International Conference for Responsible Tourism Development

On June 1, the “Coalition Internationale pour un Tourisme Responsable” (www.coalition-tourisme-responsable.org) gathered for the sixth time this year in order to discuss matters of great importance: How can tourism be, and can it be, after all, become a more sustainable form of development? Is creative tourism as a more active and engaging form of cultural tourism in the mix? And what do the French say or do about sustainable development, enfin?

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Laurie Buchet, of Ardennes Luxembourgeoises Regional Tourism Board, first told me about the conference event two months ago. We immediately decided we had to come, to listen and to join the debate, as well as using the opportunity to enjoy an interesting weekend in Paris from a “local point of view” (interactive cooking course offered through theCreative Paris network, tour with a Greeter – “Meetingthefrench.com” – Couchsurfing, etc.).

Tourism & Sustainability “do not mix” .. Or do they?

“Developper le tourisme, c’ est bel et bien, mais il faut y voir les conséquences.”

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Jean-Paul Ceron, researcher at the University of Limoges, explained to us that transport accounted for 75% of all tourism related carbon emissions, of which flights and cars together made up a staggering 72%! 1kg of carbon emission gets you: 1,4 km by plane, or 400 km by TGV! And did you know that 5% of all French are accountable for 50% of emissions …?

Wow. I certainly didn’t. Sustainable scenarios? First, some even more alerting figures: 80% of flight carbon emissions are caused by flights longer than 1500km, but only 2% of worldwide carbon emissions are actually directly caused by airline transport. Without disturbing the climate, everybody should only emit two tons ofCO2 per year, corresponding to one return flight to NY! In reality, the French in this case produce between 6-10 tons ofCO2 per person (source: www.theshiftproject.org).

 

On the bright side: First successful initiatives bear fruit

One of the many things we learned during the conference was that an organization called “Viatao.com” had already launched the first guide book about “sustainable” Paris activities, like Parisiens d’un jour – Paris Greeters, hotels, restaurants with organic and seasonal cuisine, etc. Their 2012 edition will be out on June 18, 2012. Feel free to contact Eleonore Devillers, director of the guide, for more information: e.devillers@viatao.com

According to the speakers, we are seeing an end to “hyper-mobility” to something calledslow tourism (see also www.voyageons-autrement.com for further resources: a great website, by the way). Holidays are no longer simply seen as a mere means “to get away from it all”, which is in line with the creative tourism development we are observing.

 

So what do the French (travellers) say to all of this?

Guy Raffour, of the first panel discussion, talked to us about the results of a visitor survey among 2000 French (methodology: five minutes face to face interviews all over France about holiday habits and the environment). The results: 32 million Frenchies have travelled in 2011, that’s half of the French population overall, roughly. For half of them, the climate change has had no effect on their holiday planning, altogether about 18% are what’s called “sensitive” or aware of environmental issues. Of the 25% who are more conscious most have had higher studies, but not necessarily more money .. They are a little bit younger than the rest and live in large population areas, so the effects of human impacts are perhaps more visible to them.

Actions? 80% of the French who travel in France take their own car for travelling! There is no real commitment yet on a large scale. Also for ecolabels, the question remains: what is behind? Carbon tax is not always the answer, either – only providing monetary penalties simply isn’t enough to bring about change.

 

More interesting news & responsible tourism action plans

The capital city of Paris, represented by Reka Csepeli (rcsepeli@nouveau-paris.fr), also had their say, being the top receiving tourism destination in the world and seeing more and more short-time visitors & “repeaters”. Reka talked to us about a 5-year strategy and that sustainable development should be made a quality criteria for tourism and hotels, who often – “being full anyway”- don’t yet see the necessity!

The last interesting project we heard about was from Baie de Sommewww.Baiedesommezerocarbone.org. In this Picardy region, tourism professionals drew forces to establish a responsible ecotourism destination made up of around 40 independent tourism companies, restaurants, hotels, producers, who jointly promote “the local” for visitors and who have succeeded in substantially lowering their carbon footprint. Together, they devised things like the “plat bas carbone” (low-carbone-meal), resulting in communal PR efforts to educate their visitors about local environmental efforts, such as sourcing only local produce for their restaurants.

The next international conference on Responsible Tourism Development will be held in Paris on June 3, 2013: The call for projects & discussion topics is open. I think I know what we are going to suggest … Creative tourism for everybody :)

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