – especially regarding to water access (golf courses were mentioned) and land grabbing. However, he failed to say anything about what his own company is doing in order to address these – which of course should be the main point.

In summarising the Congress, BBC World News presenter, David Eades, highlighted key points about the current lack of action and the importance of responsibility at all levels, by all stakeholders. He then asked, “should tourism be seen more as a privilege than a right?”

To even think of travelling as a “right” seems absurd to me, especially when, in many cases, tourism leads to violations of the human rights of people who can only dream of travelling themselves. And as if that wasn’t enough, in his closing remarks, the UNWTO Secretary General, Taleb Rifai, said: “Travel is part of human need, and therefore part of human right, and that’s the only way to think of it”. He also stated: “there is nobody I’ve thought should have been here, that isn’t”.

On a positive note, although the Congress was mostly a show for the gallery, I believe in the positive effects it can have in the longer run. Having more and more people reading about “ethical industries” in the media will, in my opinion, serve to influence and educate. For the industry and local communities, it remains to be seen what ethical actions will be initiated in order to improve the conditions of people hosting the travellers, as they ‘realise their human right to a holiday’. It would be fantastic if the host communities also get to realise fundamental human rights too.

And here is Ethical Travel writer Catherine Mack’s coverage on the same congress and its main topic