Friday, 12 September 2014

Responsible and sustainable travel

I’m in Cancún, Mexico, this week at the annual TBEX conference of travel bloggers. I’ve been interested in TBEX for several years as a venue at which to meet other professional travel bloggers. But each of the previous times I’ve registered, other things have come up, and I’ve had to transfer my registration to another travel writer. That’s been fairly easy, since in the past, TBEX has always sold out.

One reason I came to TBEX this year, in spite of it being in Cancún, was that the conference organizers have decided to make “responsible travel” — something I’ve been thinking, talking, and writing about for at least twenty years — a major theme of this gathering.

Most of the costs of TBEX are borne by sponsors who hope that the bloggers attending the conference will write about and promote the venue and their hotels, theme parks, tour companies, etc. Free or heavily subsidized junkets and press tours are offered to TBEX participants before and after the conference.

In Cancún, the sponsored events for TBEX participants were going to include swimming with captive dolphins.

Some prominent travel bloggers, including people who have attended and been speakers at TBEX in the past (although not, so far as I know, people who have previously been known for focusing on ethical issues in travel), protested that swimming with captive dolphins is irresponsible and should not be encouraged. Many dolphins are killed for each one that is successfully captured and “tamed”.

A call for a boycott of TBEX and a petition to the TBEX organizers and sponsors were widely endorsed by other travel bloggers, including other past and potential TBEX speakers. The boycott and the ethics of the dolphin tours dominated discussion of TBEX and even got the attention of general news media.

The organizers and sponsors made no public comment on the effect of the call for a boycott, but it appears to have had a considerable effect. A month ago — by which time many of the previous TBEX events have been sold out — the sponsors and organizers faced the possibility of embarrassingly low attendance and difficulty in attracting suitable speakers.

In response, the “swim with the captive dolphins” excursions were removed from the official program of TBEX junkets. (They are still being offered, just not under official TBEX auspices. I talked to another TBEX attendee who was individually approached this week with an invitation for a free swim with dolphins.)

And in an effort to show the sincerity of their change of heart and demonstrate their commitment to responsible travel, the organizers added an opening keynote on responsible travel to the TBEX program. According to the announcement :

TBEX invited Dr. Honey to speak in order to discuss this issue and, more broadly, what is responsible travel and what should be the role of travel media in responsible travel. Not only will her address provide a platform for this important conversation, but it should be used as an opportunity to drive change for the future.

The changes probably came too late for many potential participants. TBEX hasn’t sold out, and discounts were being offered even for last-minute registrants.

As I said in a comment in the TBEX blog, there”s a lot more to responsibility or sustainability in travel than how we treat animals. I hope we’ll have some discussion of the ethics of:

  1. The impact of air travel on global warming, and what that means both for travellers (including us, flying to Cancún) and for destinations (including Cancún) that depend largely or wholely on visitors arriving by air. I’ve written about this before, it will also be the topic of a talk I’m giving at the SXSW Eco sustainability conference in October.

  2. Conditions for workers in hotels, resorts, and perhaps especially on cruise ships (were workers are protected only by minimum wage and other labor laws, if any, of the country of the ship”s flag of convenience). Is there such a thing as “fair trade” tourism?

  3. The impact and ethics of all-inclusive travel packages, as targeted by the campaign by Tourism Concern, the UK’s leading education and advocacy organization for ethical travel. I think this is actually not just a question of, “All-inclusive or not?”, but a continuum from all-inclusive to pre-booked but not entirely inclusive packages to independent pay-as-you-go travel. (The TBEX meetings are being held at the Moon Palace resort, which is perhaps most famous or infamous for having been the venue for the 2010 UN conference on climate change. It’s the largest hotel in Latin America, the largest all-inclusive hotel in the world, and one of the most self-contained world-unto-itself venues even among the many all-inclusive resorts of the Cancún area. Discounted all-inclusive rates of US$200 per night were offered to TBEX attendees. I’m not staying there; I’m staying at one of the two Hostelling International hostels in downtown Cancún.)

I’m glad this issue is on the TBEX agenda, and look forward to today’s discussion.

[Follow-up: Business and pleasure in Cancún at the TBEX travel bloggers’ conference]

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 12 September 2014, 07:20 ( 7:20 AM)

Edward, I derive so much from your posts... I couldn't agree more with you, the responsible and sustainable travel should be already a reality, not only advised!

Posted by: Lily Lau, 16 September 2014, 11:15 (11:15 AM)

Just to correct a couple facts in your story Edward.

TBEX has only sold out once since NMX has organized it. That was 2013 in Dublin when the building would only hold 700 attendees.

We as the conference organizers never had any "change of heart" regarding experiences that included Dolphins being offered during pre or post TBEX tours.

We always did and still do view it as our ethical responsibility to provide more not less access to travel bloggers and other travel writers.

TBEX does not select the pre or post event tours. The host destination (and in some cases) sponsors do.

TBEX received no compensation from any tour operator offering tours including Dolphins.

Our mission is to educate travel bloggers not to promote any particular type of tourism.

We chose to offer the keynote on sustainable tourism because it was a topic of strong interest within our community.

The ethics of Dolphin tours was by no means unanimous among our community. No sponsors or speakers canceled their participation due to the "boycott".

Posted by: Rick Calvert, 22 September 2014, 17:09 ( 5:09 PM)

Thank you, Rick, for the additional information -- and for your role in organizing TBEX, and for scheduling the opening keynote. (I should perhaps have mentioned in my follow-up article that Rick introduced TBEX and the first keynote by saying that he thought the issue of travel ethics was overdue for discussion at TBEX.)

I've corrected the one factual statement I made with which you took issue, to indicate that there have been some other TBEX events since you took over (although not before that, from what I've been told), that didn't sell out.

I don't know, and didn't say, what if any role "NMX" (the BlogWorld and New Media Expo corporation that I referred to as "the organizers of TBEX") had in choosing or vetting events to offer to TBEX participants.

Nor did I say anything about whether (or not) NMX was paid by the operators of the dolphin tours, or most of your other points.

But again, I welcome the additional information you have provided, and even more I welcome the forum you provided -- whatever motivated you to do so -- for discussion of the larger issues.

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 22 September 2014, 17:35 ( 5:35 PM)
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