On the 24 January, the Responsible Tourism Conference “Responsible tourism is also a business: let’s talk to the marketers ” was organised by CETR- Spanish Centre for Responsible Tourism and AEPT– Spanish Association of Tourism Professionals, at FITUR 2014. This event has now become a tradition at FITUR, reaching its 6th edition this year.
The Conference began with a presentation by the moderator José María de Juan, Director of Koan Consulting and Cofounder of the Spanish Centre for Responsible Tourism, who introduced the Conference concept and the various entities that organised and participated in the session.
The moderator described the situation which prompted the Conference and its name in this sixth edition. There is endless theorising about Responsible Tourism, but hardly any talk about how to turn it into a business and incorporate the pillar of financial and business sustainability. 2014, according to the WTO, is the year of the impact of tourism on local communities, and this is where the role of Responsible Tourism is of particular importance. This is why we came up with many questions for this Conference and future ones: Who are the customers of Responsible Tourism? What issuer markets are they in? What does market intelligence tell us about them? How can we reach them? Who sells Responsible Tourism? How does it benefit local communities? Do we have the right channels to market Responsible Tourism in Spain? Are we in contact with the international networks that market it? Do customers know what they are buying and what differentiates Responsible Tourism from other products? What premium are they willing to pay for sustainability and responsibility? What messages do they expect in communications about Responsible Tourism?
In line with the conclusions of other conferences at this FITUR 2014, it is more important what the customer says about the destination than what the destination says about itself, and customers are getting ahead of companies when it comes to sharing their experiences in social networks.
If there are no clear criteria to define responsible tourists, how can we segment them and how can we communicate with them, given that at present, responsible tourists, rather than a segment, are more like a tribe or vanguard of global tourism demand.
Although it is not possible to address all these issues in a short Conference, it is important to bring them up, as they are key for making Responsible Tourism a sustainable business for travel operators and agents; and we can encourage and evaluate its direct impact on the economy of local communities, which are generally isolated from the tourist industry, whether it is responsible or not.
It is also important to highlight the need to foster proximity Responsible Tourism, and that it is not essential to travel to an exotic country and visit a remote tribe to be a responsible tourist.
The moderator also introduced the guest country and thanked the representatives of the CBI-Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands) for their willingness to support the country and the event.
He also mentioned all the other operators from Nicaragua present this year in FITUR and at the meeting: MP Travel, Hotel Darío, Hotel Pelican Eyes, Rutas Escondidas, ICN Tours, Turinsa, Nicarao Tour & Travel, Servitours, Pronicaragua, Anyway Travel, Entreislas, Gemtours.
Next, Heriberto Verdés, on behalf of the Management Board of AEPT, gave a warm welcome to the attendees, stressing the importance AEPT gives to sustainability and innovation in the tourist industry, and their wish to continue collaborating in Responsible Tourism initiatives.
Ana Carolina García, Director of Promotion and Marketing of INTUR (Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism) pointed out that INTUR and the Nicaraguan tourist companies take sustainability very much into account in their daily work and she invited all attendees to visit the Nicaragua stand, where they would be shown the various projects being carried out.
Jesús Blázquez Sánchez, Director of Rutas Pangea and Cofounder of the Spanish Centre for Responsible Tourism, delivered a presentation entitled “Customers wanted: new challenges to market tourism”.
Rutas Pangea has tried to take a step further: not only think about business development, but also about protecting the environment, as it is their place of work. The company products are based on nature and the entity decided to offer Responsible Tourism proposals and above all try to involve the local population, so they would be the real actors of product development.
We need customers with and without experience: experience has given us engaged customers who follow the ideas of Responsible Tourism, the problem is they are very few, therefore we need customers without experience too, whom we have to make aware and educate, as it will be good not only for them but for the environment in general. Because after all, customers still have the same needs they have had for years when it comes to travelling. Tourists still want to learn, to find authenticity, share experiences with those other populations. Customers want to enjoy themselves, and they are seeking controlled adventures (they don’t want risks) but they want to experiment, they want to come out of their daily life and, of course, they demand quality territorial brands to guide their purchases and as assurance of qualified experience.
It is important to highlight the role of a qualified interpretation of assets in the creation of these memorable experiences. It is also important to design products thinking from the very start on how they are going to be sold and aimed at specific customers. Once again, the possibility of selling Responsible Tourism abroad was considered, for example, through the network Greenways.
We also have to explain to customers that Responsible Tourism is neither low cost nor backpacker, and that at times it may be more uncomfortable but also more expensive. Tourism is more responsible the more quality and quantity of information tourists have so they know exactly what they are buying.
Susana Conde, Partner Director of Agrotravel, delivered a presentation on “Selling Responsible Tourism: Marketing and Promotion”. She presented the case study of Green Euskadi, which has been recently implemented.
Agrotravel is a company specialising in Responsible Tourism that only sells products that follow this philosophy. They work in nearly 50 destinations around the world, all developed and marketed according to the principles of Responsible Tourism.
Susana Conde talked about the project they are carrying out in Mexico, Totonal-Viajes que Iluminan, where the entity is developing various tourism projects with local communities in 4 states (20 local communities). The idea of this project is to start measuring the impact of a business activity on various communities, through factors such as: women’s empowerment, growth of the community’s economy.
Green Euskadi was presented based on the premise that there is a demand for European sustainable destinations, and this gave Agrotravel the idea of creating the Green Euskadi initiative. One of the elements of this project is incorporating support from collaborators, networks and destination counterparts with the same philosophy for joint marketing.
Though it is also true that there are markets in which responsible tourists, who are truly coherent with this lifestyle, have not been identified as consumers. In the Spanish market they are still a very small minority, although it is growing, but not enough to be segmented yet. In addition, we need to consider the economic situation, which has not been favourable for the country and which is making it more difficult for Responsible Tourism to reach the Spanish market. About 30% of foreign travellers are willing to pay more if they are assured the tourist product is responsible. Responsible Tourism tries to leave emotional marks on people, based on enriching life experiences, and it needs to share a philosophy and great transparency. Responsible tourists can be reached by being close and sharing the same philosophy.
The next presentation, “Nicaragua: sustainable travelling” was delivered by Griselle Camille, on behalf of Gray Line Nicaragua/ Representative of TOPS Nicaragua (Tour Operators Promoting Sustainability). She introduced the other tour operators that belong to TOPS in the country: Careli Tours, Detour, Green Pathways, Matagalpa Tours, Oro Travel, Solentiname Tours and Vapues Tours, all have been verified by the Rainforest Alliance.
She explained how, over the years, operators have been joining this initiative, at the leading edge of sustainability in the tourist industry in Nicaragua, through: products aimed at responsible tourists; continuous education on sustainability for their employees; direct undertaking of corporate responsibility actions on the territories and communities, related to social, educational and environmental aspects. She described how TOPS Nicaragua conducts presentations of this kind at the main international tourism trade fairs such as ITB-Berlin and WTM-London, in order to highlight the values of Nicaragua as a biodiverse and sustainable destination, and their intention to hold the Nicaragua Green Travel Summit next year.
As usual, following the presentations and discussion, a cocktail was offered, sponsored by CBI, to continue weaving networks among people and establishing Responsible Tourism in Spain and around the world.