Is it responsible to distribute responsible tourism products?NewsBy Alex Bainbridge | February 14, 2011Share This article was originally published on It is Responsible Tourism Week - the organisers define it as an "unconference" mashup, exploring issues around responsible tourism and Web 2.0.Before all you airline/hotel types turn off, please read this article. It is about you. It is about you and all those small suppliers out there who inspire people to go to destinations, to travel widely, to use your services. Hoteliers, airlines and online travel agencies... you sell "methods". How to get somewhere, where to sleep.Specialist tour operators (mostly those that aim to be responsible in some way or another), on the other hand, sell "reasons". Why people go travelling in the first place. Now in web startup lingo, everyone calls that inspiration.Top-end travel industry conferences feature the latest "inspiration" startups. Yet the companies who are already in inspiration, the specialist tour operators, are rarely at those industry conferences.There are no presentations from those already tasked by consumers to inspire them to travel.The problem works in reverse. Go to a product conference (for example, the great ATTA conference) and there are no distribution companies.Orbitz hangs around with its various adventure travel brands, but even it does not really make any significant dent in the percentage of overall distributed transactions in the sector.It is a direct business being a specialist tour operator - in fact, 95% of product going direct to the consumer is pretty normal.To me it is a big failure that the two halves of the industry fail to meet. It is like having a book publishing conference without any authors, a food industry conference without any chefs or farmers. Just seems, well, wrong.However, I can see a big elephant coming around the corner - specialist tour operator distribution.Yet those who are pushing distribution haven't spoken to those who will be distributed. Those who will be distributed haven't ever heard the potential of which distributors speak.Top topic of debate would be around whether distribution of specialist, responsible, tours ultimately leads to too much focus on price competition and product commoditisation (just like it has done for airlines and hotels).Perhaps responsible travel tour operators should be resisting any attempt to move away from the 95% consumer direct business they currently have.Perhaps it can never be so-called "responsible" to distribute responsible tourism products due to where that may take us all to. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it cannot easily be put back in.That is the elephant debate we should be having.NB: Responsible Tourism Week 2011 continues (virtually) on Twitter this week - follow at #rtweek2011.