Friday, January 17, 2014

Eco Or Ego: Alcúdia take Madrid

FITUR is the Feria Internacional de Turismo (no translation needed I would hope). It takes place in Madrid, and this year will run from 22 to 26 January. In addition to the main fair, there are different sections - ones devoted to technology, business-to-business, investment, lesbian and gay tourism and green tourism. This latter section is called FITUR Green. Co-organised by the Institute of Hotel Technology and the World Tourism Organisation together with the FITUR organisation, the theme will be "innovative and sustainable management: a commitment to the tourist".

Alcúdia town hall won't just be attending this green event, it will be sending two speakers to make a presentation - Juan González, the number two at the town hall and who has the environment portfolio, and Aina Palmer, Alcúdia's principal environment technical expert. (Some of you may, incidentally, know Juan from the Cas Capella café in the old town; the family runs it, Bar Mosquito and Sa Romana.) The title of the presentation will be "integration of the tourist offer and a sustainable form".

It's actually a pretty big deal for Alcúdia to be making a presentation, given that the town will be lined up on the same stage as the likes of AENA, Renfe and the national hoteliers association. It also represents something of a tribute to Alcúdia, which was named an ecotourist municipality in 1992 and which has, since then, had the distinctive ecotourist symbols for some hotels, bars, restaurants and nautical facilities.

For all this though, what does it really mean? One gets a sinking feeling when the word "sustainable" is thrown around. It is one of those words that has crossed into public and private sector management - others are "innovative" and "quality" - which carry little meaning other than as promotional devices, and even then they carry little meaning because they are used so often that they now have no meaning.

As for ecotourism, it doesn't always get a good press. It has been changed to "egotourism", a term that was originally applied to tourists going to far-flung and remote parts of the globe where really they have no right to be going but which has since acquired a more commonplace application - tourism of environmental righteousness, wherever it might be. Nevertheless, and somewhat to my surprise, environmental and green factors are playing an ever more important role in informing tourists' decisions as to holiday destinations. Or put it this way, surveys, often by tour operators, suggest this is the case. I'll take their word, though.

In truth, applying the term ecotourism to major holiday resorts creates something of an oxymoron. A key aspect of ecotourism is that impact of tourism is minimised. Much of the rest which it deals with can be adapted for holiday resorts, but because the impact had pretty much been maximised before someone came along with the ecotourism moniker, then its application has to be open to question.

Of the rest, there are, where Alcúdia is concerned, some other questions. The provision of financial benefits and empowerment for local people is one. Financial benefits and empowerment there have been, but for whom? And while an all-inclusive hotel may be able to place an ecotourist symbol next to its front door, how much does it truly contribute to this empowerment? How much does it respect local culture? And, in more general terms, how much has the environmental impact on Alcúdia been minimised? Alcúdia has made great efforts in respect of marine and beach conservation, but in other ways?

Still, it is a feather in Alcúdia's cap to be represented at FITUR Green, and so I shan't quibble too much.

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