From Loop Head to the World Bank

Cillian Murphy, a Masters student on the Responsible  Tourism course at MMU writes about being invited to the speak on tourism at the World Bank

Bing..’you’ve got mail’….spam …spam …spam..then one email caught my eye…to say I was in shock was putting it mildly! It was a surprising culmination to an exciting 8 weeks or so.

 

Less than 6 years previously the Loop Head Peninsula hadn’t even existed as a destination and to say we had achieved a lot since then was to put it mildly.

We had set up Loop Head Tourism to begin the process of developing tourism on our forgotten part of the West of Ireland. Off the tourism super-highway between Killarney and the Cliffs of Moher the area was overlooked, by-passed and ignored. However, with many other destinations along the coast starting to become overcrowded, we realised it wouldn’t be long before the beady eye of the local authority, travel operators and tourism agencies started to look at our unparalleled landscape and heritage as new grist to the mass tourism mill. But what kind of tourism did we want?

 

Eco tourism, sustainable tourism, community based tourism all were models that were in vogue yet it was Responsible Tourism which caught my eye, primarily because it spoke about ‘better paces to live in, being better places to visit’ which resonated with the feeling that tourism should really be a means to an end rather than a goal, a development tool if you will, one that meets the needs of local people.

Resported on RTE News https://www.facebook.com/rtenews/videos/1227071937321806/

In May 2010 we won the European Destination of Excellence competition.

In 2013, The Irish Times, ran a competition called the ‘Best Place to Holiday in Ireland’. There were over 1400 entries from all over the island of Ireland, and our commitment to each other as a community and our ethos of ensuring tourism was embedded within all who live on the peninsula meant we were declared the winners. We were surprised but not shocked, quite frankly though, the rest of the country was stunned, where was this ‘Loop Head Peninsula’ place….others on the shortlist were nationally and internationally known destinations. We had arrived, overnight success….after three years of hard work. In 2014 we were the only Irish inclusion in the Sustainable Destinations Global Top 100 and in 2015 we won the Best Destination at the Irish Responsible Tourism Awards and followed that up with the Loop Head Heritage Trail winning Gold at the World Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM in 2015.

 

We were making a name for ourselves as a best practice destination but at a personal level I found I was lacking both the language for the discussions that we were involved in and the knowledge base to take the peninsula to the next level so I decided it was time for me to do a formal degree and I chose to do the MSc in Responsible Tourism with Prof Harold Goodwin at Manchester Metropolitan University. It was a big commitment as my wife and I own a busy restaurant and added to the large amount of time already given over to Loop Head Tourism I would be really stretched.

 

In October 2014 I received my first reading material and immediately felt at ease, many of the concepts discussed were ideas that I had been thinking about but didn’t know how to structure. Conversations with local authorities and tourism agencies became easier as I now had references and a common language that everyone understood and it also put me on a different level in our discussions, I could no longer be dismissed as ‘just some guy from the West.’ I found that I was beginning to have a better grasp of tourism and development concepts than the people I was talking to.

 

But back to that email that was looking up at me….it seemed that just one year on from beginning my Masters in Responsible Tourism, I had ‘lucked out’ as they say.

 

Earlier in the year, as part of the Tourism and Local Economic Development module, I had submitted an assignment titled ‘Tourism as a LED strategy for the Loop Head Peninsula’ which, thankfully, marked quite well. Harold asked me if I would be prepared to deliver it as a presentation at the Responsible Tourism Sessions at World Travel Market, nervously….very nervously, I accepted and in due course I travelled over and on the 3rd of November stood up to talk. It seemed to go well and after the event I spoke to many people who liked what we were doing and promised to call/email/talk, but of course, one never knows where these things lead to.

 

10 days after returning home, there it was…remember that email I spoke about, well it went pretty much like this:

 

‘Hi Cillian, I saw your talk at WTM and really liked what you had to say and your approach to tourism development, we are organising a conference in December about tourism and how it can contribute to the twin goals of the World Bank……’

 

I didn’t really see too much past the World Bank bit to be honest…I even had to check that it wasn’t a hoax email…!

 

The Loop Head story was off to the HQ of the World Bank Group in Washington.

The list of speakers reads like a list of who’s who in the global tourism industry, and to see a small destination like Loop Head sharing the stage with them in the first tourism conference held by the World Bank Group in 17 years was a pretty happy day for all of us who live there.

 

The opening speech by Dr Jim Yong Kim,  President of the World Bank Group, spoke about how tourism could be an important tool in realising the twin goals of the World Bank Group, eliminating poverty and boosting income for the world’s poorest people using three headline strategies, Grow; developing an inclusive economic growth model. Invest; in people and human capital and Ensure; people do not regress or become victims;

 

Over the course of the rest of the day it seemed every speaker had a quota of times they had to use the word ‘sustainable’…I lost count after the first panel…there was on the day, and largely is in general, a huge lack of clarity on the use of the word, the first discussion that needs to be had is what do we mean by sustainable tourism…is it the industry as a whole, is it solely confined to resource use, is it tourism at a destination level or do we mean the ability for tourism to sustain our communities. All of these are valid with none being more important than the other, but it is vital that when anyone speaks about sustainable tourism they first should define from which perspective they view it.

 

For instance, the cruise ship industry, may have made valiant efforts to reduce their resource use but can have such huge local negative social and economic impacts that they far outweigh any positive environmental ones. It surely isn’t enough to claim you are sustainable because you have saved yourself millions of dollars in fuel costs by implementing ‘efficiency measures’ while using the same language, ‘efficiency measures’, in a different context to pay as little as possible to staff because you have found a legal loophole which allows you to do so, and to cut prices paid to on-shore operators providing services to your guests.

