World Responsible Tourism Day (November 7) fell on the third day of World Travel Market (WTM) London 2018, where South Africa’s Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, gave a keynote speech on responsible tourism, addressing  climate change and overtourism.

“WTM is such a celebration and testimony to our worldwide tourism industry vibrancy and multiculturalism,” said Hanekom, adding: “It’s up to all of us to spread the responsible tourism message loudly, clearly and far and wide.”

The deeper message Hanekom shared is a matter of urgency, as he explained that there were two topics the industry has to address – climate change and overtourism. “Without massively changed behaviour the world stands to destroy itself. Long before then the growth in tourism stands to come to an end. We are perilously close to the point where carbon emissions will irreversibly change the symbiotic life systems that sustain life. If we don’t do this we will remain on the tragic path of being the architects of our own destruction.”

He called on the industry to become change agents, mentioning that through actions, the industry can send the right message to guests. “If tourists see responsible practices away from home, they are much more likely to adopt them when they get back,” said Hanekom. 

On the subject of overtourism, Hanekom was just as clear, saying: “The key issue is host communities feeling excluded and crowded out by tourists. It is becoming a major problem.” He went on to explain that responsible tourism requires communities to be consulted, to benefit from tourism, and integrated into tourism development in their neighbourhoods.

“Tourists don’t want to be viewed as unwelcome visitors or destroyed of lifestyle, habitat and the environment. They want to feel embraced and welcomed, and feel that they are making a positive difference to the places they visit,” he added.

Focusing on South Africa’s own experience, in particular the Cape Town water crisis which has received a significant amount of global media attention, Hanekom saw the country’s response as providing a template proving it possible to radically and rapidly transition to more sustainable ways of operating. He explained that having implemented a host of water-saving measures, the city has reduced consumption by more than 50% in just three years. “From adversity, the city has become a global leader in best water practice.”

In concluding his keynote address, Hanekom called on the industry to be true leaders in developing a sustainable future, saying: “Let us be the industry that leads the world towards sustainable practices. If we do this we will ensure there is a world, and one with people living in harmony with nature and each other, and enjoying fulfilling, sustainable tourism experiences.”