Fair Trade Tourism (FTT) says big global tour operators are starting to insist that the tourism businesses they support prove sustainability credentials through certification recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).

Following suit is Giltedge Africa, which received Fair Trade approval in January and has joined the ranks of tourism companies that are making a difference in how tourists travel in Southern and East Africa. The company now has 10 Fair Trade tours in its portfolio that allow clients to travel sustainably.

“We wanted Giltedge Africa to be Fair Trade approved to signal our dedication to operating in a sustainable manner; we are committed to promoting Fair Trade itineraries that encourage our clients to travel sustainably,” says Sean Kritzinger, Co-owner of Giltedge Africa.

Embracing a holistic approach, Fair Trade advocates fair working conditions and wages, fair purchasing and operations, equitable distribution of benefits and respect for human rights, culture and the environment. The initiative also raises awareness about sustainable travel for local and international travellers.

Henko Wentholt, Manager of Abang Africa Travel, says the company has been Fair Trade certified since 2012, and in 2014 was the first incoming tour operator in the world to become Travellife certified. He mentions that there is a significant amount of ‘greenwashing’ going on in tourism, in which small and large operators try to explain that they are sustainable, attempting to get on the bandwagon from a marketing perspective, or to satisfy their international clients. The demand for certified DMCs from the local market for sustainability is very low, according to Wentholt.

As Africa’s leading responsible tourism non-profit organisation, Fair Trade Tourism approval signifies a company’s promise to act sustainably and adhere to Fair Trade’s code of conduct.  

FTT MD, Jane Edge, says the giant global TUI group, which serves more than 30 million customers per year, will only use accommodation providers that are certified by GSTC-recognised labels after 2020, prompting a flurry of certification activity on the African continent.

 “The tourism industry accounts for 5% of global carbon emissions, with half the footprint attributable to aviation. There is enormous pressure being brought to bear on the industry to minimise the carbon footprint of holidays and to maximise their positive local impact. As a result, major European certification labels, such as Travelife, are expanding their footprint in Africa and local certification needs to align with their efforts,” adds Edge.

For tour operators who are serious about making a difference and getting certified, Wentholt says there are two ways of doing this. First is to put a programme in place in which the company explains exactly what it does, why and how it does it. Furthermore, he suggests tour operators report back on their achievements regularly to their clients.

The second option, according to Wentholt, is to become certified. “The good certification schemes come with very strict guidelines and conditions and, more importantly, they are audited by external monitors. So you don’t need to explain exactly what you are doing; the certification scheme does that for you, but you become very transparent and accountable toward your clients – they don’t only know what you are doing, they also know an external party has been going through all you do and has signed off on that,” adds Wentholt.

In addition, the marketing aspect also comes into play, as companies are looking for something that sets them apart while benefiting the company, local communities, nature and conservation at the same time.

“So there is a lot of added benefit in what we market. It is also not free. It requires an investment in time and money to achieve this, but we feel it is worth our while and it makes us proud if we can make our community experiences work and make a real difference in the lives of a community,” says Wentholt.  

At the Green Tourism Summit Africa held in Kenya in June, Judy Kepher-Gona, CEO of Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda and convener of the Green Tourism Summit, said mutual agreements and recognition between labels were critical to address the current confusion about certification schemes. “Africa should be adopting a common best-practice certification standard,” she said.