What is certification’s role in ensuring Responsible Tourism?

Back in 2010 we asked at WTM whether green certification makes a difference. Three years on we are again looking at the issue of certification at WTM this November, asking: “What does certification contribute to Responsible Tourism?” (Tues 5th 12:00).  Responsible Tourism is about addressing the issues which matter locally across the sustainability agenda; it is about  tackling the problems and seizing the opportunities which arise as a consequence of tourism – be they economic, social or environmental.

Not all issues arise in every destination. This year’s debate is about a major concern, water, but even that is not an issue everywhere. The only really global issue is atmospheric carbon pollution. Greenhouse gasses, wherever they are emitted, create climate change, which affects all of us: although the consequences are far worse for some than for others.

Over the last three years much has changed in certification. The world’s two largest certification programmes are still based in the UK. The Green Tourism Business Scheme now has close to 2,300 members all benefiting from its environmental management advice, and their agenda has broadened to address socio-economic impacts. Andrea Nicholas will be talking about why GTBS has been so successful and explaining why they are not part of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).   Meanwhile, Travelife, which does engage with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, has passed 1,000 members and we’ll be hearing from them at WTM too. And as for the GSTC – it has spent its initial start-up funding, changed its CEO and is rumoured to moving from Washington to Madrid.

Local priorities

Reflecting the importance of the local agenda and local priorities, three states have developed and legislated their own standards: Brazil, South Africa and the state of Kerala in India. Brazil established its national standard in 2006, Brazilian Standard ABNT NBR 15.401. South Africa launched a National Minimum Standard for Responsible Tourism  in September 2011, which is legally enforced by the South African Bureau of Standards and aims to addresses the needs of South Africa and its local communities. And most recently the southern Indian state of Kerala has announced that it “will roll out the red carpet only for those investors who are willing to be ‘responsible tourism’-compliant. There will be no government support for ventures that have no Responsible Tourism (RT) classification.” In Kerala’s classification system, 1000 total points are divided among four responsibility categories: sustainable management (200); socio-cultural responsibility (250); economic responsibility (250); and environmental responsibility (300). Properties that have scores of between 750– 1000, 600–749 and 500–599 will be classified as Platinum, Gold and Silver respectively.Brazil, South Africa and Kerala have all recognised the importance of establishing local criteria and addressing those issues which matter locally. They have set the priorities for business and public authorities in their destinations – recognition that Responsible Tourism is about making better places of people to live in and better places for people to visit, in that order.

We have also seen the growing importance of user-generated content and peer-to-peer review. On a recent visit to Haworth, home of the Brontes in Yorkshire , I was struck by the prevalence of the TripAdvisor ratings in the doors and windows of tourist-facing businesses. The new TripAdvisor GreenLeaders Programme identifies hotels and B&Bs that are committed to green practices like recycling, water efficiency and alternative energy. Jenny Rushmore, Director of Responsible Travel at  TripAdvisor, will be joining us to explain their GreenLeader initiative and, like the other panellists, to answer your questions.The debate about certification and the contribution tis makes to sustainability will continue – we shall shed some light on it at WTM, come along and take part.

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Harold Goodwin