Work Together (Archive)

Cooperatives: a source of inspiration for a more responsible and people-centred tourism

11 May 2017

Cooperatives: a source of inspiration for a more responsible and people-centred tourism

Over the decades, tourism has experienced continued growth and deepening ‎diversification to become one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. ‎Modern tourism is closely linked to development and encompasses a growing number ‎of new destinations, representing a key economic sector, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Today, tourism represents 10% of the global GDP and represents 1 in 11 jobs. Since the UN declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, CICOPA has decided to dedicate the first Work Together special dossier issue to the analysis of how cooperatives, thanks to their enterprise model, represent an important opportunity for developing local economies through a sustainable approach, as well as a source of inspiration for a more responsible and people-centred tourism. Through the concrete experiences of cooperatives in the tourism sector in Costa Rica, France, Lesotho, Argentina, the UK and Italy, you will discover how they contribute to the three pillars of sustainability: economic, social and environmental.

How do cooperatives promote a “well-designed and well-managed tourism”?

Global leaders at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) recognized that “well-designed and well-managed tourism” can contribute to the three dimensions of sustainable development, to job creation and to trade. Cooperative services and products are designed and managed democratically by its members who have joined forces to respond to their individual needs and the needs of their surrounding community. Since cooperative members are also the stakeholders of their community, they seek effective and sustainable solutions that will last in the long term.

By way of an example, Cooprena is a cooperative group that utilizes community-based rural tourism as the economic trigger for its geographic area in Costa Rica, seeking to improve the life of rural community members “by developing non-traditional tourism products, by promoting rural tourism and integrating the livelihoods and talents of each cooperative with the tourism industry”. Another example is a cooperative in Lesotho which provides guided tours of the dinosaur footprints they have found near their community and produce handicraft objects to sell, such as molds of the dinosaur footprints, jewellery and artwork.

The decision to adopt 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development comes at a particularly important moment as the international community embraces the new Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Indeed, tourism is included as a target under three of the SDGs – SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for allSDG 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production and SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

The Fratello sole (Brother Sun) social cooperative which has been set up to help marginalized people to find employment and become independent within a large hotel structure on the Italian Ionian coast and the Sail Boat Project, a UK-based worker cooperative providing a range of boat trips and activities based around sailing, including training on-board, both use these activities to increase confidence in marginalized coastal communities and are true examples of how cooperatives can create inclusive and sustainable economic growth through activities linked to tourism.

In turn, the Okra cooperative, which is located in a former ochre factory built in 1921 in the area of Roussillon, a small town of 1,300 inhabitants in the south of France, shows how cooperatives are maintaining local activities that may otherwise have disappeared. Today, the cooperative groups together 41 workers and producers, as well as 248 cooperators, including artisans, clients, suppliers, volunteers and local authorities, and defines itself as a cultural cooperative open to all generations of visitors and professionals, dedicated to sharing resources and to the transmission of knowledge and know-how on all matters related to colour.

Promoting cooperative culture

A number of experiences compiling cooperative destinations are showing how these enterprises preserve local cultural and industrial heritage, whilst at the same time promoting the history and values of the cooperative movement amongst visitors. This is the case of Cooproute, an itinerary that now groups together more than 80 cooperatives and museums all around Europe.

Cooproute was a source of inspiration for a group of researchers from the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina who, in 2016, launched a national route of cooperatives. It has so far published the details of sixty cooperatives to demonstrate the economic, social and cultural contribution cooperatives have made across the country, so as to raise the profile of little-known aspects of their heritage.

The UNWTO Tourism Highlights, 2016 Edition is available here