Although Sustainable and Responsible Tourism are the most talked about concepts in the tourism sector now, there is complete lack of awareness about the broad contours of them among the stakeholders of the industry. Therefore, it is largely misunderstood and misinterpreted in many different ways. CB Ramkumar is an author, speaker, trainer, consultant, entrepreneur and above all a practitioner of sustainable tourism who has tried to make it simple for tourism stakeholders to understand the concepts of sustainability by producing a video.
A project by Green Dreams for the Planet Foundation (GDP), an environmental awareness and sustainability action enterprise, founded by Ramkumar, the video, The Journey, has been exclusively shared with ET TravelWorld readers.
ETTravelWorld (ETTW): Despite the fact that international agencies like the UN have set Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), is there a lack of awareness about sustainability and sustainable business practices when it comes to different sectors? What is the state of awareness about sustainability in the tourism sector?
CB Ramkumar (CBR): There is a lack of awareness amongst the majority of companies about the true meaning of sustainability. It is usually equated to being green and environmental sustainability. The SDG’s have listed out a policy direction for overall Sustainability of which environment is also an important aspect – but not the only aspect. This lack of awareness is a result of no compulsion to understand sustainability completely. It is not a compliance issue that needs to be attended to. So companies have not found the need to understand and get deep into aspects of sustainability. Also for most companies, especially in the SME sector (which is the majority in the world), the goals set by an entity like the UN are so far away and not anywhere in their radar. It is seen as something only for large companies. So it is bypassed completely.
This is the same case in tourism also, where waste management, renewable energy, is seen as being sustainable. I can safely say that more than 95% of the tourism industry does not understand sustainability thoroughly. And those who do, look at it from the lens of green-environment.
ETTW: What made you work on a documentary like ‘The Journey’ on Sustainable Tourism? What is the vision and mission behind it?
CBR: I wanted a discussion around the aspect of total sustainability as defined in the UN SDG’s. Corporations – small and big – have to find the mind space to understand this. It has to go beyond the CSR budget mindset. It has to become an imperative – as urgent as the profit imperative. I wanted to convey this in a powerful manner, which is why I assembled very senior people from around the world to give their views in the film. I am hoping that their views will help influence and open the minds of CEO’s.
ETTW: Travel & Tourism is largely seen and presented as an activity to splurge and indulge even by the industry; do you think that a change in the whole narrative is needed on the part of the industry also?
CBR: Sustainability is sometimes equated to frugality. It does not have to be that. I don’t think the discussion is about whether we should avoid indulgence and luxury. Because indulgence (which is sometimes wasteful) is seen as a reward for the hard work that people put into their work and lives. So, that is ok. As long as it does not consume resources that are disproportionate, as long as it is not wasteful, as long as it does not deprive others of the resources that are due to them. Do you really need 15 pillows and cushions in a room for 2 people? Some companies are beginning to see this – wasteful luxury. But this shift in companies requires a deep understanding of the consumer and a deep conviction of what is right for the business. It requires an enlightened CEO!
ETTW: In the documentary, the focus is largely on the hospitality side of tourism. Don’t you think the stakeholders of the whole ecosystem – transporters including airlines, tour operators, also need to reinvent to realise the goals of sustainability?
CBR: Yes. All in the tourism ecosystem need to understand this. I focussed on hospitality because it is normally the dominant part of the tourism experience. Hotels and resorts also have the power, influence and wherewithal to act as catalysts for the others in the ecosystem. Definitely it will help if everyone in the tourism eco-system starts to reinvent themselves.
ETTW: What kind of course correction would you suggest for global tourism when it restarts again after the pandemic? What are the opportunities before it?
CBR: I think consumers or traveller’s will force the course correction – if we are willing to listen. Their behaviour will engineer the mindset change amongst the tourism businesses and stakeholders. Definitions of luxury have undergone a shift in the minds of the consumer globally. Being able to go for a long walk in a safe place is now a luxury! Companies who listen to this change in the consumer mindset will respond and benefit. So the big course correction businesses have to prepare for is to listen more deeply to changing consumer mindset.