A new organisation has been established to tackle over tourism at a time of booming global travel.
The World Tourism Association for Culture and Heritage (WTACH) has been created with 15 specialist advisors from diverse backgrounds relating to the culture and heritage tourism sector.
They will work with destinations that need help now or want to put plans in place before running into trouble.
The new association is the brainchild of founder and CEO Chris Flynn, a former director for the Pacific region at the Pacific Asia Travel Association, a role he held for 15 years.
It aims to promote ethical practices and better management relating to culture and heritage destinations that are “buckling” due to unrestricted visitor growth.
WTACH will also encourage the implementation of sustainable practices at locations that are still in a “honeymoon phase” of tourism development.
The move comes at a time when the UN World Tourism Organisation reports that international tourism arrivals hit 1.4 billion in 2018, two years ahead of its previous forecast of 2020. The global economy grew 3.7% in 2018, propelling international tourism arrivals growth to 6% for the year.
Emerging tourism destinations need more help, despite over-tourism abuses in economically developed, highly regulated destinations, according to Flynn.
He argued that it is in lesser economically developed destinations where overtourism has disproportionately greater negative impact.
Flynn said: “WTACH works with destinations to provide development strategies and policy framework recommendations to avoid the kind of tourism meltdown we are seeing at Angkor Wat, Phi Phi Island and Mount Everest.”
Tourism needs to respect host communities and their cultural and heritage assets by adhering to a framework that has the host community at its heart.
“It’s time for the tourism industry to take step back and look at the long term impact of its decision making,” Flynn added.
Social media and mobile devices are adding to the problem.
Carolyn Childs, chief executive of MyTravelResearch.com, a member of the WTACH advisory specialising in analysing data and trends, said it was no coincidence that the association is being form at a time when ‘selfie’ culture and the promotion of ‘Instagramable’ travel is sweeping the world.
“A unique image can ‘create’ a destination in moments – often leaving it unprepared or wrong-footed,” she added. “This is particularly true if the image runs counter to cultural values.
“It risks tourism losing its ‘social licence’ with host communities. Ironically, these ‘instadestinations’ risk destroying the very thing travellers are seeking.”
The desire for ‘authenticity’ in travel is also problematic. Childs cited an AirBnB survey which found that more than 80% of millennial travellers – and 93% of Chinese millennials – seek a “unique” experience and want to “live like locals” while on holiday.
“The pressure on destinations and tour operators to find and monetise ‘unique’ and ‘authentic’ experiences will only increase as both millennial and mature travellers work through their ‘been there done that’ bucket lists,” she said.
“Having the right frameworks in place help communities and tourists. They build a more sustainable destination that delivers truly rewarding experiences.”
WTACH believes destinations should no longer make arrival numbers their holy grail.
The new association voiced concern that Turkey, for example, has decided to expand tourism arrivals from 40 million in 2018 to 70 million by 2023 – less than four years away.
“What interpretive and cultural safeguards have been put in place?” asked Flynn. “Have local communities been consulted? Is there an actual plan that involves a holistic government approach and key stakeholder and community engagement?
“We know there’s a better way. We are now seeking like-minded organisations and individuals to help us advance responsible tourism in culturally sensitive host communities.”
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