More than just a journey, it’s sharing
4 min

Fair tourism enthusiasts see their stays as a form of exchange.

This social and moral commitment is within everyone’s reach, provided people remain vigilant, as abuses do exist.

Sharing is not always fair

The greatly increased accessibility of travel means there are now over a billion of us packing our suitcases every year to discover new horizons. This practice has a heavy impact on the world economy: the tourist sector alone represents 12% of global GDP, i.e. over 500 billion dollars spent each year with airlines, hotels, restaurants, leisure operators and other souvenir vendors. Yet not everyone benefits from this financial manna in the same way: between 80% and 90% of revenue from tourism returns to countries in the North. The big losers in this are the village communities who see tourists trooping in, armed with their selfie sticks, and then leaving again, without any hope of initiating the slightest degree of economic or human exchange.

A new way to travel

This is an observation shared by fans of more “sustainable” tourism, that is to say, tourism from which everyone might derive more benefit. This battle is not just a matter for experienced activists, with their backpacks and hiking boots, since the United Nations Organization (UN) is now interested in it. Its General Assembly officially designated 2017 as the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development”. In resolution number 70/193, the diplomats recall that “well-designed and well-managed tourism can make a significant contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development, has close linkages to other sectors and can create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities”.

Fortunately, the economic players in the travel industry already seized on this issue several years ago, championing the concept of “fair” tourism. In her work, “Tourisme équitable, à la découverte de l’autre... et de soi” (“Fair tourism, the discovery of others... and self-discovery”), published in 2008, Stéphanie Vialfont summarizes it very succinctly: “The principles applied to fair trade should be applied to mass tourism, hence the concept of fair tourism. In the same way as for trade, it would be a case of ensuring that residents of tourist countries, that are often poor, enjoy a fair share of the revenue from tourism, as part of an approach to sustainable development.”

Part humanitarian, part eco-friendly

Beware of confusion, however, as fair tourism is not a humanitarian venture: you're not setting off on a mission to lend a hand to people in distress. We are talking here of travelling for pleasure, although the interests of the communities being visited have not been forgotten. Nor is it about eco-tourism for apprentice rangers or nature conservationists, although respect for the environment is implicit in fair tourism. The latter is closer, on the other hand, to “solidarity tourism,” involving its participants in a development program. However, fair tourism is limited, for its part, to participation in local activities in the aim of generating an encounter, a discovery or, in a word, sharing. The economic aspect takes the form of fair remuneration for local service providers, as well as a small financial contribution to development projects.

According to ATES - the Association for Fair Tourism and Solidarity Tourism - which brings together nearly twenty tour operators who support fair tourism, 33% of the price of a journey benefits the destination’s economy. In addition, 5% of the price paid by the customer goes into a fund to support local initiatives. So, the “Double Sens” agency, which serves about fifteen destinations, charges a €50 levy per customer to support development projects within communities that host its customers.

Avoid unwanted effects

In most cases, the communities receive the funding before the tourists arrive. They therefore have the necessary means to welcome them properly. As for local projects, they are supported throughout the year, which avoids what can sometimes be artificial, staged scenes and depictions: sporadic activities that are encouraged to coincide with tourists passing through, or traditions and folk costumes unearthed from the cupboard whereas they have not been in use for a great many years.

Like everything else, fair tourism has had its share of corruption. Five years ago, the investigative program, People & Power, shown on the Al Jazeera channel, brought into the open some dubious practices in connection with orphanages in Cambodia. Orphans got the benefit of only $9 out of the $3,000 paid by travelers in good faith, with the bulk of the stash of money ending up in the pockets of unscrupulous directors, suspected of sexually exploiting the children. There were even more of these children as certain Cambodian families preferred to entrust their children to these institutions in the hope they would benefit from the generosity of foreigners.

So, before launching into a fair tourism venture, it is essential to ensure you are properly informed. Certificates, awards from renowned organizations, labels etc. allow you to embark, in complete confidence, on a new way of traveling.

*Conference on development and international solidarity, which took place between 5 November 2012 and 1 March 2013. Fair trade and solidarity tourism was discussed at the second round table of Workshop 5 on innovation and research in development policies.