The good, bad and ugly of responsible tourism.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon ~ SHY Ventures
Wednesday, 2nd August 2006
Yeoh Siew Hoon sat in a cold, brightly lit conference room in Singapore this week and was made to feel a little uncomfortable with the experience.
In the movie "Thank You For Smoking", there's a scene where three spin-doctors discuss how difficult their respective jobs are.

Nick Naylor represents the tobacco industry, Polly Bailey alcohol and Bobby Day Bliss guns. Together, they make up the MOD Squad – Merchants of Death.

Polly is worried about being kidnapped but Nick scoffs at her fear, saying if anyone should be kidnapped, it should be him. "Tobacco," he boasts, "generates a little more heat than alcohol. My product puts away 475,000 people a year, 435,000 tops, that's 1,200 a day."

He mocks his friends. Alcohol? 100,000 a year tops, 270 a day. And guns? 11,000 a year, 30 a day.

"Excuse me if I don't exactly see terrorists get excited about kidnapping someone from the alcohol industry," he says.

So there I was, watching the CSR Squad in action at the first travel-specific CSR conference held in Singapore this week. CSR, in case you don't know, stands for Corporate Social Responsibility and it's the new spin being given to promote a company's corporate profile as good citizens.

It's becoming a headline issue of late, especially in the spate of movies such as "An Inconvenient Truth", "Who Killed The Electric Car", "The Constant Gardener" or "Fast Food Nation", all of which take on, in one form or another, corporations profiteering to the detriment of the planet and its people.

According to the organisers, CSR Asia, and speakers, it's one of the most critical issues facing the tourism industry – the need for travel companies to become more responsible citizens and to be accountable to the Triple Bottom Line, financial, social and environmental.

Yet, as Dr Harold Goodwin of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism observed, no one is responsible because tourism involves too many "freeloaders" and too many stakeholders.

Quoting Sir Colin Marshall, who said that tourism was essentially the renting out of other people's environments, Dr Goodwin asked, "What do you do about the freeloaders? We have one to three percent who deal with the issues, the rest get away with it.

"Whose responsibility is it? Everybody's and nobody's."

The irony of sitting in a brightly lit, freezing air-conditioned meeting room with no natural daylight coming in was also not lost on the outspoken Doctor. "Who's going to take responsibility? For example, does it have to be so bright and does it have to be so cold in here? We need to ask these questions – especially by people talking about CSR."

The speakers gathered for the conference meanwhile all shared what each was doing in the field of CSR. Lyndall De Marco, executive director of IBLF – The Tourism Partnership, called it a "quiet revolution".

"Guests are making it an issue as well as shareholders. Banks are asking, where is my money going? Is it being used to do good or bad?"

CSR, she said, can be a point of difference for companies. "Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys?"

Well, at this conference, it was obvious that everyone who was there was the good guy. In the session I attended, Cathay Pacific shared its commitment to protecting the environment, saying it recognised the issue of fuel emissions as a political hot potato and Intrepid Travel talked about its Responsible Tourism philosophy.

Michael Ma of Indochine Winebar and Restaurants, said his outlets did not serve shark's fin soup, blue and yellow fin tuna and caviar and sturgeon from Iran and Russia. "Don't eat shark's fin soup," he urged his audience.

So where were the bad guys? Out there, I suppose. And the freeloaders? Also out there. And oh yes, China, the biggest market yet to come to a travel cinema near you? What are the good guys doing to engage China's travel industry on CSR?

De Marco confessed, "Very little, I am afraid, at the moment although we are trying. We are only three or four people and we have to cover the world."

See, it's just like in the movies. The bad guys always outnumber the good guys. Except in the movies, one good guy can kill hundreds of bad guys at the same time.

In real life, yes, the CSR Travel conference is a great start for all companies, big and small, to take heed. There are however no quick, happy endings in sight.

The SHY Report
A regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry by one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, Yeoh Siew Hoon.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection".

She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'.

Contacts: Tel: 65-63424934, Mobile: 65-96801460

Yeoh Siew Hoon's other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com
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