 

When you hear Brian Mullis, the CEO of Sustainable Tourism International, saying “as the cruise lines take the lead in promoting sustainability” and that “2000 cruises had been verified for sustainable practices”[1] it is surely time to have a proper discussion about the meaning of the word sustainable within the industry.

 

In Loop Head we have never asked our members to undertake green certification, our feeling is there is enough of a financial imperative for our operators to use resources more efficiently, we pay by weight for our refuse collection with a sliding scale of costs depending on whether we recycle, compost or send to landfill. We pay per unit for water use, effluent treatment and electricity. Business, whether an SME or a multinational, pays attention to these costs, it is to their benefit to do so. When I visit a hotel I do not need to know they are minimising resource use, it pays them to do so and seeing a certificate in reception means nothing to me.

 

I prefer to see a certificate saying that all their staff are paid a decent wage, what staffing percentage come from the immediate locality and what percentage of their supply chain is produced locally and whether they have worked to increase the amount of local producers in the area from which they can purchase. These are not just sustainable practices, they show the industry taking full responsibility for the overall welfare of the communities it exists within and depends upon to survive.

 

Many of the speakers on the day passed in a blur of ‘brochure speak’…in effect there was nothing much to learn that couldn’t be by looking at one of their destination or company brochures. However, a couple of people and concepts stood out;

 

The one item that was raised time and time again by many speakers at many of the different sessions during the day was the need for proper metrics about the value of tourism especially at a local level.

On a discussion about Pathways to Growth there were two contributions worth considering, one from Helen Marano VP for Industry at WTTC about security and our wish to travel, what I took from the discussion was that if we want open borders there will be a ‘tax’ on our privacy, our wish to travel freely may come with data protection waivers. A very interesting and thought provoking concept; given the amount of ‘big data’ companies and governments have available from our everyday use of technology; are we prepared to sign away our privacy in order to travel around the world? I know the concept bothers me, but I am 50, with a very different set of privacy values than, for instance, my children who have grown up in a digital world and simply shrug when I ask them if they care.

 

The second interesting contribution came from the same panel and again mentioned ‘big data’, Ms Marta Blanco, Director General of Turespaña, who spoke about the use of the information from credit card companies to provide very detailed breakdowns of tourist spending patterns. Like all brilliant ideas, it is the very essence of simplicity. Credit card companies know where you are from, how you travelled, what you spent your money on when abroad, whether you ate in fast food or upmarket restaurants, what activities you took part in, how many attractions you visited, on peak or off peak, car hire, mileage etc…the potential is incredible and could conceivably deliver detailed metrics from national levels right down to local.

 

In the panel discussion about Tourism’s Sustainability & Inclusion there were two items that merit reporting here, one from the Costa Rican Minister for Tourism who explained that the government retained ownership of the last 200m of land with the 50m closest to the water solely for public use and the next 150m available on a concession contingent on local council planning regulations.

 

The other came from Lynn Cutter, Exec. VP for National Geographic Travel who spoke about identifying pristine seas and making the case for their protection, putting a value on them and how that value can be utilised for local benefit. Other good discussion were had at the Leveraging the Cultural & Heritage Assets of Tourism with the Georgian Deputy Minister of Economy and Development Ms Keti Bochorrishvili showing us how they have protected their local heritage and leveraged it for local economic benefit.

 

My own gig was on the following day, last panel of the day, just before lunch, always going to be hard to fill the room but with the award winning journalist Elizabeth Becker moderating we had a very good attendance. Our panel was Destinations that Deliver and Elizabeth drew a line in the sand by showing a clip from the movie ‘Bye Bye Barcelona’ and asked us to comment on how DMOs could avoid hitting the same self-destruct button. Brian Said from Discover Philadelphia spoke about tourism in general and missed the opportunity to speak about whether they had a strategy in place to avoid the ‘Barcelona effect’ and the other panellist was Miguel Pena, Senior Sustainability Analyst for Royal Caribbean Cruises who to be fair was between a rock and a hard place given the pretty indefensible practices the cruise ship industry has promoted in the past.

 

From my own point of view, I spoke about why we do what we do, how we engage the local community and what the benefits have been for the area as a whole, I did have a fan in the moderators chair though which always makes things a little easier. We were asked to finish with recommendations to the World Bank Group and for my own part it was simply this:

 

There is no guarantee that tourism will be a good development tool, it will only do so if managed with local benefit at its core. It is not good enough for companies to talk about the trickle down benefits of tourism, the benefits should flow around and expecting it to do so without specific monitoring and reporting is naïve at best and negligent at worst.

 

A number of World Bank Group staff approached me at lunch to say that they had waited a day and a half to hear from someone such as ourselves, operating at ground level, and in touch with the realities of what tourism can do if developed with the local community benefits to the fore at all times.

 

The primary benefit for Loop Head, and myself as the chairperson of the group who manage its tourism development, is the validation we received for our Responsible |Tourism ethos from simply being there. Our small destination of barely 125 sq kms with a network of 47 local businesses, working voluntarily on an annual budget of less than €20,000 sitting on the stage at the World Bank taking part in their first tourism conference in 17 years.

 

Sweet!

 

Harold Goodwin adds – Sweet for me too. A previous student inviting a current student to speak at the first World Bank Tourism Summit on 17 years!

 

Cillian Murphy,

Chairperson Loop Head Tourism

Kilkee,

Loop Head Peninsula,

Co Clare.

 

http://www.worldbank.org/en/events/2015/11/20/world-bank-group-tourism-forum-2015

 

www.loophead.ie

[1] http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2015/12/04/cruise-lines-go-from-losers-to-leaders-in-sustainable-tourism/ accessed 20/12/15

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