Sustainable Tourism | Sustainable Community Development


Expanding our Horizons

Firstly, what is an eco-school? According to a presentation I saw a couple of years ago it stated as follows:

It is a school that has made a commitment to continuously improve its environmental performance. It also stated that an Eco-School attempts to work towards better environmental learning and better environmental management.

Both very good ideas! I then looked up the word ‘ecology’ because I would assume that the prefix ‘eco’ comes from this word. My dictionary notes that “ecology is a branch of biology dealing with living organisms’ habits, modes of life, and relations to their surroundings.”

That also makes sense and helps me to understand what it is exactly that eco-schools are trying to achieve.

This word “surroundings” may also be called our living environment – the space into which we are born, where we learn, play, work and eventually die.

Today, the environment is most often used to describe the natural environment – the physical planet; the earth, rocks, trees, grasses, animals, water, fish, birds etc. In other words, the elements of earth, air, fire and water. This would explain the meaning of one of the eco-schools’ definitions and that is to provide better environmental learning and better environmental management.

Today, I want to talk to you about the “cultural” environment within which we live. In the same way that we need better environmental management for nature, we also need much more effective management of our cultural environment. In fact, it is just as important that we do not let our cultural environment become downgraded to the same extent that we see is happening to many of earth’s natural areas and resources. In the same way that natural resources are being threatened so too are our cultural heritage resources.

Man is considered to be the “top animal” on this planet – what I like to call the ‘Alpha Ape’. This means that we think that man has reached a stage of physical and mental development higher than any other life form. I won’t discuss this now but I often feel that man is supremely arrogant in his belief that he is more advanced than the dragon-fish of the Pacific, the blue whales, the elephants and the martial eagle. To name but a few animals that seem to surpass us in terms of physical development, wisdom and dignity.

Man has been around on this planet for a very much shorter time than most other life forms – again for reasons that we won’t discuss today.

So, what is my point? I think it is this.

In our rapid march to become the “Alpha Ape”, thereby ensuring that we maintain total control over the destinies of all other life forms, we may well have lost sight of where we came from – our roots, our history, our customs, our lifestyles and all those features that go towards defining our cultural heritage.

It is natural that we should constantly move forward, and it follows that one set of life-styles and behaviour patterns will be replaced by another.

Our technology (Ah! That may be where we are smarter than the dolphins and the Martial Eagle!) has provided us with a myriad of tools that allow us to improve almost everything about out physical existence – cars, airplanes, television sets, telephones, cell phones, I-pods, I-pads, computers, weapons … the list is endless.

And if I am correct – this technological revolution has not yet ended and still has a long way to go. Because we seem to have an inexhaustible store of mental resources, we will go on creating things that not all of us will ever actually need; we seem to do it simply because we can. Are we perhaps becoming too smart for own selves?

Once again, you may ask, “So what? If we can build a better computer or whatever, we must do it!” My answer is, “Yes, of course we must and we will!”

But, at the same time, in our haste to become technological giants, let us never forget, discard or ignore those aspects of our cultural heritage that make us who we are today.

How long – how many years – is it since you sat at the feet of your grandmother (or grandfather or parent) and listened to her tell you stories? Stories about what the world was like in her youth? Who were her parents? What was her village like?’ What did she eat? What had she been taught about her ancestors; what were the customs of the village and the lifestyles of the villagers; how did they entertain themselves; what had she been taught about the world of spirits, the world of make believe, the legends, the folk stories etc?

And how long is it since your own children, if you have any, have sat at your feet and listened with wide eyes and open mouths to your own stories?

At what point, exactly, did the magic of fairy stories and the tales of giants, wicked witches, scheming hares and smart jackals cease to exist?

I am afraid that it has probably taken only two or perhaps three generations for that sort of story-telling to completely disappear from those early precious and hugely impressionable years of our children.

You may ask, “So what? Our children today, if they are lucky, are much smarter and have almost unlimited access to the wide world of information. Why do they need gogo’s stories?”

Actually, if we are to be thoroughly practical, they don’t; because very few of these stories will get them jobs when they grow up. But, maybe not; and I will come back to this in a moment.

