Holidays with a clear conscience

Socially responsible consumerism has made its way to the tourism industry. Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa is making certain local communities feel the effects of this trend

According to research conducted by the British Association of Travel Agents, seven out of 10 British tourists believe that when they go on holiday it is important that local inhabitants receive economic benefits. Four out of five holidaymakers are even prepared to pay extra to ensure this positive impact.

Clearly, socially responsible consumerism has made its way to the tourism industry. An organisation called Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA) is making certain South African communities feel the effects of this trend. In June the FTTSA trademark was launched in South Africa, giving a considerable boost to fair business practices and responsible tourism development in the country.

“The registered FTTSA trademark will be awarded to tourism businesses that comply with the Fair Trade criteria. We foresee that it will become a valuable marketing tool for tourism business in South Africa,” says FTTSA’s national coordinator, Jennifer Seif. Workshops are being held around the country to educate stakeholders about the FTTSA brand and to inform them about the trademark criteria, costs, benefits and the application process. To support these educational initiatives, a booklet is being distributed containing details of tourism enterprises, tour operators, NGOs and donors that have already benefited from involvement with FTTSA. The brand is also being promoted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

FTTSA’s principles are based on those of the Fair Trade movement, an initiative started in Europe during the 1960s. The movement was formed to protect developing countries from exploitation when trading with their developed counterparts, as disadvantaged producers were unlikely to improve their lot if they were denied market access and were paid below-average prices for their products. Consumers may pay a premium for Fair Trade commodities, identified by a certifying label, but they are assured that the producers have received a fair wage and that the product has been traded fairly.

The notion of fair trade was introduced to the tourism industry during the 1990s. Tourism Concern, a London-based organisation, now leads an international Fair Trade in Tourism Network, based on the realisation that the same exploitation is being experienced by developing countries at the hands of tourists and tour operators.

In a paper entitled “Fair Trade in Tourism as a Model for Sustainable Development”, Seif comments on this phenomenon: “Internationally, a lot of emphasis has been placed on ‘community tourism’ in developing countries, where the potential is large but relatively untapped.

However, disadvantaged communities and other local destination stakeholders are far from receiving a fair share of tourism revenues and other benefits due to unequal and at times exploitative circumstances in global and native tourism markets.”

It is a disturbing fact that a high percentage of tourism fees return to the country of origin in the form of commissions. As a result, far from being enriched by increased tourism traffic, many local communities are impoverished, their livelihood resources used but not replenished. As Seif points out, “This situation is clearly unsustainable.”

Fair Trade in Tourism was brought to South Africa by Miguel Misteli, who was previously involved in the Fair Trade movement in Switzerland. With its predominantly white-owned tourism sector, the country was a ripe candidate for the concept.

FTTSA was introduced in 1999 as the Fair Trade in Tourism Initiative, under the auspices of IUCN-The World Conservation Union South Africa. This successful pilot phase concluded in January 2001, with the birth of FTTSA, an organisation with its own logo and distinctive corporate image.

“FTTSA is not a tour operator. Rather, it is a non-profit marketing organisation that promotes tourism enterprises in disadvantaged communities that comply with the six Fair Trade principles – fair share, democracy, respect, reliability, transparency and sustainability,” explains Carine Munting, marketing adviser for FTTSA.

She adds that 20% of FTTSA’s work involves development support, while the other 80% is concentrated on marketing Fair Trade in Tourism products through presentations, brochures, promotions at international trade shows and the FTTSA website. “We create a platform in order to secure FTTSA products’ access to tourism markets.”

Education is also one of the organisation’s most pressing concerns – both in terms of training product owners and enlightening the industry about FTTSA.

“FTTSA is not a charity,” Munting emphasises. “To qualify as a FTTSA product, enterprises must prove that they are a viable business offering quality service and value for money.”

Munting feels this point cannot be stressed enough. Sadly, the hype surrounding tourism seems to have created a culture of entitlement. “Yes, tourism can benefit the community, but it does not bring an automatic income,” she warns. “To be successful, you have to offer a product that speaks to tourists’ needs.”

Rather than appealing to tourists’ sympathies, FTTSA aims to encourage visitors by levelling the playing fields, creating exposure for community products by removing barriers to market access.

It’s a well-known fact, for example, that attending tourism shows is one of the best ways of creating a presence in the industry. However, a lack of funds prohibits many product owners, in particular small and medium enterprises (SMMEs), from participating.

The organisation comes to the rescue by acting as an umbrella body, presenting and marketing affiliated products. In addition, FTTSA is campaigning to make tourism shows less exclusive and more accessible by making enterprises pay entry in relation to their turnover.

In her paper, Seif notes that “those SMMEs that have, through government sponsorship, participated in international tourism exhibitions like Indaba and the World Travel Market have tended to ‘miss’ opportunities because the products that they offer are not adequately integrated into an industry which trades on packaging and the often complex logistics and pricing that this entails.” This points to another problem – it is no use merely creating market access. Product owners need information and awareness too, so that they can tailor their products to meet the markets’ demands.

FTTSA has identified a number of hurdles that need to be overcome before communities can become active members of the industry. Firstly, a need exists for market-oriented support on a non-profit basis, so that the focus will be shifted from the supply-side and more attention is paid to what target markets want.

There is also a need for cost-effective methods of communicating with identified target groups. Marketing is an expensive exercise, and lacking sufficient funds of their own, many product owners are forced to rely on generic material distributed by provincial and local authorities.

A further challenge is that of “mainstreaming” new products, especially “emerging” ones, through packaging, add-ons, joint marketing and improved relations with intermediaries so that structurally disadvantaged products become better integrated into the industry. These initiatives are of no use if tourism is not sustainable, however. To protect the industry’s longevity, consumers and industry players need to be made aware of the value of the environment and natural as well as cultural resources. Human rights must also be protected.

Munting says the FTTSA philosophy has been greeted with tremendous support throughout the industry. There has been some resistance, however, from communities and other tourism stakeholders, who do not understand why they should follow and accept assistance from an international movement. But FTTSA believes strongly that success in the tourism business hinges on an understanding of international markets and forces, as well as on support from a variety of sources. The domestic tourism market represents another potential stumbling block. Although international tourists are already familiar with the Fair Trade movement, it is still a foreign concept for most South Africans. While “eco-tourism”, “cultural tourism” and “fair tourism” are buzzwords overseas, South Africans’ feelings regarding these notions are still unknown. Since domestic tourists comprise 60% of the total local tourism market, their reaction can’t be ignored.

Nevertheless, the movement to establish Fair Trade in South African tourism has experienced tremendous growth since its establishment two years ago. FTTSA is collaborating with the NGO Open Africa to promote community tourism, and the organisation is also working with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to help formulate guidelines for responsible tourism. A member of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, FTTSA is keen to link with industry players at all levels in order to create publicity and awareness.

In the future, FTTSA plans to broaden its focus, supporting bigger mainstream establishments as well as community enterprises. With such big plans in the pipeline, funding is, naturally, an issue. FTTSA has already won an Ashoka Award in recognition of its resource mobilisation scheme, and a number of opportunities have been identified for increasing the organisation’s income. For example, a small fee (between R50 and R300) will be levied on all members, depending on their annual turnover, and 5% commission will be charged on all transactions conducted through FTTSA. In addition, the organisation is currently developing training material, the proceeds of which will be sold.

“We want to be self-sufficient, because FTTSA will not be sustainable if we rely on others for funds,” says Munting.

This article was first published in The Journal of Southern African Tourism, Vol 2 No 1

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