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What is Responsible Tourism?


The norms and standards for ​Responsible Tourism define the term as a tourism management strategy in which t​​he tourism sector and tourists take responsibility to protect and conserve the natural environment, respect and conserve local cultures and ways of life, and contribute to stronger local economies and a better quality of life for local people. (Responsible Tourism Requirements - SANS 1162:2011).​

Responsible tourism and sustainable tourism have the same goal, that of sustainable development.  The pillars of responsible tourism are therefore the same as those of sustainable tourism – i.e., environmental integrity, social justice and maximising local economic benefits.  The major difference between the two is that, in responsible tourism, individuals, organisations and businesses are required to take responsibility for their actions and the impact of their actions.  The emphasis on responsibility in Responsible Tourism puts the task firmly in the hands of everyone involved in tourism – government, product owners and operators, transport operators, community services, NGO’s and CBO’s, tourists, local communities, and industry associations.

Responsible tourism context in South Africa

Tourism development in South Africa is guided by the key principles of Responsible Tourism; the 1996 White Paper states that, “Responsible tourism is not a luxury for South Africa, thus committing the tourism sector to pursuing a policy of Responsible Tourism.” The specific characteristics of RT were defined in the Cape Town Declaration, an outcome of the first international conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations held at Cape Town in 2002. The Declaration characterises Responsible Tourism as tourism that:

  • minimises negative economic, environmental, and social impacts;
  • generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of the host;
  • involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances;
  • makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world's diversity;
  • provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
  • provides universal access to tourists with disabilities, the elderly, and families with young children; and
  • is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.

South Africa was the first country to include Responsible Tourism in its national tourism policy, the 1996 White Paper on the Development and Promotion of Tourism in South Africa.  The White Paper describes the roles and responsibilities of a range of players. Responsible tourism implies:

  • tourism industry responsibility to the environment, through the promotion of balanced and sustainable tourism, and a focus on environmentally based tourism activities;
  • responsibility of government and business to involve the local communities that are in close proximity to tourism infrastructure and attractions, through the development of meaningful economic linkages;
  • responsibility of tourists, business and government to respect, invest and develop local cultures, and protect them from over-commercialization and over-exploitation;
  • the responsibility of local communities to become actively involved in the tourism industry, to practice sustainable development, and to ensure the safety and security of visitors;
  • the responsibility of both employers and employees in the tourism industry, both to each other and the customer (responsible trade union and employment practices); and
  • responsible government as well as responsibility on the part of tourists to observe the norms and practices of South Africa.

Following the White Paper, the then Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) produced National Responsible Tourism Guidelines in 2002 to provide guidance and indicators to enable industry to indicate progress towards the principles of Responsible Tourism embodied in the 1996 White Paper.  In 2002, the National Responsible Tourism Guidelines were launched as policy guidelines for tourism in South Africa. The Responsible Tourism Manual for South Africa was published by the then Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) in 2002. The manual provided tourism enterprises with information about responsible tourism, the opportunities that it presented for improving their business performance, and a range of practical and cost-effective responsible actions available to tourism businesses. A summarized version of the Responsible Tourism Manual was published as a Responsible Tourism Handbook in the same year.

Other Responsible Tourism Initiatives

Various individual tourism businesses have taken up the challenge to become more environmentally, socially and economically responsible, and have reap​ed the rewards of cost savings and an increased market profile. Key tourism sector organizations, such as the South African Tourism Services Association (SATSA) and Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA), have galvanized action amongst their members by identifying initiatives to contribute to, e.g. Habitat for humanity, or offering recognition for exemplary practices, e.g., the Imvelo Awards for Responsible Tourism. Some destination marketing organisations have hosted a number of information sessions in which they actively promote Responsible Tourism.   

Government actions in respect of the implementation of the 1996 policy principles have accelerated and intensified in recent years. Three recent developments embody a renewed commitment to Responsible Tourism by national government. Firstly, National Tourism Sector Strategy (2011) NTSS, is a sector blue print that recognises and provides for the need to grow and develop tourism in a sustainable manner. The NTSS directs the sector to optimize its contribution on the economy and to embrace responsible tourism standards and practices.  Secondly, South African National Minimum Standard for Responsible Tourism (SANS 1162), launched in September 2011, is a detailed set of requirements aimed at establishing a common understanding about Responsible Tourism, and a basis for the harmonisation of tourism sustainability certification in South Africa. 

Thirdly, Responsible Tourism is central to the Draft Tourism Bill (2011), which will repeal the Tourism Act of 1993.

Global View on S.A

The UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992.  This historic event involved the gathering of governments from 178 countries and 2 400 representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to rethink the direction of the triple bottom-line of responsible tourism i.e. economic, social and environmental activities that place people and the planet in danger.   The objective of the summit was to negotiate an Earth Charter to guide future activities of people and nations.  There were 5 major outcomes from the Earth Summit (click on each item for more information): 

The UN Commission on Sustainable Development was also set up to monitor the progress of nation states on agreements made in Rio.

The year 2012 was the 20th anniversary of the above-mentioned Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.  It was also the 10th anniversary of the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism and the Johannesburg Summit (WSSD) held in 2002.

In celebration of the above-mentioned milestones, the International Centre for Responsible Tourism (ICRT), based at ICRETH Leeds Metropolitan University, hosted two events focusing on progress made in Sustainable Tourism since Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and also on developments since the inaugural Cape Town Responsible Tourism Conference.