Securing The future we want – more transparent reporting is what we need

Too often we hear and read bland assurances about this or that investment or management initiative contributing to sustainable tourism. The expression ‘sustainable tourism’ has been hollowed out, stripped of meaning. We do not have a workable definition of sustainable tourism; we don’t have one for sustainability or sustainable development either.

The management mantra, if we can’t measure it we can’t manage it, is too rarely applied to the challenge of achieving sustainability. That is why Responsible Tourism puts the emphasis on defining the issue, the problem that needs to be addressed, identifying what needs to be done, the desirable end point and a means of monitoring progress towards achieving the objective and transparently reporting progress.

The main outcome of Rio +20 was The future we want arrowView Full Document  It made two references to tourism, both very bland: one calling for ‘enhanced support for sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity-building in developing countries in order to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development’; the other calling for increased investment and ‘appropriate guidelines and regulations in accordance with national priorities and legislation for promoting and supporting sustainable tourism.’  Sustainable tourism is identified as a good thing and placed on the wish list after energy and before sustainable transport.

The problem is that we need to see the clear identification of particular issues which can be addressed, for example, reducing water usage, energy consumption and the production of waste, increasing local employment and local sourcing. Local priorities need to be identified and addressed by those stakeholders who can make a difference – we should then expect those who can make a difference, to take their responsibility and do what is necessary.

Paragraph 47 of The future we want, provides some grounds for optimism, acknowledged ‘the importance of corporate sustainability reporting’ and encouraged ‘companies, where appropriate, especially publicly listed and large companies, to consider integrating sustainability information into their reporting cycle.’   The governments of Brazil, Denmark, France and South Africa are pushing this approach they have launched a Charter of the Group of Friends of Paragraph 47 arrowView full document   asserting that the ‘inclusion of corporate sustainability reporting in Paragraph 47’ is ‘a step forward in the advancement of an international culture of corporate transparency and accountability.’ They argue that: ‘Governments play an essential role in ensuring the effective application of laws and regulations, as well as creating a culture of corporate transparency.’

One of the reasons that we have seen significant progress on sustainable tourism by the larger companies has been the application of their management systems to sustainability objectives. By setting targets, reporting against those targets and rewarding employees with bonuses based on achieving these sustainability objectives progress is both assured and reported.
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More transparency in reporting is what we need.We’;ll address this at WTMWRTD in 2013

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Harold Goodwin