Maybe they don’t need to be exposed to the stories and things of yesteryear, but I sincerely believe that the world and all of us who live in it will be that much poorer if we consign our folklore, our legends, our little snippets of history; our indigenous knowledge systems and our awareness of our sacred sites and cultural landscapes to the dustbin – marked “Not needed anymore!”

For the past three years, we at the Village Tourism Trust have been trying to gather as many of those “almost forgotten legends” as our funds would allow in order that they may be recorded, preserved, conserved and used in ways that have educational, awareness, entertainment and possible even economic benefits.

We collected over 100 stories, mainly from the Modjadji, Giyani, Masealama and Acornkoek communities – but we hardly scratched the surface!

Over 60 of these stores were edited (without changing the essential story-lines!) and they were printed in a book that we have for sale here today. We are seeking funding to publish the other stories and to spread our research to cover many, many more villages. After all, we live in a Province where there are five different, rich and vibrant ethnic cultures – the Venda, the Pedi, the Hananwa, the Lobedu and the Tsonga. Only Gauteng would have a greater variety!

Now, at last! I come to the main point of my talk!

Simply printing books of stories did not seem to be enough. In printed form, even with a few graphic illustrations, the stories remain bland and perhaps only mildly interesting. They are also soon forgotten.

So, we conceived the concept of “Fireside Theatre” – a challenge that had, and still has, many potential opportunities. I won’t go into all of them, but I do want to share with you the successes we have had at a number of schools.

Although I took the lead as a very amateur playwright, I did produce thirteen play-scripts based on some of the legends, as well as on interesting snippets of history. This became a starting point for some of the more creative learners that we met.

I would love to write more plays, whether for live performance, play reading or just for fun; but the opportunity exists to teach young people the basic principles of playwriting and to stimulate small drama groups at local schools or amongst local communities.

The Village Tourism Trust has developed a half-day course on play-writing and we are available to assist at all levels in helping to see some of these stories finally performed on the school stage or, better still, under a big tree in the school yard.

But, it is not just the script-writing that will enhance the creative writing potential of young people; it is all the other related activities that can offer so many diverse opportunities for the youth to learn new skills – skills that may well stand them in good stead when they disappear into the big, wide world and start looking for jobs.

Let us consider some of these support activities:

Acting. The ability to perform on a stage comes naturally to many young people but there is no doubt that learning lines is good for the memory; speaking the lines before an audience is good for confidence and self-esteem, and engaging in script dialogue will do wonders for personal communication skills;

  • Costume design and manufacture. Latent skills in creative designing and costume making can be improved. And with the costumes go the opportunities to develop skills in face make-up, costume adornments and accessories;
  • Set /scenery design. All plays need simple backdrops. These could be images of natural landscapes, village scenes, scenes inside the lion’s den, scenes of the cave where the giants live etc. The scope is extensive and the making of these stage sets will bring out skills in carpentry, painting, sewing and stage lighting and sound effects;
  • Publicity and Marketing. Here are opportunities to design the programme; solicit advertising support; write news releases to go to local newspapers and community radio stations; create posters to hang in local shops etc.;
  • Plays can also be staged using masks, puppets, shadow figures and mime. Again, this will encourage those with special talents to become involved even if they are totally unwilling to stand on the stage and speak in front of their peers, educators and parents!
  •  And, of course no stage play would be complete without music! Not only background ‘mood’ music, but also the introduction of dancing, drumming and singing. The possibilities are almost endless!
  • And finally, do not forget the simple act of storytelling around the fire. One, two or more can perform together and the atmosphere will be something very special with the wood-smoke curling up into the night sky and the sounds and smells of the village adding a major “sense of place”.

