Dr Chris Stone is an experienced UK academic and qualified university educator, regularly consulted by the European Commission, EU governments, and private and not-for-profit organizations, and with an international record of teaching, research and publication, and quality assurance in higher education. Holding the position of Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management in the School of Tourism, Events and Hospitality Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, his professional practice espouses multi- and interdisciplinary perspectives, with expertise spanning the natural and social sciences and with both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. Chris has been consulted on the allocation of public investments for tourism, environment and development & education projects. Formerly holding the position of Managing Consultant in a UK-based company, he remains an active researcher, presenting at international conferences, publishing in books and academic journals (single- and co-authored), is regularly asked to review manuscripts for major international academic journals and book publishers, and supervises and examines postgraduate research students. Chris has a career record as External Examiner in higher education (UK, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean), has won and managed UK government-funded ‘Knowledge Transfer Partnership’ projects, supported UK exports when invited to speak on trade delegations, and has most recently applied his knowledge and expertise to progressing innovative sustainability initiatives in HE institutions.
Chris Stone, you are currently a Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management at The Manchester Metropolitan University. What is the main focus of your work? Has it shifted substantially in the past years?
Chris Stone: Over the past decade I have developed and taught ‘sustainable’ and ‘responsible’ tourism curricular themes in support of under- and postgraduate tourism and other programmes of the School of Tourism, Events & Hospitality Management. While holidaymakers might understandably choose to overlook or neglect their individual impacts, or imagine that they are essentially benign, industry and governments need to manage the aggregate global impacts inevitably associated with what is one of the world’s most rapidly-growing activities.
“The broader quest is for a more sustainable future, one in which there is ‘Enough, for all, forever’ – sufficiency but not ‘excess’; serving humans and other living beings in our shared ecosystems; and respecting natural resource limitations and intergenerational justice.”
Most major tourism industry companies recognise the potential issues for their business – so the subject is certainly vocationally relevant – and students appreciate the opportunity to adopt a critical perspective upon their subject of study. I thoroughly enjoy teaching, and over the past decade appointments as tourism External Examiner have offered valuable insights into tourism management programme design and pedagogy at overseas universities in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, but the focus of my work is shifting towards academic research and publication and knowledge exchange. MMU is attracting increasing numbers of applications from international students seeking to gain PhDs in the sustainable/ responsible tourism field, and more of my time is now spent devising, supervising and examining postgraduate research studies alongside MMU academic colleagues.
The Institute of Place Management has a Special Interest Group (SIG) on Responsible Tourism, which is also one of your fields of expertise. What do you understand by this term?
Chris Stone: It’s an interesting question… and point, because matters of sustainability and sustainable development constitute key issues in twenty-first century academic and governmental discourses, and will continue to do so. Responsible tourism may be defined as action which results in more sustainable tourism; it is about encouraging and motivating people, businesses, governments, destinations and other stakeholders to take responsibility. It is of course related to notions of ethical consumerism, global citizenship and its accompanying rights, responsibilities and duties. Spanning economic, socio-cultural, and biophysical dimensions, many tourism sustainability issues are also very relevant to other industries and activities, with the biophysical arguably the most critical.
“Are international hotel companies contributing to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals including ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’ and ‘Climate Action’? We don’t know, in many cases.”
All forms of tourism can be more responsible, and both ‘producers’ and consumers can help tourism develop in a more sustainable manner. The broader quest is for a more sustainable future, one in which there is ‘Enough, for all, forever’ – sufficiency but not ‘excess’; serving humans and other living beings in our shared ecosystems; and respecting natural resource limitations and intergenerational justice. There is a strong case for business engagement with sustainability, and it is interesting to speculate about what a more sustainable tourism industry might look like as part of a more sustainable world.
You have undertaken international research on environmental reporting in the hospitality industry. Can you share with us some of your findings?
Chris Stone: An international collaboration with Spanish academic colleagues achieved early fruition with a relatively novel study examining environmental disclosure within the hospitality industry. The research examined one specific dimension of the issues involved in sustainable’/’responsible’ tourism management, and our results were instructive. The hotel industry constitutes a major sector of the global tourism industry and, in common with other industries, hospitality operations inevitably entail environmental impacts – how well are these communicated to the general public?
