Is it media’s responsibility to raise awareness of the importance of tourism?

That was one of the main topics during the first day discussion at the UNWTO conference on Tourism & Media today. (Thanks for the live streaming!)

Some twitter friends shared their opinions on the topic:

I don’t know if it’s media’s “responsibility,” but I believe the media can help raising awareness of not just the importance of tourism but also responsible tourism. (Although, how effective the media coverage would be is another story.)

Three years ago, when I told my friends that I was going to study sustainable tourism, one pointed out that the two words—sustainable and tourism—are contradictory to each other, as once people start visiting a destination, they cannot help ruin its environment no matter how hard they try not to. Perhaps she is right. People always consume resources and produce wastes. But we can try to reduce its negative impact, I argued.

In a similar context, that was a dilemma to me when I covered travel section for a daily newspaper back in 2006. Once a piece on a travel destination is published, there are often higher chances that more—a lot more—people visit the place; the area gets developed dramatically to accommodate increasing visitors; and the destination loses its charm and in worst scenario, the environment gets damaged.

I’m not the only one. When I met Jonathan Tourtellot, founding director of National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations and geotourism editor of NG Traveler magazine, in 2010, I asked him how he balances the two—the role of informing people of a destination and concerns about the negative impacts the articles may cause. Jonathan said not writing about destinations isn’t an option. Even if he doesn’t, someone will write about it anyway. So instead, he tries to note responsible ways of traveling in his articles, he said.

As the twitter friends argued, it may not be media’s responsibility to raise awareness of the importance of tourism or responsible tourism. It’s just that there are some journalists who feel responsible for what they write about.

+ Other good reads:
Why aren’t more bloggers writing about responsible travel?
Responsible (and local) tourism for travellers



6 thoughts on “Is it media’s responsibility to raise awareness of the importance of tourism?

  1. Great tweets and thoughtful essay. Thank you.

    During the online streaming I literally scowled when one of the participants said with great authority, “The objetive of the media is ….” which I disapproved of simply because it was singular. There are many objectives and many responsibilities. My question is how do we articulate these aspirational goals?

    Your citation of Jonathan is spot on. We need to embed ‘responsible’ in tourism features. What would be useful would be some specific tips for media and tourism pros alike to make that happen.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. It’s a good idea to come up with some useful tips for media and tourism folks for the “responsible.”
      But the thing is how effective the media, sort of, campaign would be. For example, the Nat Geo has come up with this Geotourism concept, and talked about it regularly in the Traveler magazine, and even created GeoMap Guides. But still not many people are aware of that they could contribute to the local community just by traveling the place if they pay a little more attention when choosing products. Can media really change traveler’s behavior? What should also take part in to make changes?

  2. Pingback: Tourism and Media: Taking Responsibility | Ron Mader

  3. I wrote about this last month for at The heavy heft of comments that followed was (mostly) in support of the position that travel writers do need to be more vigilant about pushing responsible travel. As far as I can tell, the primary question that follows is: How blunt should they be about it?

    Like many people, I believe the ethical qualities of travel should be inherent to it. The goal is for all travel product to be responsible, sustainable and local. But we’re just not there yet. Fortunately, there are scores of superb wise and able travel writers who integrate it into their work seamlessly, guiding travelers without the latter knowing it. They’re the thought leaders and models, but they’re not changing the minds of the people around them. When you’re duped into eating a food you thought you didn’t like, the only way you’re going to realize how foolish you’ve been is when someone tells you what the food was. So in order to pull along those anyone offering resistance (especially travel media), we have to call things what they are and show how painfully easy, relevant and vital it is to do right. Only when we’ve reached critical mass, will we really not need labels any longer.

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