SABA Episode #11 — Eco, Sustainable or Responsible Tourism? It’s Clear (at Least to Harold Goodwin)!

It was a no-brainer whom to invite as our guest for the 11th episode of SEE AFRICA BREATHE AFRICA focused on responsible tourism (we cut it down to 17 minutes only, to be as user-friendly as possible). Who would be your top mark if you were to discuss the Catholic Church? Pope Francis of course! To me — and probably to thousands of others who have listened to Harold Goodwin in lecture rooms, at trade fairs and elsewhere — Pope Harold is the spiritual leader of tourism the way it should be.

It was his stature that impressed me, but it is his personality that will move you when you hear Goodwin on the podcast. One could argue against his definitions of competing terms, but you can’t miss his passion, sharpness of thought and provocative ideas. We have had many a remarkable personality on the show, but this is our peak thus far … There were more than a dozen participants on our Tuesday Zoom call but most of them have opted to shut up and just take in Harold’s conviction and expertise.

Meeting Harold Goodwin was my highlight of the 2015 World Travel Market, having been sent there by a UTB/UNWTO/UNDP pro-poor tourism project. In a massive exhibition hall in London, the budding Gorilla Highlands Initiative was to get world exposure — but the most profound actual revelation was our first contact with the ideas championed by Goodwin. They affected everything we have been doing ever since.

In addition to being adviser on responsible tourism to the World Travel Market, Goodwin is the chair of the judges for World Responsible Tourism awards, Professor Emeritus at Manchester Metropolitan University, and many other things. He has even done some very specific things in our region. He was the author of Rwanda’s responsible tourism policy and worked around Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable NP.

Goodwin fell into all this by accident. Originally an adult educator, he left his profession in disgust when the British government — back in the stingy times of Margaret Thatcher — decided education for grownups should no longer be a public service. His students had been making it possible for him to travel around the world, as a tour leader, and he decided to continue in that field. He saw the ecotourism slogan take only photos, leave only footprints plastered all over and got both intrigued and irritated. “It was clear ecotourists wanted things for free!” he says.

Harold returned to university and began researching ecotourism. That interest led him to a Master’s degree in Tourism Conservation and finally to becoming a lecturer of a postgraduate responsible tourism course at four universities. He retired in 2018 when, oh the irony of life, his dean wanted to balloon the number of students to unreasonable numbers to increase the school’s income.

As a consultant and researcher he worked on four continents. His biggest claim to fame may be the 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism, with the following defining points:

  • minimise negative economic, environmental, and social impact
  • generate greater economic benefits for local people, enhance the wellbeing of host communities, and improve working conditions
  • involve local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances
  • make positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage
  • provide more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues
  • provide access for physically challenged people
  • be culturally sensitive, engender respect between tourists and hosts, and build local pride and confidence.

“Twenty years on, we certainly shouldn’t be self-congratulatory. Not enough progress has been made,” summarises Goodwin.

One of his biggest regrets is that he hasn’t spent as much time with consumers as he has with destinations and travel businesses. “We should find the Greta Thunberg of tourism,” he says. Harold has realised that it is consumers who will most likely drive adoption of responsible practices, who will be top protectors of what matters.

But he did have some very direct involvement in the responsible tourism industry too. With one of his students, Justin Francis, he co-founded Responsible Travel, a British company. Harold eventually sold his shares to avoid conflicts of interest; he was often contracted by the UK government and could theoretically work in the company’s favour. He quotes Francis when asked about customer benefits of responsible tourism: “I can’t tell the difference when I taste it between fairly traded coffee and unfairly traded coffee, but if I go on a responsible holiday, I do experience the difference.”

Still, he emphasises, we should not forget that the responsible tourism mantra making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit should never ever be switched and give priority to visitors. It’s the benefits to the local communities, their culture and their natural environment, that must always come first.

… If you by any chance think this is a summary of the podcast, you are mistaken. We touch on many other crucial aspects of tourism and humanity in the recordings. As it has been already clearly implied: here is some audio stuff you unquestionably need to treat your brain to! The player is atop this article and SEE AFRICA BREATHE AFRICA is available on all imaginable podcasting platforms. Yes, you can even ask your Alexa for it.

featured photo by Marcus Westberg


Miha Logar

Joe Kahiri

Marcus Westberg

Marcus’ article in the New York Times

Responsible Tourism Partnership

SEE AFRICA BREATHE AFRICA patron saint Festo Karwemera

the Voice of Santa Barbara

episode editor Matyas Boyen