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New impulses for sustainable tourism

Hendrik Wintjen, mascontour, Berlin/Germany, 30 April 2013 - Participants at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism discussed the opportunities and problems arising from this sector in Bonn, Germany, in late March 2013. The symposium aimed at opening up prospects for sustainable tourism, focusing on three special topics: (i) Tourism growth: sustainable, green, inclusive?, (ii) Biodiversity and sustainable tourism, and (iii) Private sector: Performance and accountability in resource efficiency and sustainability.

The symposium, which was open to the public and marked the beginning of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism Annual Conference held in Bonn from the 25th–27th March 2013, was aimed at opening up prospects for sustainable tourism, focusing on three special topics:

  • Tourism growth: sustainable, green, inclusive?
    Given growth in the tourism sector, which can be expected to continue to grow, the concept of Green Growth stands for an efficient handling of natural resources and the optimisation of saving potentials with the goal of decoupling growth from resource consumption and optimising saving potentials and reducing the human ecological footprint along the entire value-added chain in tourism. For example, given the impacts of air traffic on climate change, the possibility of technological innovations resulting in lower fuel consumption and lower emissions levels was discussed. In considerations over another alternative, interest in less distant tourist destinations, voices from long-distance tourist destinations have to be taken into account in particular. This would hold e.g. for those from the Small Island Developing States, which rely to a considerable degree on income from tourism and have to develop alternative sources of income.

  • Biodiversity and sustainable tourism
    Often, cross-border strategies are needed to adequately protect intact natural habitats. Here, it is important to involve all stakeholders concerned, e.g. in the context of public-private partnership initiatives. Planning tourism ought to focus on conserving natural assets in destinations and protecting biodiversity right from the start.

  • Private sector: Performance and accountability in resource efficiency and sustainability 
    Certifications play an important role and have become increasingly transparent and credible thanks to Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC). It is envisaged to have certification systems referring to the GSTC basic criteria and fulfilling certain minimum criteria accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. This is of particular importance to the end consumer who is increasingly taking an interest in booking sustainable tourism products but has so far hardly been able to grasp the multitude of certification systems and the criteria behind them. In future, the new sustainability initiative of the tourism portal for posting reviews, Tripadvisor, is going to make it easier to identify hotels that meet certain environmental criteria. A trend towards certification can also be observed in the field of destination management. Here, a basic distinction has to be made between global certification systems that are applied in all world regions, those that are only used in a single or in a small number of countries and those that only specialise in a certain sector, e.g. hotels, tour operators, destinations or individual tourism products.

Locally adapted solutions are necessary

Think global, act local. This motto, representative of the spirit of the symposium, demonstrated that in a complex economic sector like that of tourism, with its interdisciplinary foundations, adapted solutions always have to be found for every country or regional context. Here, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism is concentrating on seven approaches in order to provide partners with a framework for the promotion of sustainable tourism:

  • Support of effective policy frameworks and good governance
  • Climate change adaptation and mitigation
  • Protection of the environment and biodiversity
  • Promotion of sustainable tourism to alleviate poverty
  • Preservation of cultural and natural heritage
  • Adoption of sustainable management practices by the private sector
  • Integration of sustainability factors into financing and investment decisions
Examples from the South

How can sustainable tourism make a concrete contribution to the rural population so that it can be economically beneficial without causing a negative impact on the environment? One example is Fairtrade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), a certification system that distinguishes tourism companies for fair business practice. FTTSA-certified businesses offer reasonable wages and fair working conditions, they purchase products from their suppliers under fair conditions, they ensure that everyone involved in a business benefits from their income, and they respect human rights, culture and environment. Furthermore, FTTSA supports certified businesses in improving market access. In co-operation with the Sustainable Tourism Alliance, FTTSA is seeking to promote an integrated certification standard for the countries in Southern Africa in order to create synergy effects and support “inclusive”, i.e. poverty-reducing, tourism. The Regional Tourism Organization of Southern Africa (RETOSA) is also working on developing cross-border improved framework conditions for the development of tourism around the nature reserves in Southern Africa through an optimal use of resources and the achievement of economies of scale that this offers. Also, international development co-operation is to provide special support for community based tourism in the surroundings of nature reserves.
Developing destination areas in partnership

The better co-ordinated actors are, the more successfully tourist destinations can undergo integrated development. To this end, organisations or individuals first have to be identified who are capable of leading or developing multi-stakeholder processes. While this results in the pooling of usually scarce resources, it also offers established structures better prospects of acquiring external funding for co-ordinated destination management and making effective use of it. The basis for this is clear framework conditions (e.g. a master plan) and a careful feasibility analysis before any intervention commences; ideally, this would comprise environmental surveys, mapping key actors, a meticulous market analysis and defining minimum standards for the necessary tourist infrastructure. If certain minimum conditions are met, public private partnerships are often an ideal way to develop a destination in a participatory manner taking local needs into account. These are usually focused on core areas such as the development of tourist products and routes observing sustainability criteria, providing training for employees, joint marketing and lobbying to improve framework conditions. If the aim is to specially attract investment, concessions can be a model of choice that offers income for both the investors and the small-scale businesses located in the surrounding environment as well as the government, provided that corresponding guidelines are in place.

Author: Hendrik Wintjen, mascontour, Berlin/Germany 


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