There is a wealth of raw story material out there – let’s work together to explore how we can capture the stories and use them to meet so many objectives, which I summarize again:

  • Simply recording the stories and legends is a very valuable act of heritage conservation;
  • Using them as play-scripts, short stories or even poetry will stimulate creative writing;
  • Using plays to blend in social and environmental messages – but be gentle with heavy messages – remember that this must all be fun!
  • Using the plays for simple entertainment and perhaps to earn money for school funds or special school projects;
  • Using this project to expose a whole range of latent or hidden talents that often lie just below the surface and that, once exposed and developed, will give many young people a greatly improved chance of a better life.

This is surely only a small and practical contribution that we can make towards brighter futures for our youth!

Thank you!

Michael Gardner

20 February 2013

How sustainable is the Tourism Industry?
Address given by Michael Gardner at the Sustainable Living Festival in Hoedspruit in April 2009

This is a great occasion and the organisers deserve to be applauded for their foresight, energy and enthusiasm in putting this event together. It is clearly a sign of the times that the entire subject of sustainable living is not just being talked about but that positive and practical actions are being taken to put ideas into practice.

I have 30 minutes and, therefore, what I am going to say is really in summary format, a bit disjointed in places and somewhat like a nervous frog hopping from one lily pad to another. It is also my intention to throw out a few bones – some are old and dry but still worth a nibble; some have juicy morsels of meat still attached; some may not have a particularly pleasant taste, whilst others may do nothing more than exercise your jaws and your minds.

Let me start with the classic definition of what we mean by sustainability.

“Sustainability is the action of using resources to meet the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs from the same resources.”  Indeed, a nice idea – but does it really work?

Today’s needs are so great – and here I should include not only our basic needs for survival but also the greedy needs of those who are hell-bent on amassing wealth – that there are very few examples of any voluntary ‘holding back’ on resource exploitation simply because there may be some small voice of conscience that says “Hey! What about future generations?”

I suspect that the word sustainability was made popular by the environmentalists – probably not by big business and certainly not by politicians. Each of these groups is known to have a different ‘time horizon’ in terms of planning for the future. The environmentalist, or conservationist, sees time stretching forever into the future and works to secure the ongoing and continuous utilisation of rare resources; the businessman sees it as no more than 30 years, or the time it will take to secure a handsome profit; and the politician has a time horizon of only five years – the time he or she is allowed to try and make a real difference in the lives of the voters before the next election. This may also be a slightly naïve concept because I doubt that voters really do vote for those that deliver services! Or do they?

But, let me restrict myself to the tourism sector and our particular destination. This is a region, fondly known as the Valley of the Olifants, which is dominated by a tourism industry based on nature, scenery and wildlife. At the same time, it is also a region that has vast historical and cultural heritage resources but, so far, these have not really been developed into innovative, attractive and worthwhile tourism products that can add value to the attraction provided by nature.

However, there are initiatives in place right now to enrich our overall tourism experience with the addition of a cultural heritage dimension.

As and when cultural heritage is used to enhance the tourist’s experience of the Valley of the Olifants, it will place on our shoulders the not inconsiderable additional burden of having to add it to our already heavy load of caring for the natural environment. And, in many ways, the task of utilising and conserving cultural heritage is that much more difficult, simply because it seldom has the mass appeal of a herd of elephants or a pod of whales. And also because many aspects of our indigenous cultures are already threatened because many of the customs, legends, folklore, healing practices and indigenous knowledge systems are not regarded as being essential for survival in the modern world, and, in many cases, they are being rejected at least by the younger generations.

Let me talk for a moment about the word ‘change’.
Change has been a fact of life ever since the Big Bang and humankind’s slow climb out of the warm, shallow seas of our beginnings to the incredibly complex animals that we are today. Change has always been with us, but it is perhaps the rapidity of change that is now overwhelming us. It is the sheer speed at which we are expected to adapt to the explosion of technology and the new and often unfamiliar faces of our social, cultural and natural environments. It is this that appears, at times, to be beyond our ability to come to terms with.

It has been said that the word ‘change’ will dominate all our lives in the 21st Century and many of the challenges that face the tourism industry today also revolve almost exclusively around the word ‘change’.

Casey Stengel, one-time manager of the New York Yankees once commented that, “The future aint what it used to be!” And this is relevant even more so today, even if we use more appropriate English to say it!