“All forms of tourism can be more responsible, and both ‘producers’ and consumers can help tourism develop in a more sustainable manner.”
Our exploratory research project set out to evaluate ‘environmental disclosure’ practice within the hospitality industry, which while generally only a voluntary commitment – in contrast to requirements for corporate financial reporting, for instance – offers a potentially valuable contribution towards assessing the industry’s global impacts. Surprisingly little research had been published into environmental reporting in hospitality, so we examined the three hundred largest international hotel companies. How common was disclosure; which factors influenced the likelihood of major hotel companies disclosing; what was disclosed; and how far are existing international standards employed to guide disclosure? Our findings established that while larger companies were more likely to disclose, disclosure was uncommon across the industry as a whole; that Europe-based hotel chains were more likely to do so; that only one in ten disclosed in any real depth; and that relatively few companies employed existing international disclosure guidelines. Are international hotel companies contributing to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals including ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’ and ‘Climate Action’? We don’t know, in many cases. This is growing industry with significant potential implications for global sustainability, and while TripAdvisor now has a green reporting expectation, and in Britain organisations like Green Hotelier are promoting the environmental disclosure agenda, we were surprised at just how many major hotel companies remained uncommitted to communicating their environmental performance to the general public.
We currently experience strong anti-tourist movements in several large European cities (Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam etc.). Do you think it is just a passing trend or is it something place managers should take seriously?
Chris Stone: Anti-tourist sentiments expressed in recent years by residents of several major European city and resort destinations are nothing new: the tourist has been castigated throughout history. However, more people than ever want to visit the world’s most attractive and interesting destinations, and credible projections indicate clearly that this trend will continue long-term as newly-wealthy populations in Asia and elsewhere start to holiday internationally. The phenomenon of overcrowding at world-class destinations needs to be taken very seriously by place managers and tourist officials, and is posing increasingly serious difficulties for those responsible for managing the ‘public realm’ in popular urban centres including those you mention and also Venice, London’s Oxford Street in summer and even the Cinque Terre villages in Italy. The visitor experience depends heavily not only upon the characteristics and quality of the attractions but also the implied consent of the host population. The number of visitors to Barcelona is said to have tripled over the last twenty years, and residents’ disquiet about their neighbourhoods being ‘loved to death’ by visitors is increasingly escalating towards ‘social incivility’, with street protests and perhaps even the potential for conflict.
“The phenomenon of overcrowding at world-class destinations needs to be taken very seriously by place managers and tourist officials, and is posing increasingly serious difficulties for those responsible for managing the ‘public realm’ in popular urban centres.”
If the issues associated with mass tourism to peoples’ communities – and particularly perhaps in non-resort locations – are not planned for and sensitively managed, destination image may deteriorate over the long-term, and the associated negative impacts are likely to affect more than just the tourism sector of local economies.
Working in collaboration with place managers and key stakeholders, our research will develop sustainable place management models and identify and assess options for mass urban tourism management strategies and best-practice guidelines, acknowledging destination capacity issues while also addressing equity and futurity considerations. Achieving more responsible tourism to serve sustainable development goals should be the concern not only of place management professionals and policy makers but also other stakeholders including the visitor industry, residents, and indeed individual tourists, with the aim of making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.
As an international member-based organisation the Institute of Place Management wants to support its members’ work. What do you expect from the IPM and what can it do for you?
Chris Stone: This increasingly well-known professional association supports mine and others’ work in acting as a forum for networking amongst place managers, policy makers, academics and others with knowledge and expertise to offer. The IPM is facilitating the assembly of a research team, and is able to offer advice, support and guidance on funding bids.
“Achieving more responsible tourism to serve sustainable development goals should be the concern not only of place management professionals and policy makers but also other stakeholders including the visitor industry, residents, and indeed individual tourists.”
The Institute’s Journal of Place Management and Development is rapidly gaining a high-quality profile, and the Responsible Tourism Special Interest Group is a perhaps unique resource offering the industry and other stakeholders opportunities to engage directly with academia with the goal of two-way knowledge exchange – collaborative, real-world research has a lot to contribute to the work of place management professionals!
The interview was conducted by Ares Kalandides