Friday 4th November saw the official opening and discussion of Argentina´s responsible tourism week with numerous speakers including our very own Valeria Gracia. “La Defensoría del Pueblo” (http://www.defensoria.org.ar/) in San Telmo proved to be the perfect base for the Responsible Tourism conference. It is an institution that is in place to ensure tourists know their rights and are not taken advantage of while also helping locals to better understand the law and improve their lifestyles through services such as health or education.
In relation to this Juan José, the executive secretary of The Responsible Tourism Network, focused his talk on the importance of transparency and how important it is for the consumer to be able to make decisions regarding consumption based on knowledge. The network has therefore agreed on 42 icons, covering topics such as energy consumption and accessibility. Each company or organization then assess to what degree they live up to in each area. These icons thus serve both as an informational instrument for the consumer, but also as an ethical instrument for the members of the network. This way, every company can join – as long as there is a vision to improve and live up to expected standards.The icons are based on an ethical code, which the members of the Network have devised themselves. The idea is that no experts can define the terms better than the people who are a part of the environment in question. Also, an expert might be affected by an issue or political pressure, which the Network considers of lesser importance. This could be marketing or outdated academia, whereas the businesses and organizations are a part of the dynamically changing world, and therefore have a better understanding of how the needs within responsible production change as well. The next speaker was Valeria Gracia, co-founder of Voluntario Global.
Voluntario Global works in many different environments and communities, all of which are less privileged. She placed importance on supporting the volunteers professionally and emotionally. This is in order to support mutual understanding between volunteers and the community, as well as avoid culture shock. She sees the voluntourism as a cultural exchange opportunity, and as such finds the preparation very important. Focusing on the projects of the organization, she says the there are big differences on how to help. The groups, which Voluntario Global are involved with are for both children and more mature people from under-privileged families and areas. Every group needs help in a different way. One way the organization is helping a young group from areas with socio-economic difficulties is by helping them to help themselves. Voluntario Global has started a cooperative launderette which offers the young people the chance to learn responsibility, education, and work in an open community to discuss their issues. It also offers them the possibility of studying while working, and thus a better outlook for the future. The afternoon kicked off with a talk focused on accessible tourism. Everyone should have the right to enjoy the sights and activities that Buenos Aires has to offer and therefore the services industry has to consider their needs. ‘Turismo Buenos Aires’ has been working hard over the past three years to make tourism more accessible. In a country where social inclusion, equal opportunity and social integration are encouraged it is important to make accessible tourism a priority. The government, community and non-profit organization’s goal is to make the whole province of Buenos Aires accessible and thus create an inclusive environment.15% of the world’s population have a disability and the province of Buenos Aires has over a million disabled people alone. Some of the audiences’ main complaints were about the inaccessibility of the Subte and the lack of food available to celiacs in a city where medialunas, empanadas and alfajors dominate!The aim is to provide the disabled with the accessibility, safety and autonomy to enjoy the activities organized by tourist and recreation services. Some initiatives include; designing web pages for the visually impaired, carrying out campaigns to raise awareness and promote accessible tourism, establishing the conditions of accessibility to guide hotels and hostels in adapting their facilities, making these conditions known to principal museums and encouraging gastronomic establishments to consider the requirements of celiacs.For example in the Feria Internacional de Turismo Responsable, taking place tomorrow, there will be a tactile map and flyers with brail to help promote the principles of accessible tourism and they plan to take more drastic measures for next year’s fair.
The government understands that achieving accessible tourism is a difficult challenge and not one that will be accomplished immediately but it is a challenge that the province of Buenos Aires is committed to overcoming and, as with every aspect of responsible tourism, some compromises will have to be made.
The second talk of the afternoon was headed by the owner of the Eco-Pampa hostel, Pablo Gueilburt. The hostel was opened in Palermo in 2010 and is the first ecological hostel in Buenos Aires. They have twelve rooms and encourage their guests to respect the environment. Pablo’s aim is to minimize their impact on the environment and their principles are based on three key ecological concepts, ‘Reduce, Recycle and Reuse’. The hostel uses solar panels, doubled glazed windows, rain water, recycled paper and LED light bulbs. Additionally the entire check-in process has been digitalized to avoid wasting paper, there is a timer in each shower to make the guests aware of the amount of water they are using and they have a compost heap and an organic garden. Currently La Red de Turismo Responsable is working to encourage more hostels to adopt similar measures. Pablo is happy with what his hostel has achieved but hopes that current groundbreaking research in areas such the extraction of energy from human movement to power traffic lights and the creation of windows containing solar panels will help to facilitate the introduction of energy saving initiatives in more establishments in the future. His message is one that could be applied to all fields of responsible tourism. We must improve upon current trends and use new discoveries to find ways of including all types of people in various tourist opportunities while ensuring that all the activities are carried out for the good of the country and its society.