The Challenges of Sustainable Certifications

The speakers agree that destinations still don't see the value in destination certification.

Luigi started by explaining that Vireo is a small certification body that offers certification activities against different standards - the GSTC standard is just one.

Luigi started by explaining that Vireo is a small certification body that offers certification activities against different standards - the GSTC standard is just one. All certifications are sustainability-related (carbon, printing, fishing) - GSTC was the last one added - they work both with hotels and destinations when we refer to the GSCT criteria.


Albert Salman shared that Green Destinations promote responsibility - which is much more than sustainability. They work with destinations and businesses. Green Destinations offer training and advice to help destinations to tell their stories better. In his opinion, there's a lack of marketing value around certification - transparency and credibility are other issues.


EarthCheck has been working for more than 35 years with businesses and destinations on sustainability. According to Natasha, their benchmarking tool is one key part of what they do - to allow destinations and businesses to find areas to improve.


Why there are only around 30 destinations with a GSTC certification?

Albert thinks that there aren't many destinations working effectively for a long period - the Azores is one exception - because it is difficult to keep consistency. Over the past few years, several destinations have been committing to sustainability terms but mainly on paper - putting it into practice is a whole different thing. Albert also believes that carbon offsetting shouldn't be the focus but emissions reduction.

Natasha raised another relevant topic - who takes responsibility for sustainability in a destination? Accountability is something that has been blocking the evolution, as many of the sustainability issues are under government or municipality control - and not DMOs.

Waste and water management are often the municipality's responsibility added Luigi. DMOs most times struggle to do something about these environmental areas that they don't control. Furthermore, the idea of getting audited is not usually well accepted by destinations but also businesses. Luigi stressed that tourism is one of the last sectors in terms of 3rd party certifications.



Which are the main challenges in destination certification?

The lack of motivation is the main challenge, according to Albert. He believes that destinations still don't see the value in destination certification. The complexity of the certification process is also an obstacle. Albert defends that DMOs should be an example for businesses, by showing the benefits of certifications and then by helping them in their sustainability journey.

Luigi agrees that DMOs should lead by example and highlights that understanding the standards is sometimes difficult for them. As a result, destinations then struggle to involve stakeholders in the process.

Albert thinks that people don't choose destinations because they are sustainable but because they offer exciting experiences and activities. By default, people expect destinations to be sustainable - to preserve nature and to ensure locals are happy.

In Luigi's opinion, communicating sustainability is a challenge for everyone in the world - for destinations, for businesses and for anyone working in other areas. Finding the right claims is difficult. At the same level, speaking the same language between destinations, consumers and businesses is key to avoiding confusion.

Albert added that people have different understandings of what is sustainability - for some, it is about communities and for others is about the environment. It is critical to have clear communication.

Natasha concluded by reinforcing that search engines have a responsibility to offer filtering choices on their platforms - to help consumers make the right choices. At the same time, she believes that businesses should also be clear in communicating what they do on their websites.

In the end, all speakers agreed that 3rd party certification is the best way for destinations who want to show your statement - "achieving certification is not the end of the journey, it is a process".

Key Takeaways

  • Visitors have different understandings of what is sustainability - a clear communication policy is critical if destinations want to be serious in their sustainability strategy.

  • Filtering by sustainable options is good for both consumers and businesses but that is not enough.

  • 3rd party certifications are the only way to distinct destinations that put their efforts into practice.
Published on:
December 2022
About the contributor

Albert Salman

Green Destinations

Luigi Mazzaglia

VIREO

Natasha Montesalvo

EarthCheck