The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) has been accused of failing to promote its responsible tourism credentials because members are putting their own commercial interests first.
Speaking at the AITO conference in Cochin, Kerala, professor of responsible tourism management and director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism, professor Harold Goodwin, said consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the issue, with 38% in 2008 saying they felt guilty about the impact their holidays had on the local region, as opposed to 17% in 1999.
However, he accused the association of standing still on the issue and losing a commercial advantage by not demonstrating that its members have greater responsible tourism credentials.
Goodwin said: “Consumers don’t want to feel guilty about the product they’ve been sold, they don’t want to come back and think they’ve made the destination worse by going there.
“It (AITO’s dedication to responsible tourism) allows you to compete on something other than price and you will lose if you’re trying to compete on price with the big guys.
“AITO comprises the most sustainable collection of travel companies but you’re not getting the message out there; you’re not doing extra marketing.
“If you don’t do it you’re going to be eclipsed by the ABTAs and the FTOs. You need to share that good news story with the consumers so they can respond to that.”
AITO responsible tourism committee chairman and Rainbow Holidays managing director, Roger Diski, blamed the loss of ground on AITO’s failure to build a consensus between members, instead allowing commercial interests to overule responsible tourism commitments.
He added: “I don’t think that particularly means the responsible tourism committee isn’t doing its job; we’ve been given an impossible task and companies such as the Co-operative, TUI and Thomas Cook are now going to steal the agenda.
“There’s not enough cash for the AITO responsible tourism committee budget.
“When we’ve got 160 company members all promoting themselves and their own messages, they’re not really going to contribute to an AITO message, particularly when many of the other companies are their competitors.”
AITO chairman Derek Moore admitted some the association’s members had been slow to embrace ethical travel and added the association is working to change this.
He adding: “Some members of AITO in the past have perhaps been less convinced over the benefits of taking a more responsible approach.
“Over the next 12 months we want to strongly promote to our members the idea of being accredited in the AITO responsible tourism accreditation scheme. We want to bring that more to the fore in what AITO does.”