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Travel and Greenwashing

September 3, 2015

Like the incoming tide, growth in the number of tourism companies claiming environmental, social or economic responsibility has tended to creep up on us to the point where we now find it increasingly difficult to identify real environmentally sustainable or responsible businesses from those that simply use the terminology!


Tour operators, hotel owners and marketers in general have latched-onto the growing demand for responsible and authentic tourism products and services in an effort to claw their way back to profitability, and more and more consumers and travellers are experiencing anger, disappointment and even feelings of being 'ripped-off' by some of the claims they have been fed.


But what is it that makes normally responsible business owners cross this fine line between truth and lie?  Greed and ignorance are perhaps the two words that sum this up.  Firstly, businesses use terminology to disguise their shortcomings or to create an impression of being part of the crowd when in fact they don't.  They do this in an effort to capture the attention of an increasingly aware and selective audience in an effort to make a profit, while ignoring the impacts that this behaviour has on their own credibility, but also that of the destination and the people they claim to serve.


The second element is ignorance.  Many believe that because they don't really know what terms such as 'green'; 'responsible'; 'environmentally friendly' and 'sustainable' really mean, they assume their audience shares that perception.  WRONG!  What they are actually doing is a wilful and purposeful act designed to mislead and - let's call it - lie to their clients in an effort to sell their product.  It's like an estate agent selling you a property with a sea-view but when you arrive, the sea-view is nothing more than a line on a distant horizon.


What makes this distasteful practice worse are tour operators and safari outfitters that whinge about the fact that they only sell the products - they are not responsible for environmental claims...! That has about the same validity as the man who sells the weapon used to kill another person claiming that they didn't make the weapon and 'it's not my fault'. That attitude allows retailers to abdicate their responsibility as part of a larger industry that needs to reduce its impacts on our environment.  The answer is simple.... clean-up your supply line by insisting that your products meet internationally accepted standards of responsible and sustainable practice before including them in your itineraries and tours.


The only difference between selling a car or selling a tourism product is that greenwashing the environmental or social impacts of tourism hurts people, their lives and communities and it does irreparable harm to the destination itself.  Travel and honesty have always been synonymous with one another - you can't sell a tour without being honest, and while past experience has shown that charlatans exist even in honourable professions such as travel, the growing number of downright liars in tourism is growing at an alarming rate.


Can you honestly say that you don't claim unfair or untrue environmental credit?  If you can, then let's talk business because there are millions of travellers out there dying to support your product.  




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