Sustainable tourism players have identified at least eight ‘next steps’ required to take sustainable tourism forward and improve the effectiveness of certification, 20 years after labels like ‘green tourism’ and ‘fair trade tourism’ emerged.
This year’s Africa Travel Week programme brought the future of sustainability under the spotlight, with a panel of sustainability experts sharing their experiences in helping different international schemes get off the ground.
Dr Kelly Bricker, Professor at the University of Utah; Andrea Nicholas, CEO and Co-Founder of Green Tourism; Harold Goodwin, World Travel Market Responsible Tourism Adviser; and Lee-Anne Bac, Director: Strategic Development and Advisory at BDO Advisory Services, have all had experience in the back-end of sustainable tourism, from creating standards to auditing, strategic development and adoption.
The panel said the travel industry needed to rethink the process of certification, and let go of a global, one-size-fits-all approach. Bricker commented: “The flourishing of certification bodies around the world [led to] concern around greenwashing and confusion.” To rectify that problem, she said, a sustainable tourism stewardship council had been formed to try to ‘vet’ projects adopted globally and help put definition on what sustainability might be and look like.
While discussing what still works today and why, the panel explored how organisations could increase the effectiveness of certification to deliver more sustainable tourism worldwide into the future.
- new technology is needed to assist with reporting, which can be time consuming;
- get more customer engagement, which will also inspire businesses to do more;
- ensure that local communities are involved and understand how the sustainability projects work and benefit them;
- sustainability can be applied differently in different markets and the lack of a global standard is not necessarily a deal-breaker;
- sustainability initiatives should be consumer-led; know what customers expect;
- better co-operation is needed between governments, the private sector and NPOs to improve adoption;
- technology needs to be made more affordable; and
- schemes can encourage adoption by unbundling sustainability initiatives, from improving waste use and carbon emissions, or reducing landfill waste and/or single-use plastic.
The panel said sustainable tourism needed to become more flexible and warned that current schemes didn’t often recognise enough when businesses applied small changes or started their sustainability journey.
Bac said the many different standards and entities involved in sustainable tourism also made it confusing for businesses. She identified a need for knowledge sharing and said, to start with, many standards were idealistic when many businesses were aspiring to a sustainable future.
Although Bricker said a global standard was not necessary, she felt that a recognisable mark that businesses could earn and that travellers were able to identify, was an extremely effective way to encourage buy-in.
“The traditional approach to certification has had some challenges. By definition, it is exclusive, but now [the priority] is about getting the vast majority of businesses on to a path of sustainability,” added Bac.
Nicholas encouraged businesses to share ideas and said schemes should aim for a “bottom-up” approach, whereby information was shared with every member of the business and travel cycle.
Green Tourism, which started in Scotland in 1997, was privately funded and works closely with any interested party, which Nicholas said had helped the scheme to grow organically.
She maintained that certification needed to be accessible, show benefits for the business, and be affordable, to grow. “Nobody will join anything without knowing how it will benefit them.”