Someone equally wise, but less well-known, also noted “If you are doing today what you were doing ten years ago – you could be in trouble!” In other words, you may not have noticed that your markets have developed new needs and expectations and that those around you (especially your competitors) have adapted to new ways of doing things and succeeding in business!

Think for a moment about what has happened over recent times, and what is continuing to happen in the economic, social, political and natural environments. An here I use the word environment, as noted by J.A. Bennett in his book on Tourism Management, “Viewed in its broadest sense, the environment includes the natural and the cultural heritage and the lifestyles, values and traditions of all the people of South and southern Africa.”

Pause for a moment and think of economic meltdowns, recessions, fuel and commodity prices, interest rates, AIDS, disastrous education and health systems, the brain-drain, political uncertainty, corruption, crime, global warming etc. Do these few issues constitute sufficient ‘change’ to justify my comment that this is a word that affects each and every one of us?

Against this background, sustainability is a concept that has no real guarantee of achievability in a world that is fundamentally in a constant state of uncertainty and rapid change. Does this mean, therefore, that tourism is unsustainable and that the impacts of change will not allow it to survive into the future?

This is the question that we have to ask ourselves, whether we are operators in the tourism business or just travellers with itchy feet constantly seeking new and exciting things to see and do.  We constantly hear of the need for development and the need for growth.

What drives this imperative? Is it the need to create more jobs and to meet the ever-increasing needs and demands of ever-growing populations? Is it to export more, thereby earning more money for big business and the National Treasury? Is it to use up more and more irreplaceable resources to meet the living standards of the developed world? And, as far as tourism is concerned, is it to meet the demands of more and more tourists wanting to do more and more exciting, dangerous, unique, different and quirky things?

We should note what Ian McCallum, in his book ‘Ecological Intelligence’, has to say about ‘growth’. He says, “while it carries such positive connotations when used in an intellectual or economic context, the word growth is also the name for a tumour. It spreads, it invades, it occupies, eventually killing the host.”

When does ‘development’ stop?

McCallum quotes Jacquette Hawkes who pleads that we re-examine ‘the fetish of the standard of living.’ I realize that this will not apply in our country where living standards are virtually all below acceptable levels; but Hawkes was really pointing a finger at the developed world and the widespread disease of ‘greed’. Hawkes indicated that the ‘fetish of the standard of living’ should be replaced with a ‘standard of values, in which beauty, comeliness and the possibility of solitude have a high place amongst human needs’.

A grand plan, indeed, and not without considerable merit when it is realized, as explained by Barry Lopez in his book ‘The Rediscovery of North America’, that so much ‘continues to be done to the land, not so people can survive, but so that a relatively few can amass wealth.’

A new lily pad!

The development and recent upsurge of the ‘outdoor adventure’ sector is to be applauded as this provides a major antidote to the diseases of modern lifestyles.

Mountain biking, road cycling, trail running, bungee-jumping, hiking, kloofing, abseiling, kayaking, canoeing and other activities are growing in popularity and can only be good for those who partake therein. Testing one’s strength and capabilities against the mountains and rivers; against other competitors and especially against oneself, all contribute towards mental and physical wellbeing.

In most cases the impacts on natural environments are limited or can be managed to ensure that any impacts are strictly confined to acceptable levels. We probably all know the expression ‘limits to acceptable change’ but we must be careful how we apply personal and subjective measurements to any proposed change.

We must always pose the question ‘Are these activities really sustainable and will our activities change the intrinsic nature and integrity of the resources being used?’

To answer my own question, I believe that they are, on the prime condition that impact-monitoring systems are devised and put in place, and that management of these activities is totally in sympathy with the limitations of the resources used.

But, I must hasten to add that my own levels of tolerance become severely tested when outdoor adventure is based on off-road vehicles, quad bikes, motorbikes or jet-skis!

