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Holidaymakers asked to play fair

Holidaymakers are being urged to show respect while on vacation Keystone Archive

A Swiss non-governmental organisation has met with modest success campaigning for “fair trade” holidays in developing countries.

This content was published on November 2, 2003 - 12:07

Thanks to the “Fair Trade on Holiday” campaign, more and more travel agents and tourists want to know if their packages and holidays do more harm than good.

The Working Group on Tourism and Development (akte) has been battling for years as part of an international coalition to fight the downside of tourism: child labour, sex tourism, underpaid staff and environmental degradation.

It has been a losing war, but the organisation has just won a small battle.

Its “Fair Trade on Holiday” campaign, which was launched at several Swiss travel fairs earlier this year, has begun bearing fruit.

Socially responsible

As a result of the campaign, the Swiss Federation of Travel Agencies has included a paragraph in its annual report - published on Monday - calling on its members to promote “socially responsible travel”.

“It has become an issue because of the fair trade campaign, and now we have to watch closely to see if it leads to any concrete action,” Christine Plüss, head of akte, told swissinfo.

The timing of the decision by the country’s travel agents to back sustainable tourism comes as a surprise.

Hit hard by the global economic downturn, the outbreak of the respiratory disease, Sars, and terrorist attacks, some tour operators have resorted to unfair practices in an all-out effort to get the industry back on its feet.

Low cost

Operators have been flooding the market with cheap deals that do not even cover the cost of a plane ticket, let alone accommodation or other services.

Travel agents selling these packages have to contend with disappearing margins and growing social awareness on part of the consumer.

Plüss says the various crises have provided tourists with food for thought, making them receptive to the organisation’s campaign.

“People are more afraid to travel abroad, so they are more open to new issues like social justice and finding out how tourism can contribute to the welfare of the people in destination countries.”

Fair trade guidelines

As part of its campaign, akte asks holidaymakers to follow a few “fair trade” guidelines, such as showing respect for the people in the destination country and its environment, and paying fair prices.

As the world’s leading consumers of fair trade products (which ensure small producers in developing countries and their employees are paid a fair price and not exploited), the Swiss would seem to be more receptive than most.

Unfortunately, a special label for fair tourism or fairly traded holiday packages is a long way off, says Plüss.

This is because the service sector is new territory for the fair trade movement, and because of the inherent problems in ensuring that all parts of a package comply with fair trade standards.

South Africa

Still, Plüss is buoyed by the groundbreaking efforts of the South African government. Last year the government in Pretoria released guidelines for the country’s tourist industry.

The South African authorities said the emphasis was on “enabling local communities to enjoy a better quality of life, through increased socio-economic benefits and an improved environment”.

Pretoria’s backing of “responsible tourism” has lent credibility to akte, which for the past two years has been lobbying Swiss tour operators and travel agents to promote fair trade holidays in South Africa and Namibia.

Plüss says Swiss travel agents are increasingly successful in selling fair trade packages to southern Africa.

However, few governments in the developing world have followed South Africa’s lead.

Akte, as part of an international coalition of NGOs, will be trying to call greater attention to the inequalities in tourism at the forthcoming World Social Forum in Mumbai (January 16-21).

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Basel

In brief

Akte is supported by non-governmental development aid organisations and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

In a campaign launched earlier this year, akte called on Swiss tourists to follow five principles while planning their trip abroad and while on holiday.

In abbreviated form, they are:

Take time to find out as much information as possible on the destination country’s culture and politics.

Holidays should benefit the local population; therefore choose accommodation and services offered by local people.

Respect the dignity of your hosts, and their right to benefit from tourism.

Pay fair prices to ensure the long-term survival of the service providers and enable them to offer quality services.

Ensure your demand for certain standards does not lead to the over-consumption of scarce resources or pollute the environment.

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Key facts

The Swiss are among the world’s leading tourists, with 80 per cent going on holiday at least once a year.
The Swiss (population seven million) average 12 million trips abroad each year and 10% of all journeys are to developing countries.
The Swiss Federation of Travel Agencies has for the first time called on its members to promote “socially responsible tourism” in the developing world.

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