London - Without massively changed behaviour the world stands to destroy itself and growth in tourism can come to an end, Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom said at the recent World Travel Market (WTM) London.
In a keynote address he said there are two big international trends the tourism industry must deal with, namely climate change and over-tourism.
"Sustainable tourism is up to all of us and it is good that WTM helps us to spread the message loudly and clearly, far and wide," said Hanekom.
"We are close to the point where carbon emissions will change life on our planet. We have 12 years to act, if not we will be on a tragic path of being the architects of our own destruction."
He said reducing the plastic footprint - to which the hospitality and tourism industry often contribute - must be part of the effort.
"The tourism industry is both a contributor to and a victim of planet destroying practices. We have to turn it around, lead the way and demonstrate to tourists what sustainable practices are," he said.
"More and more tourists are demanding that too. We have to send the right messages to our visitors."
He said responsible tourism requires tourism operators to ensure communities are consulted and that they are integrated into the tourism activities in their areas.
"Especially the younger generation of tourists demand more authentic experiences from us. They don't want to be viewed as unwelcome visitors. They want to feel connected to the people and communities where they visit," said Hanekom.
He pointed out that SA was the first country to include responsible tourism in its national tourism policy to maximise the economic, social and environmental benefits and minimise the costs to a destination.
"It is about social justice, about making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit," he said.
"It is also about conserving national and cultural diversity and providing access for people with disabilities and disadvantaged people. Responsible tourism is, therefore, not just a nice-to-have, but a necessity. We do it for all on the planet."
He praised the work done by Fairtrade Tourism in SA to provide accreditation for establishments which practice responsible tourism. Hotel Verde in Cape Town is a good example for him of a responsible tourism approach. He also referred to lessons learnt and innovative solutions that came from the tourism industry having to deal with the water crisis in Cape Town.
"There are many inspiring examples, but we need more of those. At the end of the day we must be the change agents to ensure a world where people can enjoy and benefit from fulfilling tourism experiences," he concluded.
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