Finding a Sustainable Way Forward as an Industry

Firstly, to understand the role of GSTC Standards it is important to understand the four pillars upon which these standards are based.

There are four key pillars of GTCS standards:

  1. Sustainable Management
  2. Social to maximise benefits and minimise negative impacts
  3. Cultural to maximise benefits to communities and negate negative impacts
  4. Environment - maximise benefits to the environment and negate negative impacts.

Firstly, to understand the role of GSTC Standards it is important to understand the four pillars upon which these standards are based. There are four key pillars of GTCS standards:

  1. Sustainable Management
  2. Social to maximise benefits and minimise negative impacts
  3. Cultural to maximise benefits to communities and negate negative impacts
  4. Environment - maximise benefits to the environment and negate negative impacts.

But, why do we have standards? If we survey people in travel and tourism, we can see a lot of confusion about sustainability, hence there is clearly a need for standardisation in the sector. This helps to give better guidelines for regulatory codes but also create a series of common points of measurement.

GSTC is not an accreditation body itself: they give guidelines for certifications which others apply. Who can apply them?

  1. Hotels
  2. Tour Operators
  3. Destinations

St Kitts Sustainable Destination Council was established in 2013 as a result of being part of the early adopter programme. One of the key strengths of their approach is that in being independent in their work, they have been consistent in applying the criteria throughout the destination, irrespective of any change in government, ministers, tourism leaders etc. The fact that the same programme manager has been in place since 2013 is testament to this. Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association has also been doing excellent work with community outreach.

So how do we define sustainability when we consider the key priorities? The first factor is carbon emissions. The huge growing awareness of the issues around CO2 emissions and the need for us as an industry to bring down our carbon footprint means that we must be conscious of the impact of our activities and how different modes of transport operate - for example, we know that land transport is less impactful than other forms of transport.

Looking to COVID-19 recovery issues, one of the key questions everybody asks is "when will it be over?". The truth is that recovery is likely to be uneven, based on geography and perception of the destination's readiness. There are likely to be operational re-starts, challenges in the pace of recovery and significant impact on yield. Moreover, there is likely to be an impact on traveller psychology and confidence spending power which will also need to be addressed.

SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production

When we think about many of the key considerations we often focus on procurement in respect of food and beverage, cleaning supplies, linens, the material used for construction and so on.

MSC was created in order to establish standards in fisheries, whilst the Rainforest Alliance has been driven to create fair trade standards when it comes to products like coffee. Both of these initiatives took a long time to take off and they required demand from consumers who say "we're only buying coffee from producers who are certified by the rainforest alliance".

In both of the above certification examples, they work tremendously powered by a slowly growing consumer awareness and demand and things really start to move when major brands respond and bring to market products which meet those standards, in the case of McDonald's with their MSC certified Fillet-o-Fish or Rainforest Alliance certified coffee. When big brands get behind these initiatives, it has a tremendous impact on raising awareness and changing consumer consciousness - because they are a dominant voice and excellent at storytelling.

Turning to tourism, we see a similar pattern happening. Air Transit and Iberostar are just two examples of companies who have prioritised sustainability. Air Transit for example only choose hotels who are certified as sustainable and ensure that the beaches they take their clients to are Blue Flag certified. For consumers, it's much easier to choose a brand who makes that choice for them in a total shift of policy.

Tui is another example, where their contracting policy is now driving the world to sustainability by applying sustainability criteria to their contracting requirements. Lastly, Royal Caribbean has altered their business practices to apply preferential contracting when it comes to MSC certified fisheries, which means the entire supply chain is being pushed to operate more sustainability - and this doesn't only impact Royal Caribbean's supply, but businesses will invariably adapt their entire business to be more sustainably. These key acts in themselves create an exponential change effect which is really quite significant.

GSTC is ISO defined, which means it's a third-party certification and therefore impartial.

  • 1st Party is 'us talking' and 'us saying' we're sustainable, there's no verification.
  • 2nd Party certification lacks impartiality.
  • 3rd Party certification by an accredited certification body is where you know it's a fully independent certification process - it's where trust can be fund.

What's the key to a feasible sustainability strategy? You have to set targets, something that is attainable but also challenging. Second, you need to look ahead over time, understanding that it cannot be achieved overnight and requires time to reach these targets.

Many destinations are setting targets to be carbon-free. In the case of Jeju in South Korea, they have set a goal of reaching this goal by 2030. This is a good example of an entire destination making that shift, setting challenging targets and committing themselves to this cross-sector. They started by focusing on having 100% eco-friendly electricity generation, followed by stringent targets on electric vehicles, such as by 2020 ensuring all rental cars are electric and by 2030 envisioning all cars electric.

Key Takeaways

1. Truly understand the role of standards to align and achieve the same goals

2. Invest in training, education and bring people to have a stronger awareness of what really matters in terms of sustainability

3. Understand and make others align with the guidelines for regulatory codes

4. Measure and evaluate your performance to adjust the way you operate and verify you are going in the right direction

Published on:
December 2020
About the contributor

Randy Durband

Randy Durband is CEO of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), the UN-created NGO that manages global standards for sustainable tourism.