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



Destination image and the media

I get Google Alerts on Tourism Media. Google sends me a list of articles that has both tourism and media once a week.
Yesterday, the list included two interesting articles that tourism authorities blame the international media for tarnishing the image of the countries, and as a result, dropping the number of inbound visitors.

Al Bawaba’s Foreign media reports ‘killing Bahrain tourism’ and the Sunday Times’s Foreign media ruins Maldives’ image as a safe haven for tourists. 

It sounded so familiar to me. That’s what S.Korea used to complain about for years.  They said, the photos international media choose for their articles, for example photos of union workers wearing red headbands, sitting on the streets, striking, make the society look unstable. True. Photos can dramatize the situation. And true as well with crisis news reports. Media may cover crisis outbreaks huge on page 1 or as top news, but no one would treat things-got-better stories as important. Destination managers may find it unfair. But it’s the way it is. They should find ways to reduce its negative impact before the negative image sets in, instead of just complaining. Because once an image is set, it’s hard to be replaced. If it’s a bad one, even more so.

Again, Korea.
Yes, Korea is still technically at war, and there’ve been a few gun fights near the maritime border, but in fact, visitors as well as residents here hardly feel the war atmosphere in the country. When the North shoots missiles, SKoreans don’t even blink their eyes. They go to work/school as any other day, and few (perhaps only the media) talks about it. The stock market doesn’t get affected much either these days. But yet, according to the result of a recent survey on the image of SKorea to foreigners, which was highlighting that the K-pop ranked the second, No.1 is still the Korean war.

Bahrain and the Maldives may be upset with the tarnished image by the media. But it’s not the time for them to sit and complain. It’s time to try reduce its negative impact, and make sure the negative image doesn’t stick to their national image. They may find some loss for now. It’s unavoidable. Accept that and make sure it doesn’t last forever. Try to honestly show how attractive other parts of their country still are despite the clashes in certain areas. Perhaps they’d like to use the media—not just traditional media but also the social media, bloggers, travelers. There’re more ways to directly communicate with outsiders than before.

+ Interested in reading how SKorea’s trying to polish its national image? See What’s in an image? For Korea, a lot.