It was once said that the tourism industry is based on the demand by operators and the general public to seek out ‘the rarest’, ‘the biggest’, ‘the oldest’, ‘the wildest’ or the ‘most beautiful’. And once tourism operators have discovered these sometimes unique gems, the ‘thin end of the wedge’ is inserted in the process of resource utilisation – or should I say exploitation? From there, they move on and sell these and other new discoveries to markets grown jaded and tired of their own inventions and forever on the lookout for new and exciting experiences.

Bill Bryson has called it the ‘Dysfunctional Attention Syndrome” a phrase that more than explains the inability of many people to focus on any particular subject for longer than a couple of hours!

Perhaps a quote from Max Nicholson in his book ‘The Environmental Revolution’ may put this into more detailed perspective. He wrote, “While many may dream at times of being provided with instant wilderness, with which they may be comfortably jet-propelled ready to alight and immediately drink in its essence at a gulp – the truth is not like that. Those that cannot, through long preparation and through contributing a satisfying personal effort, come to wilderness in the right frame of mind to appreciate it, could mostly do better to stay away and see it by means of films, or through good and well-illustrated books or, alternatively, through getting to know well some substitute wilderness near enough to home to be visited often and long enough for some degree of familiarity to be achieved with it”.

Julian Huxley once said many long years ago, “so long as Western prosperity (and we may now add Eastern prosperity) continues, with populations increasing and industrialization being intensified, more and more people will want to escape and move further and further from its results in the shape of overlarge and overcrowded cities, smog, noise, boring routine and over mechanization of life”.

To this list I would add ‘crime’, something that Julian Huxley may not have really considered 50 years ago.

It is here in the phrase ‘people will want to escape further and further’ that we perhaps can identify the starting point for one of the major ‘dynamics’ that impacts on the health and sustainability of the natural environment.

Urban populations seem to be increasingly bored with their technology-dominated lifestyles. They demand more and more excitement and activities that differ substantially from their seemingly favourite activities of patronizing the shopping malls, the fitness gyms, the restaurants and coffee shops, or cycling around the suburban main roads. For a while the novelty of i-phones, i-pods, blackberries and other technology will bring some relief to their varying states of boredom, but these will soon need to be replaced by something else.

Traditional holiday and recreational destinations such as the Durban beachfront, Kruger Park, the Cape Town Waterfront, Hartebeespoort Dam and others offer only minimal levels of new excitement and stimulation and their ‘WOW’ factors have generally all reached their ‘use-by’ dates as far as the seasoned travellers are concerned.

Where next? Pushing the limits of the suburban 4x4 into wilderness and unspoilt areas is already becoming one of the next big ‘escape’ mechanisms, and whilst the number of these hardy pioneers may still be relatively few, their impacts are already quite significant.

Is ‘virtual reality’ perhaps the way to go? Should we be considering the harnessing of the immense power of computer-generated images and techniques to provide sights, sounds and experiences that one may enjoy only a few minutes’ drive from one’s home – or even in one’s home? Would this perhaps postpone for a short time, the over-running of our rare and precious wildlife areas by the ‘golden hordes’?

I firmly believe that our programmes of development must be finite in some way. The time must come when we have to limit numbers and limit utilization of certain fragile resources. I quote from a Conference on Tourism and the Environment, held in 1972, where a speaker said “tourism can be a dangerous industry if it is nothing but a series of spectacular explosions and uncontrolled growth. Tourism will have to accept one day that it cannot always wear the ‘golden boy’ image by re-writing the record books each year and by adding one spectacular success to another”.

And I know that this would not please Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk (or is he now an ex-Minister?) because he thrives on making announcements about the new records being set in tourism arrivals in South Africa. Only last week he proudly noted that, in 2007, (what happened to 2008?) arrivals from Lesotho had totalled 2 170 074 – 23.8% of total foreign arrivals – and that this was considered to be a ‘growth market’. The fact that Lesotho is one of the world’s smallest and poorest states and only has a total population of 1 713 000 seems to have escaped his notice or that of his advisers who are often desperate to find some good news for him to report!

But enough of my brief visit to this particular lily pad!

At that same conference in 1972, a speaker also quoted Sir Peter Scott who expressed the hope that “one day, we will learn to concern ourselves with optimum not maximum, and quality not quantity”. It is only then that we will come to terms with the fact that development and growth have limits.

