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June 30, 2022

By Auliana Poon

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The True Origins and Meaning of Responsible Tourism

What is Responsible Tourism?

A type oftourism that promotes responsibility to the environment through its sustainable use; responsibility to involve local communities in the tourism industry; responsibility for the safety and security of visitors and responsible government, employees, employers, unions and local communities.’

South Africa Tourism White Paper, 1996

It All Began in South Africa

The term ‘Responsible Tourism’ was first coined by Dr. Auliana Poon, Managing Director of Leve Global (formerly Tourism Intelligence International) in 1996, when she developed the Tourism White Paper for post-Apartheid South Africa.  

tanzania tourism strategy leve global

A Long Nation-wide Process of Intensive Consultations

Responsible Tourism was the result of a two-year long intensive process of consultations and engagements with stakeholders in post-Apartheid South Africa – from the previously-advantaged and the previously-dis-advantaged persons, to local communities, businesses, labour unions, national and provincial governments and non-government agencies.  Extensive consultations were carried out nationally as well as in each of South Africa’s nine provinces – Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng (Johannesburg), KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, Western Cape (Cape Town). 

Provincial Tourism Policies that were later developed, including that of Cape Town, were aligned to this National Responsible Tourism Policy.

Responsible Tourism was the ‘only logical solution’ to grow and sustain tourism in a post-Apartheid South Africa.  South Africa needed a ‘New’ Tourism.  Responsible Tourism was a response both to the inequities of its historical system of Apartheid, as well as the unsustainability of the old ‘mass tourism’ paradigm. 

South Africa clearly needed a ‘New’ kind of tourism – a tourism that was kind to the environment; a tourism benefited the whole country, and not just the previously-privileged few; a tourism that was all-inclusive; a tourism for all.

“Responsible Tourism was the Only Logical Solution for Tourism in Post-Apartheid South Africa”. 

The Four Pillars of Responsible Tourism

Responsible tourism is built on four core pillars – people, planet, product/plant and profits.  The essence of responsible tourism is responsible stewardship of our environment.  But Responsible Tourism goes beyond protecting the PLANET.  Responsible Tourism ensures that the built environment – the tourism PLANT, and the product and experiences developed, do not harm the environment.  PROFIT is also essential to sustain responsible tourism.  Businesses and communities must benefit and generate profits from the responsible use and development of their natural and human assets.  Responsible Tourism is also, and especially, about PEOPLE – ensuring that the culture, environment, livelihoods and heritage of communities are preserved and enhanced for the benefit of all, including visitors and future generations. 

Responsible Tourism is as social and economic as it is environmental. 

The Core Elements of Responsible Tourism

Source: Leve Global, 2019

How to Succeed in Responsible Tourism?

Responsible Tourism is not located in a national park or protected area that one visits from time to time and for which someone else has the responsibility to upkeep – ‘out of sight out of mind’.  Responsible tourism has to be ingrained in the hearts and minds of our children, our citizens, customers, communities and businesses, as well as enshrined in policies of governments.  We all need to live, eat, sleep and breathe responsible tourism.  We will only create success from responsible tourism when it becomes an integral part of our DNA. 

Above all, responsible tourism is a RESPONSIBILITY – our responsibility!   We all need to make People, Planet, Plant and Profits our Priority, and OUR Responsibility, in order to ensure regenerative development for all; and unforgettable experiences for our visitors. It is only then that we will create truly regenerative growth. 

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About the Author:

Dr. Auliana Poon
Managing Director / Chief Strategist
Leve Global

auliana poon

Dr. Auliana Poon heads Leve-Global. She is a courageous and passionate businesswoman. A trained Economist, Dr. Poon is a management consultant and strategist with a focus on trade and strategy development, competitiveness, climate adaptation, and regenerative economic growth. Dr. Poon led teams that developed innovative economic solutions for over 50 countries around the world including Australia, Barbados, the Bahamas, Iceland, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mauritius, Mozambique, Singapore, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Switzerland and Zambia.

An experienced researcher and analyst with fiercely independent thought, Dr Poon believes that developing countries cannot continue to compete with natural attributes of Sun, Sand, Sea, Oil and Natural Gas alone. For success and sustainability, more people-centred, culture-oriented, innovation-based, sustainability-directed, technology-focused and talent-driven approaches are needed.

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