Many are the activities and initiative that represent a positive and constructive change in the tourism industry. However, not many are those who suggest a change of paradigm.
The Berlin Declaration on Transforming Tourism is one of those.
If you are curious about it, this is its story, briefly.
Very proudly to know that the AITR (Italian Association for Responsible Tourism) has joined the group of signatories of the Berlin Declaration, I wanted to celebrate this important symbolic act with an interview.
For those who did not know it, AITR is a very active organization, born in Italy inspired by the important work that Tourism Concern had started doing from UK, and it became a reference in the country for supporting more ethical and sustainable ways to do tourism.
I met its president Maurizio Davolio and I would like to share with you our interesting chat.
(This interview was initially published on the Tourism Concern Blog on 9 January 2018)
Elisa: Hi Maurizio, for those unfamiliar with your organization AITR, how would you answer – in a sentence – the question of “why the AITR exists”?
Maurizio: AITR exists as a result of a reflection that since the mid-90s, up to the birth of the association in 1998, we were witnessing the commitment of organizations and people who share concerns and criticism towards tourism, and in particular its frequent inability to give real answers to the expectation of sustainable development in the countries of the South of the World.
What particular reasons led you to sign the Berlin Declaration?
We appreciate the critical analysis of the praiseworthy actions concerning the sustainability of development contained in the Declaration; however, there is a risk that the actions will turn out to be weak, a little obvious, easy and end up not having a decisive impact on the paradigms of development. We shared the goals, and the actions are positive, but they may be insufficient.
What do you think of the Transforming Tourism project?
We approve it as a whole; we have only some doubts about the distrust that is manifested in some passages towards the private initiative; in the first place because no result is achieved without the participation of the private world; and secondly because, sometimes, in the private sector we observe more virtuous behaviours than in the public sector.
Which actions would the AITR suggest as most effective for the future of the project, both internally, among its members, and on a global level?
I can report the state of our reflection. We believe that the adoption of good practices of responsible tourism can make a great contribution towards winning or, at least, reducing the serious problems that are called “overtourism”. Listening to the local population; adopting policies that benefit both the local population and the guests (tourists); the educational campaigns about travel could produce very positive results in improving the relationships between residents and tourists, based on mutual respect, and for mutual benefit. The project must focus on these issues, because they are the themes of the future and also of the present, in developed countries as well as in the developing ones.
In general terms, which kind of actions, according to you, do the tourism sector in Italy need to take to achieve greater sustainability that is not only environmental, but which also includes the socio-economic and cultural dimensions?
As you may know, since its inception, AITR has considered the principles of responsible tourism as universal, and therefore valid both in the context of the South of the World as well as in countries with a historically developed tourist economy, such as Italy or other European countries. Organizations similar to AITR, but belonging to other countries, are instead focused solely on tourism in the countries of the South of the World. In Italy, we propose a kind of tourism that matches the expectations of the local population, especially in the inland, rural and mountain areas. In these areas the numbers of tourists, while growing, remain small, but they are the numbers that the territory needs. The (tourist) flows generated by the Routes of Faith, of Culture and of Nature, or generated by the trekking, the cycling, and the naturalistic tourism; by the discovery of small villages, typical products and local cuisine, all lead to the birth of small family-based businesses, friend-based businesses and cooperatives, which give life to small receptive structures, trattorias, shops selling traditional products, and tourist services. It is a type of development that is respectful of the territory, which helps to stop depopulation and emigration, offers job opportunities for young people, and makes local communities part of the process.
Considering the “new” centrality of the local community in tourism and the process of its empowerment, which means or stages do you still consider lacking in the Italian context?
In our opinion, training and exchange of good practices are necessary; promotion must also take account of small nascent realities. Furthermore, these realities must know how to network among themselves rather than close in on themselves, as sometimes happens.
In terms of sustainability, how has the Italian tourist’s consciousness changed over the last ten years?
At the doctrinal and political level, the sustainability (at least the environmental one) is to be considered acquired, even if there is a consistent risk of opportunism and green washing, especially if the rules of financial support to the investment require us to comply with the rules of sustainability. Everyone declares themselves sustainable!
We perceive improvements in company policies, especially by hotel groups and tour operators.
Even a section of the tourists, although still a minority, seems more sensitive to sustainability matters today in comparison to the past.
Which of the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) do you think has made the most progress in the Italian context? And why?
I think that Italy is ahead of some of the goals because it had already started positive policies in the past. In the first place, the subsidy for the production of clean energy (wind and photovoltaic energy) as foreseen by Goal 7; also in the area of consumption (Goal 12), where there is huge interests in quality food and traditional food production, on which the reputation of the country rests; and in the defence of biodiversity (Goal 15), with Italy having reached the target of 10% of Natural Protected Areas, with the establishment of Parks and Natural Reserves. But there is still a lot to do!