As a long-haul destination, South Africa must ensure it remains relevant to a new generation of environmentally conscious travellers, says Hans Heuer, Marketing Executive of Green Tourism Active, the global sustainability assessment and certification organisation.

Speaking at a Fedhasa Cape event, he addressed the ‘flygskam’ or ‘flight-shaming’ movement advocated by teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg, which originated in Sweden last year and encourages people to stop flying to lower carbon emissions. 

“Eco-friendliness is evolving from a nice-to-have commodity to a must-have priority for a growing number of environmentally and socially conscious travellers. As a long-haul destination, we are challenged to get our act together so we remain relevant,” Heuer said. “More and more clients want to know what sustainable practices we as an industry have in place.”

He said a recent survey by Booking.com showed that 68% of clients would choose an environmentally certified property over one that was not. “So, if you don’t get with the times, you are limiting yourself to the remaining 32% of travellers.”

The way forward for the industry, he said, was to be certified by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), which manages the global standards for sustainable travel and tourism, and acts as the international accreditation body for sustainable tourism certification. “Proper certification is what is important and the time to start the process is now!”

He said GSTC offered a tiered certification programme recognising businesses at all sustainability levels, from a ‘green initiate’ to a ‘green champion’.  The certification process followed several steps, starting with an online self-assessment during which the following sustainability aspects were considered:

  • energy, water and waste management practices
  • procurement practices
  • staff, health and safety practices
  • culture, heritage, conservation and social engagement
  • general sustainability management

Following this, businesses received a report with their initial sustainability status along with intervention suggestions, followed by an on-site verification visit. Certification was valid for 24 months, cost a minimum R9 500 (€555) once-off fee, and included a personalised digital logo for marketing purposes.

Heuer listed as benefits of certification the positioning and global recognition of a business’s sustainable practices; increased revenue from a rapidly expanding green economy; greater competitiveness; and cost reduction through sustainable practices.