Travel co-ops and the rise of sustainable tourism

Almost 25 years since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro first floated the idea of sustainable tourism, it is clear to world leaders that a fundamental change is needed in the way we approach the whole concept of travel. This is one of the reasons why 2017 has been designated by the UN as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism.

Bodies like UN’s World Tourism Organisation are doing their best to help change the lives of local communities, but as tourist demands grow, it is increasingly recognised that a more robust and environmentally friendly infrastructure is needed to support the needs of both the tourism industry and local communities without causing more damage to the planet.

From its first tentative steps in the 1990s, the concept of sustainable tourism has been wholeheartedly supported by the co-operative movement. CECOP–CICOPA Europe, the European branch of CICOPA (the international confederation of industrial and service co-operatives), is one of the most vocal champions of sustainability.

In December 2013, more than 1,000 worker and social co-operatives from the CECOP–CICOPA Europe network involved in activities linked to tourism celebrated European Tourism Day. Their vision for a more sustainable and responsible tourism was founded on the co-operative business model, offering a more sustainable and responsible tourism combining economic competitiveness with solutions to social and environmental needs.

One of  their most innovative ideas was Cooproute – a travel itinerary mapping the rich field of cultural and industrial co-operative tourism in various European countries. Aimed particularly at young people, the route highlights important destinations illustrating the history of co-operative culture and values, from artisan co-ops producing traditional textiles to iconic locations such as the Rochdale Pioneers Museum on Toad Lane. Cooproute has the ultimate ambition to be recognised as a European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe.

In October 2016, Bruno Roelants, secretary general of CECOP, took part in the World Social Tourism Congress organised by the International Social Tourism Organisation in Zagreb.

 “Given its potential, tourism should develop its capacity to generate benefits for the whole society in fields such as employment, wealth generation, culture, sustainability and environment,” said Mr Roelants, who is also secretary general of CICOPA.

“Thanks to their enterprise model, Cooproute destinations are already offering a sustainable and innovative tourism experience in Europe.”

The co-operative business model is also particularly suited to challenges and changes which respect and reinforce the local community in tourist areas as well as the stronger involvement of all citizens in tourist initiatives, building environmental sustainability and accessibility for everyone.

Across the world, the co-operative tourism market is offering a growing variety of more responsible and sustainable experiences for tourists. These range from real adventure in little-known destinations to volunteering in local communities and helping them build on their local heritage be it farming, industry or artisan crafts unique to local communities.

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