ISSN 1108-8931


Year 5-Issue 59, Apr. 2004

Sponsored by: Zante Feast Holidays

Index of Interviews

Xavier Font
Principal Lecturer in Tourism Management
Leeds Beckett University

Xavier FontXavier Font is Principal Lecturer in Tourism Management at Leeds Beckett University. He has degrees in tourism management and marketing from the University of Girona (Spain) and Surrey (UK). Formerly he lectured at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College and was Project Officer for an EU project on forest tourism. His research focuses on standard setting and certification of sustainable tourism and hospitality. He has co-authored and co-edited four books and published in a variety of academic journals, including recent papers in Annals of Tourism Research, Tourism Management, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, and Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management. In the last five years he has undertaken research and consultancy for UNEP, WTO, EC, Ford Foundation, Travel Foundation and WWF International, Germany and Netherlands.

You have worked as a consultant or advisor for many Governments, Development Agencies, NGOs. How satisfied are you from their understanding and contribution to Tourism, in terms of research and funding?

Funds when available are target driven and generally expect short term results, linked to the aims and objectives of the donor and not necessarily the priorities of the destination. Lack of co-ordination between agencies means there is a fair amount of repetition in the type of projects funded, and who gets the funding. Fundraising is a skill in itself, and funds don't necessarily go to those that need it the most, but those that can make a good case.

Born just a couple of decades ago, Tourism Education on a University level has already become mainstream, popular, and lucrative, both in the UK and beyond. Has the quality and practical relevance of university tourism studies kept pace?

Universities in English-speaking countries find themselves in a difficult period of transition, as their core funding is reducing they have to explore alternative income sources. International student fees are lucrative but not all universities give good value for money, while consultancy and research income aren't within the scope of many institutions.

What is the future of Tourism Education, more specialisation & fusion with other sciences (e.g. tourism psychology, tourism certification)? And is there a danger of missing the forest for the tree?

I can not see such level of specialisation succeeding, basically because there are too many education providers but few of them will have the economies of scale nor the international credibility to develop specialist programmes. Tourism management, planning and marketing will stay as the key programmes.

As co-Editor of the first textbook on tourism eco-labels, what progress you feel has been made so far, and what major questions persist, on the overall usefulness and effect of tourism eco-labeling from an academic perspective?

There is Martha Honey's book on ecotourism certification, and there is a third book coming up in 2005 edited by Black and Crabtree. There has been much progress though, in 2001 when my book came out, certification was not acknowledged as a tool that could support sustainable development in academic terms, and a number of certification programs were developing in parallel. Since then there has been more analysis on the procedures and benefits of certification, to the point it has probably been hyped too much and we have placed unrealistic expectations on what certification can do. The next stage that we are entering is to consider the actual and opportunity costs of certification, and compare its equity, efficiency and effectiveness against other sustainable development tools.

What is your view on the current efforts of the European Union to create a unified, state administered eco-label for tourism? Will it be as "straight-forward" as the...European Constitution?

Certainly not, it will be a bureaucratic, consumer unfriendly, complex set of intertwined rules and regulations that will make sense to those that developed them and few others. The environmental label for hotels has little buy in at the moment, will take time to develop, and when it does it will be mainly because of considerable state support. There are advantages to a homogeneous label but these will not become evident for some time.

From your research, do most large tourism corporates seek an eco-label for marketing purposes, or out of real concern for the environment or social issues? In other words, how deep does so-called "corporate social responsibility" in tourism go? And is the situation any different with smaller companies?

There are examples of both, although generally yes, large firms are first doing sustainability work to reduce their environmental costs (water waste and energy being the key ones here), followed not necessarily by marketing purposes, but by the necessity as corporates to developed a positive image to not become the targets of increasing demands from other stakeholders. Smaller firms don't need the PR for the same reasons. We also assume that small firms are all similar, i.e. the specialist firms that have sustainability at the core of their product, and for whom there is a clear business case for working more responsibly. In research we recently did at Leedsmet we found that two large tour operators going to Crete on the mass holiday market had higher sustainability requirements from their suppliers than two small to medium sized operators. So it isn't clear cut.

Is adding social criteria to environmental sustainability in Tourism, a scientific or rather an ideological exercise?

