Travel firms that talk most about sustainable tourism often do least to behave responsibly, according to a leading tourism academic.
Xavier Font, principal lecturer in tourism management at Leeds Metropolitan University, told visitors to World Travel Market: “Companies that constantly speak about corporate social responsibility are unlikely to be practising it.”
He called on firms to focus less on marketing their policies and more on putting them into action.
“Companies look at CSR as a niche market or an opportunity for a press release, while those that know most about responsible tourism often do not know about marketing,” said Font.
He suggested there has been a near threefold rise in complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about claims by travel firms – most often airlines.
“There is a huge number of companies saying marvellous things about their policies, but they do not give figures, only case studies,” he said.
“CSR is not something for the marketing department. Companies need to start with product design and development. Marketing should be last.
“Instead, companies say ‘We are good because we have saved so much waste or water’. Why should they get credit for that? It saves money. Too many claims are based on no proof, too much is vague. There is too much fibbing.”
However, Font’s colleague professor Harold Goodwin of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Leeds said some companies are taking CSR seriously.
“A lot of people doing things are hiding for fear they will be criticised for not doing enough,” said Goodwin.
The pair agreed that some international hotel chains had acted ahead of much of the industry by including CSR returns in management performance assessments.
Font said: “Once hotel general managers see a league table, they want to be top.”