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Sustainable Tourism Development and Certifications is all the Buzz

image courtesy of Jude Joshua from Pixabay

Sustainability seems to be the buzzword, but it is too broad and confusing, causing not only owners of tourism businesses and services, but also customers, to be confused by various claims and very vague decisions without a concrete objective.

Sustainable tourism is defined by the UN Environment Program and UN World Tourism Organization (2005), as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.”

To talk about sustainability is to realize that everything is interconnected and perfectly synchronized and, therefore, it is to manage a large series of details to ensure that a business or tourist service is provided taking into account the integrability of aspects to be taken into account for them to operate such as: quality service, safety, information and communication technologies (ICTs), human resource training, educational and recreational programs, environmental policies, gender situations, energy consumption, water consumption, alternative energies, biodiversity and cultural conservation, climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, and sustainable management systems, among others oriented not only to provide satisfaction to tourists, but also to value and conserve the natural and cultural heritage of the destinations visited by them with the appropriate sustainable management of businesses or tourist destinations.

Very particularly and importantly, the Seventh Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD – 1999) recommended that governments encourage and facilitate sustainable tourism development through:

•             Elaboration of national policies and plans.

•             Greater collaboration with all other tourism stakeholders.

•             The training of indigenous and local communities in tourism.

•             The creation of an enabling environment for small and medium enterprises (in terms of training, credit and management).

•             Information on environmental and ethical issues for tourists.

•             The fight against any illegal, abusive, or exploitative tourism activity.

It also recommends that tourism entrepreneurs:

•             Adopt voluntary initiatives that favor the sustainable development and management of their operations.

•             Improve their environmental management (energy, water, waste, etc.).

•             Train their employees (preferably locally sourced).

•             Publicly reject any form of illegal, abusive, or exploitative tourism. Be aware of the implications of their activities on the environment and local cultures in their destinations.

Agenda 21 for the tourism industry states:

“Tourism is one of the most successful phenomena of our time.”

“But we also know that there are already signs of great danger with the saturation and deterioration of some destinations and their cultures, with the congestion of transportation and the great dissatisfaction of the members of certain cities and communities due to the mismanagement of tourism activities.”

According to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC, 2021), sustainable tourism refers to sustainable practices in and by the tourism industry. It is an aspiration to acknowledge all impacts of tourism, both positive and negative. It aims to minimize the negative impacts and maximize the positive ones. Sustainable tourism does not refer to a specific type of tourism, rather it is an aspiration for the impacts of all forms of tourism to be sustainable for generations to come.

In fact, from such a perspective is how the GSTC´s criteria were born for businesses at first, back in 2008, and then for destinations, serving as the global standards for sustainability in travel and tourism. The criteria are used for education and awareness-raising

These criteria are the result of a worldwide effort to develop a common language about sustainability in tourism. They are categorized in four pillars:

  • sustainable management
  • socioeconomic impacts
  • cultural impacts
  • environmental impacts

As the GSTC´s establishes: “The process of developing the criteria was designed to adhere to the standards-setting code of the ISEAL Alliance. The ISEAL Alliance is the international body providing guidance for the management of sustainability standards in all sectors. That code is informed by relevant ISO standards.”

Some trends in sustainability these days is that tourism destinations want to obtain certifications such as Slovenia has gotten theirs from Certification NGOs such as Green Destinations and other destinations like Bonaire have got the most recognized micro-, small-, and medium-sized companies certified with sustainable certifications such as the Good Travel Seal Program from the same organization.

Other alternatives to certificate destinations and businesses include the fact that on January 31, 2014, Mr. Albert Salman began a new alternative integrating the GSTC to Green Destinations (GD), which today includes the following:

– Top 100 stories

– GD Awards and Certifications

– Global Leaders Program

– Destination Support Program

– START toolkit

– Good Travel Program

– Good Travel Guide

– GD Training

With the Green Seal Travel Program, these types of businesses certify their good sustainable practices on issues such as:

  • Purchasing & sales, F&B
  • Social well-being
  • Good employment
  • Health & safety
  • Accessibility
  • Energy & climate
  • Waste
  • Water
  • Pollution & nuisance
  • Nature & scenery
  • Cultural heritage
  • Information

For more information on certifications, click here.

About the author

Roberto Baca Plazaola

Roberto is the General Secretary for the Skål International Panama Executive Board & President of Soluciones Turísticas Sostenibles STS CR S.A. – Panama and Green Destinations Representative and Auditor for Central America and Panama @stssacrpa

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