German tourists arriving to the island last week. | MDB files

In November 2019, the Tui Group was rewarded for excellence in transparent reporting at the World Responsible Tourism Awards.

The judges decide this award according to how businesses publicly report the extent to which they reduce negative impacts and increase positive impacts.

In announcing the award, Tui drew attention to its Better Holidays, Better World strategy and to sustainability having been firmly embedded in the group’s annual report for more than fifteen years.

The Tui group website has a section dedicated to responsibility, pointing out its approach: “As the world’s leading tourism business, we believe we have a responsibility not only to manage our own impacts on the economy, society and environment, but also to lead the way in understanding, improving and innovating for sustainable tourism.”

While there might be a temptation to dismiss this as PR guff, it would be wrong to do so. Business governance demands corporate social responsibility; the demands emanating from analysts, investors, regulators and customers.

Responsibility is more than fine words, and there is no reason to question Tui.

So why am I therefore drawing attention to them?

The website section on responsibility refers to sustainable tourism, and the distinction between the concepts of sustainable and responsible tourism can appear to be minimal, if any, while both can seem to be nebulous insofar as they deal with lofty objectives that aren’t exactly easy to pin down and qualify or indeed quantify.

A way of making the distinction has been summed up thus: Sustainability is the goal, a goal which can only be achieved by people taking responsibility together to achieve it.
This being the case, what does responsible tourism actually entail?

This can depend on who is doing the defining, but the tenets include: minimising negative economic, environmental and social impacts (which are precisely the ones that Tui allude to); generating greater economic benefits for local people; involving local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances; and creating respect between tourists and hosts.

The definitions all come from a time pre-Covid, while for post-Covid, so any number of experts have sought to explain, responsible and sustainable tourism will be taken to a higher level. Sensibilities of tourists and of tourism providers will have been modified for the better; better holidays, better world indeed, and not just courtesy of Tui.

I don’t really buy into this. There are going to be greater demands for health - made by tourists and made of them - but to generalise in believing that a world of travellers in all their varieties will somehow have undergone a form of collective Damascene conversion to different styles of tourism and of behaviour strikes me as absurd. But that’s the sort of thing that gets trotted out.

Consider what happened the moment the gun was fired. The German government altered its advice, operations restarted and bookings were made. It was just like normal, except with fewer numbers.

But as a consequence, questions have been raised as to the responsibility of tour operators and of tourists. These are equally as absurd. Offer the opportunity and it will be taken.

Post-Covid (or more like mid-Covid) modified attitudes were immediately shown to be nonsensical. People simply wanted to get away, and tour operators were only too happy to assist them. So it will continue to be; and why would it be any different?

Were we to expect that responsible tourism would steer tour operators and tourists away? That they would all say no, look, we’ll all wait for now. Until everyone’s vaccinated, we’ll stay put. Of course not.

This said, and which is why I have specifically drawn attention to Tui and its responsibility, it can seem that in the mid-Covid environment there is a clash in terms of responsible tourism elements.

On the one hand, the mere act of bringing people to Mallorca bestows economic benefits, which in turn should mean minimising social impacts. But in general terms, given the howls against tourism at present, can this be said to be the case?

The health dimension has taken hold of the responsible tourism agenda entirely. And in this regard, are - for example - local people being involved in decisions that affect their lives and is respect between visitor and host being potentially lessened rather than being heightened?

For Tui, the imperative to restart operations as quickly and as early as possible has been as great as it is for any other business; greater perhaps when one takes account of the massive financial aid the company has needed.

I don’t criticise Tui or any other tour operator or any tourists. They’re acting as one would expect them to, except arguably in strict accordance with the full letter of responsible tourism, for which health has become an element in a way that it never was previously.