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A Short History of Responsible Travel Week

Photo: Xochimilco

Responsible Travel Week is our annual online unconference focusing on responsible travel. We launched RT Week in 2009 when the Responsible Tourism Conference in Belize was postponed due to the outbreak of H1N1. Since then we’ve moved the dates of RT Week to coincide with Valentine’s Day, prompting the tagline ‘Fall in love with responsible travel.’

We call Responsible Travel Week a ‘tentpole’ event as it helps define Planeta.com, bring in new visitors and set the agenda for the coming year. Our website was launched as a gopher in 1994. When commercial websites were available, Planeta.com was set up in 1995. It took just five years to set up our first online e-conference in 2000 when we hosted online conferences focusing on ecotourism in the Americas. It’s not content that king online, it’s conversation.

A crazy idea in 2009, could we hold an online conversation across multiple platforms? Could we use a ‘hashtag’ to aggregate information? This terminology – liking, favoring, sharing, tweeting, retweeting, all wonky indeed – has entered the mainstream and tourism pros are learning that it’s not sufficient to have a single website or to work in an isolated silo.

The truth is that online conferencing is make-or-break depending on the participation of friends, colleagues and complete strangers around the world. The plethora of social web channels (Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Slideshare, YouTube) brings responsible travel to a wider audience, but it can also be intimidating.

Speaking as someone who has spent 20 years working with tourism practitioners and government officials, this is nothing new. Digital illiteracy is widespread all the way from mom and pop enterprises to the academic programs, NGO offices and government institutions. Thus one of the goals of Responsible Travel Week is to introduce not only ‘responsible travel’ but the application of these social web channels. It’s hard to write about what will take place in the future, but we expect to be surprised by original YouTube videos, Slideshare presentations, Flickr albums, Google+ accounts that show responsible travel in action.

We need as many opportunities as possible for networking and sharing stories — successes and failures. I’ve rarely attended official tourism conferences that included the viewpoints and active participation of locals and regular travelers. Thus, the official events are usually insider-only, closed door endeavors that cannot galvanize the interest needed to put ‘responsible travel’ on the lips of locals and visitors. I’ve only been to a few trade shows that made the most of their host city. I’d love to see more events in the natural world be more welcoming to locals. They’re the best ambassadors any place can have.

Certainly many of these goals are aspirational. We need better travel for a better world. We need better conferences and events. Personally, I have physical conference fatigue. I’m tired of attending events in which speakers read at one another. I’m bored with events that are organized in order to have an event. 2017 is the year for hybrid events in which locals have access and remote participation is encouraged. Please no more conducting events behind closed doors and then complaining there’s no public support.

We hold Responsible Travel Week early in the year because the event is an excellent jumpstart to the year. One thing I’ve noticed with mom and pop tourism pros I work with is that they tend not to prioritize communication. They’re busy with tours or book keeping or the daily grind. By holding Responsible Travel Week early in the year, they get a wake-up call that their work has value but they’re going to get work if they get their message across different platforms.

Defining responsible travel as that which ‘creates better places to live and better places to visit’ then it’s easy to see a win-win scenario for locals and visitors. Think of this as a continuum that starts with dissatisfaction of ‘business as usual’ – the tourism that irresponsibly exploits locals, visitors or the earth – and proposes healthy alternatives. What’s not to love?

Responsible Travel Week 2017 takes places February 13-19

Details online

Registration is online Eventbrite

Presentation preview on Slideshare

Facebook Event Page


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