Giving Meaning To Sustainable Tourism

by , Jul 6, 2010, 12:00 AM
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Everyone seems focused on green. And there's nothing wrong with that. We've got to take better care of the planet and anything the travel industry can do to support that is welcomed. But that's only the beginning of the role tourism can play in improving the world.

With the continued growth of the green movement, we've seen the emergence of dozens and dozens of organizations focused on preserving our forests, protecting our wildlife and cleaning our water and air. Add in the efforts of organizations like the American Hotel & Lodging Association (and its ubiquitous in-room table tents encouraging people to reuse their towels and bedding) and there's no question that we're living amidst a veritable sea of green, with all of these organizations doing what they can to help.

More than just green, however, what the industry needs to fully embrace is the broader concept of sustainable tourism, in which its enthusiastic support of environmental performance becomes woven together with the equally important goals of enhancing social performance and improving economic benefits to local communities and businesses worldwide. With this broader mandate, you begin to touch on the human element of preserving cultures and reducing poverty, critical components of any successful effort to preserve and sustain a destination (and, ultimately, our industry).

As we work to advance the concept of sustainability and attach it to tourism, we need to recognize that most consumers have no real clear understanding of what the words "sustainable tourism" even mean. In fact, a recent survey ISM conducted showed that over 60% of travelers were unfamiliar with the term "sustainable tourism" and when these individuals were probed, nearly 30% thought the term related just to the environment.

Yet, in this same survey, consumers were asked if aiding in the sustainability of the areas in which you travel is important, 84% said yes, and, perhaps just as importantly, over 65% of consumers say they are more inclined to use a travel partner (hotel, resort, airline, online travel site) if they know that partner supported sustainable tourism in their business practices.

Clearly, there's work to be done to educate and engage consumers in this effort and that starts by getting more companies within the industry to adopt and expand their sustainable tourism initiatives. Fortunately, the industry can now turn to a set of standards that has been created that form a baseline from which an organization can build its sustainable tourism program.

Created by the Tourism Sustainability Council (a newly created organization that was formed through the merger of The Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council), the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria have been designed to help harmonize, simplify and communicate, to a tourism organization and business, the basic framework required in order to achieve sustainability.

These criteria were assembled in a painstaking manner over an 18-month period using an extensive process of public and private input, an ensuing review and analysis of more than 4,500 existing criteria, outreach to 80,000 tourism stakeholders, input from 2,000 domain experts and the insights of an international steering committee.

To date, there are over 60 partners from around the globe including tourism businesses, conservationists, UN agencies, governments and non-government agencies that have already joined the Tourism Sustainability Council and adopted the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria as the baseline for defining and driving sustainability for tourism enterprises and entities around the world.

As more organizations and business adopt these standards, they'll be able to help forge a common language and a consistency of practice that can ultimately lead to a greater base of knowledge, understanding, adoption and demand for sustainable tourism practices.

Setting a standard as an industry starts by having them. By building our efforts from common criteria, we can ensure that we're all moving effectively toward preserving the world's cultural and natural resources while ensuring that tourism meets its potential as a tool for poverty alleviation. Just as importantly, we can create a baseline to fuel consumer understanding, interest, trust and involvement.

Giving meaning to sustainable travel.

It's a big task, but one that consumers need. And, our industry's future demands.

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