Responsible Tourism is a concept that seems to have been embraced across the world, and almost no week passes without us becoming aware of yet another hotel, lodge or resort being recognised for its environmentally responsible performance.
Yet, here in South Africa, RT is still being regarded as a 'nice to have' rather than something that we should all be striving for as a standard. Yesterday, the 'long-list' of finalists for the upcoming Responsible Tourism Awards was released, and while there are some notable examples of sustainability and responsible tourism practice, not ONE hotel, resort or lodge has made this list. The hospitality sector in South Africa is either far too busy to even consider adopting the practices that seem to be making waves in other parts of the world, or - God forbid, they really couldn't give a damn about their impacts on their local communities and the environment in general.
Sadly, the latter seems to be the case as with the exception of one hotel group in the country, none of the major brands have anything in place or hold any third-party recognition for the work that they claim to be doing. Africa's largest hotel group believes they don't need to do anything because their managers are obviously hot as hell on this issue. The others go through the motions, either adopting in-house systems that perhaps might catch a problem before it happens, or they simply greenwash their performance because they believe that no-one notices anyway.
Recently, a group of eighty hotels decided to postpone their certification because they were not doing as well as they would like - financially, in spite of their corporate claims of third-party certification, and an international chain uses a non-starter label to make their global principals happy. What is the matter with this industry - believing that they don't need to do anything about their impacts? Are we that responsible that we don't need to do anything, or is the industry doing so well that they really don't give a damn?
Well, I suppose it stems from the pathetic commitment being made to responsible tourism right at the very top of the industry - the Minister and his team. For eight years, they have talked the talk, but they have still got to reach the point at which their actions follow! There is a singular lack of commitment to making this the most responsible destination in Africa because of a stupid fear that they might piss the industry off. Grow a pair mister Minister and impose a minimum requirement for RT certification before any grading is awarded if you are really serious about your portfolio. Hotels need SA Tourism to get their brands internationally recognised - and hotels, lodges, guest houses and resorts all value the Star system higher then they might say, so making sure that every Star Graded property is firstly being operated with due care and consideration for their local communities; fair wages and practices; the environment and good corporate governance is really not a problem.
To the industry itself - get off the fence and either become part of the solution to our long-term global positioning, or go sell cars! Not a single hotel. lodge or resort in the finals - shame on us!