Fiona Jeffery: Tourism ethics and the sharing economy

Atta Industry Relations Director Fiona Jeffery OBE in Travel Weekly:

The sharing economy represents a transformation in the way people experience travel, says Fiona Jeffery, founder of Just a Drop and ex-chair of World Travel Market

There is a new, rapidly growing market spreading like wildfire. Hurrah! I hear you cry – more commercial opportunities, more profit.

But it’s not quite as simple as that. For these travellers bypass traditional booking methods, seeking cheaper alternatives and a more local experience.

Dubbed the ‘sharing economy’, the trend includes everything from private transport (car-pooling, car-lending and parking), through overnight accommodation and eating at people’s homes to apartment exchanges and visits with local residents.

New websites have flowered like Japanese cherry blossom in spring. There is Airbnb, HomeAway, Campinmygarden and Couchsurfing for accommodation; RelayRides and Zipcar for car use; ParkatmyHouse for parking; EatWith, HomeFood and Meal Sharing for eating; and Vayable and CanaryHop for local activities. And there are many, many more.

The desire among travellers to be different, with many turning their backs on established tourism businesses, was highlighted at a meeting of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics (WCTE) late last year.

I should explain the WCTE is an independent body headed by the former director-general of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy, and supported by the secretary-general of the UN World Tourism Organization and its department of ethics and social responsibility.

The committee comprises members from across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America. It has a responsibility to raise awareness and promote and monitor implementation of the UN Global Code of Ethics for Tourism.

It also ensures the inclusion of socially responsible policies and fair practices in tourism development among all stakeholders – governments, businesses, host communities and tourists. In addition to promoting the long-term aim of advancing responsible and ethical tourism, the WCTE has identified six areas of further priority:

  • Fighting exploitation of children in tourism
  • Combating all forms of trafficking in tourism
  • Curbing poaching and illegal trade in wildlife
  • Ensuring accessible travel for all
  • Promoting fair models of all‑inclusive holidays
  • Discouraging unfounded ratings on travel portals which may impact the reputation of companies and destinations.

The sharing economy falls into this last point. The development of a less formal market will be seen by many communities as a real opportunity. It may impact existing supply chains. It will challenge existing businesses to consider how they deliver a personal, more local approach in their customer service.

Where the WCTE will take a more than passing interest in this unregulated market is health and safety, for travellers and hosts. Also, in the rush to earn new income, there is a real danger of child labour in the home.

One thing we are convinced of is that this sharing economy will develop at breakneck speed, representing a considerable transformation in the way people purchase and experience travel.