Much more ideological than scientific. In an article I have just written for Annals of Tourism Research I review the successes and challenges of five tourism certification programs operating partly or wholly in developing countries that have introduced socioeconomic criteria to complete the triple bottom line of sustainability. The analysis suggests that social standards are ambiguous; the assessment methodologies are not consistent and open to interpretation; there is considerable variation on what is understood as sustainable depending on the type of tourism companies targeted; and the programs working more intensely on social standards will have the greatest challenges to expand. It is going to be a struggle between doing what can be properly measured (environmental standards) and addressing the more comprehensive socioeconomic standards.

Based on your data, what proportion of tourists in the UK actually decide on a holiday by social and environmental criteria, rather than by cost, destination or activities? Is this proportion growing, or falling?

The data available is not conclusive, and it is mainly based on aspirational goals, i.e. people say what they hope to be able to do, but their behaviour doesn't match it. As a sector we have no data on actual market demand for certified products, but we know that tourists are moving away from declining destinations, and this segment is growing. Introducing standards will not increase demand short term, but will help individual firms do their bit to reduce overall destination decline.

Recently a major UK tour operator announced they were dropping Costa Brava, considered by many the birthplace of package tourism, with other tour operators also mulling dropping other "mass tourism" destinations, (and possibly creating new ones further afield). Is this a problem or an opportunity for Costa Brava? Can a mass tourism destination easily reinvent itself or does it act more like the drug addict whose drugs were suddenly taken away?

In my home region of the Costa Brava the word tourist is used as synonym for stupid, the legacy of the socio-cultural impacts of fifty years of mass tourism. Yet the Costa Brava will not suffer long term from First Choice or any other tour operator dropping it from their brochures, because of the popularity of Barcelona as a tourist destination, the established second home market and no frills airlines. In the short term the region will need to reinvent itself, not unlike the rest of the Western Med. Increasing cost of living in Spain has meant that it is not competitive on price alone, like most other outdated mass tourism destinations. It has also meant an increase in quality of live enjoyed by Spaniards, who would prefer to have their costas to themselves. The highest spending, lower seasonality resorts in Spain are those that are popular amongst Spanish second home owners. The challenge is for many destinations that are too far from cities because they can't attract the week-end break, second home market. Also the challenge is to come to terms with the severe urban regeneration plans that need to underpin a change of product; and convince the remaining business targeting the lower end of the market that it is time to move on.

"Employees in Tourism are worldwide among some of the most overworked, underpaid, underqualified workers. They enjoy neither job security nor social status, especially in the vast, unofficial tourism sector": Many believe this and consider it a disgrace - indeed, an outspoken academic critic of Tourism, Anita Pleumarom, recently equated Tourism to "Prostitution". Others see all these as the opportunity that tourism offers to the many hopeless, who would otherwise turn to less official, legal or peaceful choices. What is your view?

I think that tourism is a tool for development, and as most tools it can be used positively and negatively. We need to keep perspective of the many challenges and injustices and therefore outspoken critics are necessary, we also need to keep in mind that there is much good progress being made to improve livelihoods. The issue tends to be whose responsibility is it to make tourism more sustainable, and how do we do it - legislation or voluntary standards. At Leedsmet we produced a report for The Travel Foundation last January 2004 researching the ability of the tourism supply chain to behave more sustainably. We found plenty of examples of good practice right across the tourism supply chain, and we identified that the main challenge is to transfer best practice. We also identified that it will be easiest to implement sustainability requirements in accommodation and most difficult in transport, most visible in excursions and activities while most beneficial to the local economy when this supports food and craft production. Destination sustainability efforts will require wider stakeholder partnerships and if only for this reason will be more time consuming to implement. We also found that a secure income stream, with stable contracts and foreseeable contracting conditions including prices is paramount, both to facilitate the necessary investments by the supplier, and to cement the trust in the relationship. Projects require time for companies to build knowledge and develop relationships, and tour operators tend to require a steady and significant volume of operations with a supplier or destination if they are to make a significant contribution and expect changes in local operations. Three conditions in the tour operator-supplier relationship are particularly important for the success of supply chain initiatives: long-term partnership, fair pricing and a consistent volume of operations. The report can be found at

Thank you very much

Contact: Mr. Xavier Font, Leeds Metropolitan University Tourism Hospitality and Events School, Calverley St, Leeds, LS1 3HE, United Kingdom, Phone: +44 113 283 2600 x.5880 Fax: +44 113 283 3111 

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