The second European conference “Responsible tourism in a sharing economy” organized by EARTH (European Alliance Responsible Tourism and Hospitality) and this year together with the European network NECSTouR (Network of European Region for a Sustainable and Competitive Tourism) took place on Tuesday 2nd of December in Brussels. About 70 people attended representing local authorities, especially regions, but also private companies, associations and NGOs and representatives of the European Commission and European Parliament. The great participation showed a major interest for the 2 selected thematic: responsible tourism and sharing economy.
The event aimed to create a reflection about the common points and the differences between responsible tourism and sharing economy. EARTH and NECSTouR chose to focus on the social, cultural, environmental aspects of sharing economy in order to reflect on the ideology of both sectors (responsible tourism and sharing economy). The fiscal, legal aspects are still issues for the new sharing economy, which the public authorities are still trying to answer and to regulate.
Several organisations active in tourism and involved at European level were invited to discuss and bring their opinions.
Overview and initiatives of sharing economy and responsible tourism
As the conference was shared into 3 parts, the first part focused on the impacts that the sharing economy and the responsible tourism can have in Europe. Maurizio Davolio, president of EARTH and of AITR (Italian Association for Responsible Tourism) and also NECSTouR Associated Committee Representative gave an overview of responsible tourism and sharing economy in Europe. Victoria Sanagustín Fons, professor at the University of Zaragoza in the Aragon region and NECSTouR member presented the initiatives developed in order to promote sustainable tourism and sharing among the actors of a territory, especially by showing concrete cases in the Aragon region.
Roxane Kaempf from GreenHopping bought her reflections about new technologies that facilitate the share of information, knowledge and new opportunities. Gianluca Pastorelli from Diesis Coop focused on the importance of social innovation in the sharing economy. At this point, the conference already highlighted common values between sharing economy and responsible tourism such as the exchange and the meeting between tourists, travelers and local communities, the sustainability of mutualizing the goods and services. Indeed, responsible tourism provides the opportunity to discover local people and their culture with an economic responsibility and respectful approach.
6 cases of sharing economy in tourism
The second part of the conference presented 6 cases of sharing economy. The sharing economy covers presently all the components of the tourism product going from the accommodation (Home Exchange, Couchsurfing) to the visits of cities with locals (Greeters) or by sharing a meal with locals (Bookalokal), passing by the crowdfunding of tourism projects (KisskissBankBank) and finally by creating new ways of travelling (Hopineo) that benefit to the tourism professionals and to the tourists / travellers. The transport is also present with companies such as Blablacar, Huber and Carpooling but were not represented during the conference.
Limits and common points between sharing economy and responsible tourism
Finally, the round table, animated by Marie Secrétant, coordinator of EARTH focused on answering to the central thematic: “common points and differences between responsible tourism and sharing economy”. Caroline Mignon from ATES (Association Tourisme Equitable et Solidaire) and also vice-president of EARTH stated a number of very relevant aspects. The collaboration between people as human been is in the center of the sharing economy is very positive. The local culture, the meeting between locals and travellers are promoted thanks to sharing economy. In addition, sharing economy allows the re-use of the resources, which reduces the environmental negative impacts of tourism. Caroline Mignon insisted in showing that sharing economy pushes the traditional sector to improve the quality of the services and the transparence of the services (pay by card, the experience of the consumer is transparent) but also the competitiveness of traditional services of tourism. In another hand, the sharing economy offers (such as Bookalokal for example) experiences (or products) based on the sale of the social link between people. The non-market sector becomes a good, a product which entrepreneurs can make profit. The traditional exchanges, services between people could be sold and quantified as economic opportunities.
Going back to the concept, the virtual trust between users is based on comments, notes, rates, pictures, which converts it into the new money. Caroline added that people are overexposed, as they have to be give a lot information about their life in order to acquire trust. The personal information are online which favors the big data or “big brother society”. In that sense, the human relationships could be also distorted because people are looking for good rates as users and hosts are both evaluated. The loss of the original concept, the ethic is also a risk. At the beginning, the intentions are social but slowly, the services become financially profitable (for example, Blablacar).
Charles Etienne Bélanger, director of ISTO (International Social Tourism Organisation) underlined that sharing economy provoked a decrease of the prices and consequently, the departure on holidays of higher number of people. In that sense sharing economy and social tourism share common goals. Victoria Sanagustín Fons qualified sharing economy as a “big revolution” in which new technologies are playing a huge role. The question is : “Are these technologies accessible to everyone?”. To conclude, Victoria explained that sharing economy required a great participation from the citizens, which is very positive because the social impacts are duplicated.
In conclusion, responsible tourism and sharing economy have many common. The human is the center of the reflection as the users are also the hosts.