Fair Trade in tourism – how does it work?

[My blog on TTG website, ttgdigital.com]

One of the most interesting events of WTM for me was the launch by Kuoni of the UK’s first Fair Trade-certified holiday.

Kuoni teamed up with Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), which has been working to promote the importance of fair trade in tourism for a decade, in order to gain certification of all aspects of the supply chain on a 13-night South Africa package.

While the concept of fairly-traded cocoa or bananas is easy enough to comprehend, fairly-traded tourism is more complicated – which is perhaps why it’s taken until now for it to develop.

I asked FTTSA’s executive director Jennifer Seif what the Fair Trade stamp on Kuoni’s package holiday actually represents. She explained that all accommodation providers on the itinerary have been vetted to ensure their staff are paid a fair wage and have good working conditions, and that their suppliers are paid fairly.

Kuoni’s commitment to the accommodation and local ground-handlers it uses include paying 100% of its bills before a client travels, and paying cancellation fees if forced to cancel a booking. “There’s an unwritten rule that hotels don’t ask for the money, but it can be very hard on small businesses,” said Seif.

While a fair, minimum price can be put on commodities like bananas, Seif said this doesn’t work in tourism, as prices fluctuate so much. ”What we do instead is say you cannot push for a discount, and we demand a transparency so people know who is paying what,” she said.

The £2,995 price tag on Kuoni’s package also includes a $50-$60 ‘premium’ which goes into a separate fund, to be spent on socio-economic projects that benefit those involved in the supply chain. Seif hopes to soon have 20-30 operators like Kuoni bringing 5,000 clients to South Africa on this kind of Fair Trade package each year. “That’s three million rand, or about £250,000, of new money for development,” she says.

She acknowledged clients might not yet look for Fair Trade when booking their holiday. “But when they get there and hear about the Fair Trade ethos and feel good about staying there, that is when they tell their friends and the hotel benefits from word-of-mouth marketing and repeat business,” she explained.

Harriet Lamb, the UK’s executive director of The Fair Trade Foundation, said at the Kuoni/South Africa launch that consumers WILL pay more for fairly-traded holidays. “Of course people want a bargain but if you tell them these bananas -or this package holiday – is cheap because the people behind it aren’t getting a fair deal, people will pay more,” she said.

There’s a lot of cash-strapped UK consumers who right now are understandably reluctant to pay a penny more for a holiday than they absolutely have to.

But when she opened World Responsible Tourism Day on Wednesday, Harriet Lamb reminded us of how the Archbishop of York described our responsibility to support Fair Trade: “Fair trade is not charity. It’s justice”, he said.

And for the future of destinations like South Africa, where being paid fairly can be the means of a climbing out of poverty, I hope the vision of a global Fair Trade mark for tourism becomes a reality soon.

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