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Taking Responsibility For Your Sustainability

By Laura McGowan
The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) recently released its list of 37 criteria aiming to create a globally acceptable and applicable definition of sustainable tourism.

A collaborative process involving more than 1000 experts and organizations, the criteria list is general enough to apply to any destination around the world yet so specific that small tourism businesses would have a hard time qualifying as a sustainable tourism business under the criteria.

Sustainable tourism is an evolving concept – constantly adapting to new challenges, new issues and new impacts of tourism on the environment, the economy and on communities. No business is 100% sustainable and there is always room for improvement. Kick- starting the GSTC initiative is the increased occurrence of greenwashing and the misuse of the terminology – such as sustainable tourism, ecotourism, and responsible tourism – which dilute the concept and question the credibility of legitimate sustainable tourism businesses. But are accreditation, certification and criteria lists the appropriate response?

The best way to be a sustainable tourism business is to take responsibility for your business’ sustainability. The GSTC serves very easily as a wish list of high level initiatives your business can undertake to become more sustainable. Online resources such as TOES’ Responsible Suppliers Guide , TIAC’s Green Your Business: Toolkit for Tourism Operators and the Icarus Foundation’s Green Festivals and Events Guide are also useful tools for identifying suppliers, practices and other initiatives that would increase your business’ sustainability. Transparency, however, is the key to communicating your sustainable practices to your customers. And there are three easy ways to be transparent and take responsibility for your sustainability – draft a policy; be upfront about challenges and encourage feedback.

Draft a Responsible Tourism Policy
What is your business taking responsibility for doing? Make a list of all the initiatives you have started and communicate that document to the community and your customers. Post it on your website, email it with booking confirmations, and add it to your brochures.

Be upfront about challenges
Don’t be afraid to identify barriers, challenges or areas of improvement and communicate them to your customers. You never know – one of your customers may have a suggestion for solving the challenge.

Encourage feedback from the public
Provide an outlet and opportunity for your customers and your community to provide feedback about your practices – good and bad. Post trip emails, surveys, or even casual conversations let you know how you are doing and allows the public to ‘call you out’ if you are not living up to the practices listed in your policy. In the end, only you can control your business’ sustainability. While global efforts to define sustainable tourism and eliminate greenwashing continue, those efforts are best used as a resource tool or wish list of initiatives to implement rather than as a defining list of criteria.

Laura McGowan is the Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism Canada (ICRT). This article was first published in The Ontario Ecotourism Society’s (TOES) Winter 2010 Quarterly newsletter, Ecotourism Ontario. To view back issues of the newsletter, and learn more about TOES, please visit their website.

This article is quoted from the Responsible Travel Report The Sustainable Tourism e-Newsletter Vol. 8 No. 1, January 2010 published by STI.

This article is uploaded by Majbritt Thomsen, administrator on ‘Views On Tourism’.

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Posted in Best practice, IT, Sustainability, World.


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