In the meantime, Ian McCallum suggests that “we be careful of our language and refuse to be seduced by jargon and slogans such as ‘ethical hunting’, ‘sustainable utilization’, ‘downsizing’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘transparency’, ‘bio-degradable’, ‘development’ and ‘growth’”.

So where does that leave us in terms of the future? What steps can we actually take to balance tourism development with environmental wellbeing and to ensure some semblance of sustainable utilisation? And please remember again that the word ‘environmental’ includes both nature and culture.

A time must surely come, if it is not already with us in certain tourism destinations, when the very popularity of travel could create conditions that would diminish its attractiveness as an outlet for increased leisure.

Exactly which tourist (number 257 or number 258) is the one that is finally the straw that breaks the camel’s back? I don’t know and I am not sure how one finds out without actually harming the camel!

I don’t want to enter the tourist ‘carrying capacity’ debate because, although it is an excellent and usually scientific way of deciding how many cattle may graze on a particular piece of veld, or how many elephants may be permitted to live in the Kruger National Park, it is generally inappropriate in determining the number of visitors who can enter a park, visit a cultural site or spread themselves on a pristine beach. (Are there really still some ‘pristine beaches’?)

The reason why I cannot apply the ‘carrying capacity’ methodology to tourists is because, with people, it is not simply numbers that have an impact. Far more important and potentially damaging is the attitude or the behaviour of such travellers. Actually, this also applies to elephants!

Gardner’s 1st Law of Tourism Dynamics states, “The level of behaviour of the average tourist declines in direct proportion to the distance that that person is away from home” and the 2nd law adds that, “the level of behaviour is further reduced by the number of people who know each other who are travelling together!”

Future developments in tourism must take much greater account of the sensitivities of both the natural and the cultural environments. Today, it is not uncommon to be told that new developments should be market-driven. In other words, first assess the shape, size and needs of your potential market and then create products, services and experiences to meet such expectations. In general, I certainly subscribe to this development principle because I have seen too many ‘supply driven’ products that have done little but add to our growing herd of ‘white elephants’.

Now, if we slavishly pander to the needs of the market, we may see almost every piece of open water surrounded by eco-estates, weekend cottages, jetties and power-boat houses; every unspoilt mountain or piece of grassland would become a playground for the off-road enthusiasts; every game park would probably offer opportunities for visitors to paint-ball a rhino or elephant; and every camp in the National Parks would offer mini-malls with the constant buzz of electronic games – and the strong possibility of watching 20/20 cricket at Skukuza on a Saturday afternoon. Indian elephants and all! 

Perhaps this is too dramatic, but there is a trend in modern society towards adrenaline activities, instant gratification and artificial stimulation.

What are some of the answers to these issues? I believe we need to start by looking at a few key areas:

