Lately I’ve been thinking about the relationship between luxury hotels or resorts and the local communities. I read about the famous British chef Gordon Ramsay coming to manage the restaurant of the brand new luxury resort in Tuscany called “Castel Monastero”, just outside Siena. My first reaction was, are Tuscan chefs so bad that we need to “import” a British one?!
I suppose it’s a marketing strategy. At least that gives me an idea of the type of crowd they want to attract (the Russian version of the website gives also a clue about the audience they’re after!). I went to look at the hotel site and I saw that the cheapest room is almost 400 euros per night, which obviously makes it a luxury place for (maybe) many but (definitely) not for all…
I realized there is something that I really don’t like about this kind of tourism ventures.
Let me be clear: I have absolutely nothing against Castel Monastero, Mr. Ramsay or the many other excellent foreign chefs working in Tuscany. I know for a fact that they are good, and probably lovely people. I wish them all the best for their venture: why not? They have beautiful places in wonderful locations. We might even end up staying there when we win the lottery!
It’s just that I would like for these “colonies” to contribute to the local economy in a substantial way. I believe in tourism as a way to improve the life of the local communities besides that of the tourism-related business people, and I cringe at the idea of a place that has nothing or next to nothing to contribute to the local economy and environment (both the flora and the fauna, the people and the places, the plants and the animals…), which might not even be the case of Castel Monastero, I have no idea. I’m just talking in abstract terms here.
I’m a dreamer.
I found an interesting article: Can luxury travel be responsible travel?
The concept of “responsible travel” in the article is mainly about responsibility towards the environment, whereas my main concern is responsibility towards the local people. I suppose I’m more interested in ethical travel than in responsible travel… but shouldn’t it be the same thing?
Ms. Howse, Sustainability Director of CC Africa, says that
The luxury traveler potentially (and certainly in our case) delivers significantly greater positive impact to the cause of environmental protection and the support of communities as a result of how much money they spend than the budget (although very well-meaning) traveler.
And she continues:
Also the income introduced by the high end operations is often the only way the wildlife land can be sustainably defended from other forms of land use. The small amounts of money that can be charged for the “village stay” option is usually insufficient to protect any meaningful tracts of land from other forms of land use.
Now, this might be a positive example of a Luxury travel company, but is this always the case?
I am not sure what my opinion is about this. My gut feeling tells me that there should not be companies that don’t even try to recruit people to put in responsibility positions in the area where they open their structures. There should not be places that don’t seek out equipment and services in the area where they are located, instead importing all they need. There should not be places that do not bring any improvements to the communities in which they plant themselves.
But can you regulate this? I believe that you somewhat should, but that it is realistically not feasible. Luxury places should be ethical, and invest in their environment at large: finance projects, support improvements, spend part of their big money in the area where they are, so that it stays as charming as they found it and possibly even more so.
Is this wrong or too much to ask? The truth is that I don’t know.
Anyway, here is a list of interesting reading about these matters. A lot of food for thought. However most of these articles are about exotic destinations, but the matter is the same even in a popular and richer destination like Tuscany. And yet nobody talks about it.
- What is community based tourism?
- Responsible travel and responsible tourism
- Supporting local businesses: How your holidays help
- Should all inclusive holidays be banned?
I’d love to hear other people’s opinions on this, as, I admit, I’m very confused.