The author, Len Cordiner, CEO of whl.travel, discusses the problem of the certification of accommodations and tours as “eco-friendly”, a matter that I will leave aside here. But the interesting point he makes is that he believes that something did not quite work as planned, as many people tend to equate
green vacation with doing it tough – hard beds and tasteless food. Green or sustainable holidays were perceived as something only tree huggers would do, not at all fun or enjoyable.
For this reason, he says, we need a new thinking and his proposal is to engage
“travellers with a coherent and inviting new vision of what ‘eco’ (now perhaps better known as responsible or sustainable or even slow) tourism is really about.
This done, travellers will need to be engaged in driving change throughout the supply chain by giving feedback to other travellers, much in the same way they are prompting evolution in the hotel industry (including new brands) with their feedback on services. I imagine a slow tourism version of Trip Advisor being what it looks like.”
I read this and I thought: “this is not a new way of thinking, this is what we have been doing for a while”. And indeed Slow Tourism is a well-established reality, as the lively community participating in the Slow Travel Forum and contributing to the site evidences clearly.
There are many professionals in Italy that adhere to the slow travel philosophy, and abroad as well (think about the Slow Travel Tours). We organizied a Get Together in Italy both last year (we hosted the first Italian Slow Travel Inn Keepers in our village in 2008) and this year Megan of Bella Vita Italia organized the get-together in Lerici, Liguria.
Nothing new about using travellers’ feedback either: Slow Travel has been posting slow travellers’ reviews for years.
So what’s new then? Giulia rightly pointed out that Mr. Cordiner brings into the mix the idea of ecotourism and sustainability. He actually writes “even slow“, as if “slow travel” was one of the possible ways to make tourism sustainable. I do agree on this: slow travel may and should indeed be sustainable.
People from different areas of expertise though should not work separately to defining the new paradigms of tourism research and practice. Tourists, practitioners and researchers should all work together.
I started wondering about why, in a time in which travelling slow seems to be getting quite popular (at least according to this article), I still felt that there is more to it than just pace and greenness…
I have been talking about this with 4 dear friends, with whom I feel I have much in common both from a human and professional point of view and with whom I have often discussed tourism-related matters. We share some fundamental views about both travelling and welcoming people: one is Giulia of La Locanda della Valle Nuova, near Urbino in Le Marche, and the others are Letizia of La Madonna del Piatto, near Assisi in Umbria, Diana of Baur B&B, near Acqui Terme in Piedmont, and Megan of La Bella Vita Italia, in Lerici in Liguria.
The article also reminded me of David Peat‘s work on Gentle Action (he’s a physicist and philosopher…, but that’s not the point, if you are curious to see what he’s up to in his small hilltop hamlet in Tuscany you can check the site of the cultural center he has created). He has similar ideas on social and economic issues. He says something important, I believe. He speaks of
“actions which begin from within the system in question and emerge in creative ways.. These may range from projects on an international scale to a simple action by an individual. Such actions generally flow from what Peat has termed “creative suspension” – that temporary pause when we listen and learn what the system has to teach us before taking action”.
This got me thinking, and I realized that this is exactly what defines my attitude to travel and tourism and this is what I think I share with Giulia, Letizia, Diana and Megan.
We believe in travelling slow, so that we can properly enjoy what is local, and actually learn from it. We do all we can to offer our guests this very same experience when we are the hosts rather than the travellers: we believe in offering a true and authentic local experience, in allowing people to see Italy and our life as it really is by helping them to take advantage of what the areas in which we are located has to offer.
I believe in promoting a type of travel experience which does not change the area in which I operate, but rather touches the people who come here. I don’t want to exploit, but to enrich, both my homeland and the travelers who come see it.
I have understood that I believe not only in Slow Travel and Slow Tourism, but in a true Gentle Travel, in Gentle Tourism and by this I mean a type of tourism experience which is sustainable, which promotes what’s truly local, the way it is, without adjusting it to please the traveler, and which for this reason allows him or her to truly experience everyday life in its most authentic aspects.
And at the same time it allows the locals to be able to show what they have to offer. This is why I have contacted the local wineries to organize wine tastings rather than sending people to a more famous area farther away. I have found local farmers who can show their olive groves, or take people out for a ride with their horses. I have found a local bike shop whose owners are happy to take people out for a bike tour. I have found local people willing to teach family cooking. I invite people to shop at the local stores, so that they can truly experience the local way of life. I try to show what the system has to give.
I believe that travellers should get in contact with the local communities, enrich them and learn from them, looking at them with an open mind.
I hope I’ll be able to promote this idea by helping people to travel in a gentle way to Tuscany and at the same time by helping locals to bring out all the amazing things that I know for a fact this area has to offer.
I really hope I’ll be able to help my area speak for itself and help people to listen to it.