  • Greatly improve management of protected natural environments. Limpopo is a good example of how NOT to manage natural environments;
  • Extend the principles of environmental conservation beyond protected areas. Short course environmental education programmes for school children are only a very small and relatively ineffective way of spreading the sustainable conservation message. The message needs to reach our political, social and economic leaders as a matter of urgency;
  • Revisit utilization levels set for protected area. In some cases they are perhaps too generous (remember what Max Nicholson said?) and, in many other cases, the authorities have simply failed to grasp and implement the message that certain protected areas can and should be used for recreation purposes;
  • It is urgent that we create recreation facilities for lower income sectors of both urban and rural populations. These facilities should include opportunities for outdoor adventure, an activity which otherwise remains the preserve of the more affluent sections of society. My motivation in this case is that we should use outdoor adventure to help heal huge numbers of rural youth who are, quite frankly, traumatized by poverty and broken families, or shockingly low standards of health care and education. Many have lost faith in themselves; they are living without pride, self-confidence and a will to achieve. They need to be taught to dream and to be given the opportunity to actually fulfil their dreams. Can you imagine what this small impact may have on the lives of so many rural children?;
  • Let us reinvent tourism as a meaningful contribution to education, awareness, inspiration, fun and the quality of life. For many years I believed that tourism was simply an economic activity with social consequences. Today I believe that this industry must be seen more as a social activity with economic consequences. Years ago, in France, tourism was taken out of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and put into a new Ministry called the ‘Quality of Life.’ An idea worth investigating but the problem may be that we would need to find a Minister, MECs and staff with quality as well!
  • We must embrace technology in marketing and interpreting our natural and cultural heritage, thereby making the stories behind the heritage so much more accessible and meaningful. I have already spoken about ‘virtual reality’ tourism – technology could actually help us to save a great many of the rare and precious places that have not yet felt the hand of tourism development;
  • The principles of Responsible Tourism need to be more widely adopted. Not in their entirety, but in specific ways that are appropriate to local situations. Whilst responsible tourism makes good economic sense, we are almost certainly at a point in our evolution as a species where the social and environmental guidelines are much more important. We must insist on greater adherence to environment-friendly performance by the tourism industry. We know that virtually every new tourism development needs an Environmental Impact Assessment and an Environmental Management Plan, but what about the hundreds of operations that were established long before these regulations came into force? Perhaps every single tourism operation should be required to prepare Environmental Management Plans and these should be enforced on a regular basis! If we all need to comply with the BEE scorecard, is it not equally important, in view of the extremely precarious state of our natural environment, to insist on Enviro Performance scorecards? I am not trying to encourage more controls and restrictions on tourism operators. There are more than enough hurdles to doing business in this industry. What I am perhaps suggesting is a dramatic change of attitude by tourism operators and, indeed, all citizens of this country towards our social, cultural and natural environments. The key objective must be to develop a keen sense of responsibility. Without it, I fear that we will continue to be a nation torn apart by crime and social injustices, living in a country where the raw wounds and differences between us are never properly healed;
  • And finally, we need better-informed, more sympathetic and more caring people who will play an active role in minimizing many of the negative impacts on our natural and cultural heritage. Is it too much to expect that we sensitize every person to the plight of the environment and their own individual potential impacts arising from so-called normal lifestyle activities?  Many years ago (and it may still apply) you sat a competency test in Germany if you wanted to buy a fishing licence! Again, I hope that we never have to go that far, but it would certainly help if every new 4x4, jet-ski or quad bike owner was forced to pass an exam on the fragility of the natural and even the social environments; and if every visitor, intent on a village walkabout, would be thoroughly briefed on village customs, etiquette and acceptable social behaviour. And for those determined to push new trails into wilderness areas, be reminded of the wise words of Max Nicholson! It is really only a very small percentage of the total population that actually needs wilderness.

The above few ideas may make some contribution towards a more intelligent and appropriate use of our natural and cultural heritage.

In conclusion may I quote again from one of my favourite authors? Ian McCallum has said, “We have to stop speaking about the Earth being in need of healing. The Earth doesn’t need healing. We do. Utterly indifferent to human existence, the Earth will thrive – when we are gone. We are the ones who need to redefine our relationship with it. We are the ones who need to do the reaching out, not to save the Earth, but to rediscover ourselves in it”.

I may not entirely have answered the question “Is the tourism industry sustainable?” because the sustainability of the tourism industry is a vast subject and deserves a conference all on its own! But perhaps my offering of various bones has whetted your appetites for further thought and discussion.

And a final word! Sustainability doesn’t just happen! It requires a deliberate and conscious act of understanding the challenges, acknowledging the fragility of our environments, accepting responsibility for our actions and changing our behaviour patterns and attitudes. It needs a commitment over and above our concern for our own immediate lives and acts of survival. It is the act of thinking bigger than ourselves; of really making a difference in the ways we act and react towards each other and this rather special world that we live in.

 And that is all I can really hope to achieve! Thank you!


Sustainability is the action of using resources to meet the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs from the same resources.

In addition. there is often mention of 'sustainable development'. The Village Tourism Trust is of the opinion that this is not achievable and may be used by developers who seek to justify their projects in the face of enviromental opposition. 

See article on Sustainable Tourism


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