The case for spending public money on certification has not been made.
In July I argued that the case for certification had not yet been made and said that I knew of no substantial evidence that certification delivers for the businesses which fund it or the public agencies which have subsidised and promoted it. I asked that if there was evidence that
a) sustainable tourism certification increases the market share of businesses that adopt it, or that
b) there is consumer demand for certification, or that
c) the environmental impacts of tourism have been reduced and that tourism has consequently become more sustainable.
No evidence has been forthcoming.
Justin Francis and I launched the campaign at the end of July 2009 asking that the following issues be addressed by those promoting the idea of an international standard for accrediting sustainable tourism certificates.
In July we had 5 concerns. We now have 10.
1. Concern that many of the impacts of tourism result from the behaviour of tourists, sustainable tourism cannot be reduced to managing the impacts of tourism businesses.
2. There are no indicators or targets against which progress might be reported. It is all about policies, strategies and plans rather than defining targets and measuring the outcomes.
3. The certification process is opaque. The customer does not know what has been achieved and cannot take any action about failures even if they did.
4. The criteria are very many and varied and not ranked. There is no indication of how they might be varied to meet local concerns and priorities.
5. There is no evidence that sustainable tourism certification is effective, or the best way, to increase the market share of businesses that adopt it. It does not make commercial sense.
Those who have signed the petition have raised a number of other issues with us and we are now including them in the campaign.
6. Taking such a broad approach reduces focus and ignores local priorities. It can only result in a superficial approach and limited impact at the destination level. The GST Criteria approach can usefully be contrasted with the highly focussed efforts being pursued in Cape Town.
7. There is a real danger that certification will be used to exclude or disadvantage those who cannot afford the certification process or to renew their membership.
8. There is little evidence of private sector engagement unless subsidised. Indeed there is considerable evidence that businesses do not renew their subscriptions when they have to pay them themselves.
9. The approach seeks to impose supranational priorities over national and local ones.
10. Once again tourism is developing a solution which appears to be unrelated to the established international processes.
At the end of July last year we called on the then GSTC to engage in a more open debate about the criteria which they are promoting and the process which they had used to determine those criteria. 80 people have now signed our online petition calling for an open debate.
The GSTC initiative is one of the Partnerships for Sustainable Development which was agreed at WSSD in 2002. There is little evidence of industry support. The latest listing suggests that 200,000USD has been committed and that donors have been approached for a further 1,000,000USD suggesting that the initiative will cost at least 1,200,000USD. Many of the supporters are organisations which might reasonably expect to be engaged in doing the work, funded through the project. Amongst the supporters are a number of agencies which have been involved in certification. We do not query their experience, our concerns are more fundamental. The certification approach does not deliver.
There are four key reasons why the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria will fail:
1. We know of no evidence of consumer demand. It is not sufficient to argue that it has created consumer demand in other sectors so it will work in tourism. There have been hundreds of certification schemes none of them have effectively created consumer demand; this is not surprising since the consumer benefit is unclear. What is the experiential gain?
2. All tourism has local impacts (except for green house gas emissions) the impacts need to be identified, prioritised and managed locally. There is no global certification scheme for hotel room quality which is an inherently simpler task.
3. There is good reason for this; the world