Tag: sustainable tourism

African tourists exploring their continent

East Coast versus West Coast: Travel and the Future of Tourism in Africa

If you’re a fellow traveler, you can probably relate to the allure of exploring a new destination. The budding curiosity. The ignited excitement. The anticipation of adventure. The prospect of visiting the West Coast of Africa for work (a region I have never been to) recently rekindled my wanderlust. I was especially thrilled about the chance to visit Liberia. 

While not known for tourism, Liberia has all the raw, unbridled potential to become the destination of choice for adventure travelers. However, as I navigated the complexities of booking flights for intra-African travel, my enthusiasm was soon met with a harsh reality.

Any travel lover knows the drill and random assortment of tips and tricks designed to help you find the cheapest flight or best deal to your destination of choice: 1) Remove Cookies, 2) Incognito Mode, 3) Book on Tuesday. The cheapest flight to Liberia was… $1,700. My eyes bugged out at my computer screen. What?! How? The trip duration– 17 hours. The exorbitant prices and lengthy travel durations left me perplexed. 

Moreover, after the hassle and expense of booking such a flight, I might still need to contend with the potential hurdles of securing a visa and dealing with flight delays and cancellations. The process left me deflated and prompted a bittersweet reminder: “East and West, Home is best.”

Reflecting on the Past: A Brief Overview of Tourism in Africa

A retrospective glance at Africa’s tourism history reveals a trajectory marked by promise and pitfalls. In the post-colonial era, nations across the continent recognized tourism as a catalyst for growth, investing in infrastructure and promotion. Yet, narratives of Africa as the “Dark Continent” persisted, influencing tourists’ perceptions and travel decisions. To this day, the International Travel Advisory Reports for Africa still influence travelers’ perceptions and decisions, doing little to assuage doubts for cautious travelers.

Western nation embassies create the most popular and referenced travel advisories. While these reports claim objectivity and a lack of “influence from diplomatic, political or commercial considerations,” they perpetuate a narrative of the Global North evaluating and judging the Global South, compared to a mutual collaboration to understand the real threats to travelers.

Most African countries range from a level 2 (Exercise a high degree of caution) to a level 4 (Do not travel).  Only six out of 54 countries are deemed safe to ‘exercise normal safety precautions’ while traveling. Despite breathtaking destinations, tourism in Africa often bears the vestiges of colonial exploitation rather than embracing mutual respect for the continent and its people.

Current Realities: Storytelling and Borders that Divide

In recent years, Africa has witnessed a paradigm shift in perception, with a narrative driven by Africans. Technological advancements and enhanced digital connectivity have fueled enthusiasm for African travel, leading to increased tourism arrivals. However, the legacy of colonial-era infrastructure limitations still looms, hindering seamless travel across the continent. 

The challenges of intra-Africa travel are multifaceted. Limited point-to-point markets and the absence of robust hub-and-spoke networks impede efficient connectivity. As a result, travel within Africa often remains confined to regional zones, with lengthy flight durations and exorbitant costs across regional zones deterring potential visitors. The lengthy flight durations are no surprise given the sheer size of Africa, 30.37 million sq km (11.7 million sq mi).

However, the costs of cross-regional travel in Africa are shocking. They are often equal to or double the costs of traveling outside the continent. Despite the emergence of African airlines, which one would expect to reduce flight costs, the continent’s share of the global passenger air travel market remains disproportionately low, so the industry cannot benefit from high volume and lower costs. 

While initiatives such as the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and the proposed African passport hold promise for facilitating intra-Africa travel, significant hurdles persist. The practical implementation of these initiatives requires concerted efforts to address logistical, regulatory, and security concerns. Intra-Africa travel hurdles beg the question: what needs to come first – connectivity and passenger transportation improvements or destination development?

Facilitating Sustainable Tourism: A Vehicle for Development

Obstacles like those I encountered while planning cross-regional travel underscore a broader issue plaguing the African continent: inadequate transportation infrastructure and limited connectivity. 

Meanwhile, sustainable tourism, with its enormous potential to drive economic development and conservation efforts, hinges on efficient transportation networks. According to a World Bank Report, the tourism sector already accounts for one in every 20 jobs in Africa, with the potential to create millions more over the next decade. 

Nevertheless, leveraging sustainable tourism as a vehicle for development needs to be a carefully curated game of systems and incentives. Sustainable tourism development must, therefore, take into account all stakeholders. Tourism boards, DMOs (Destination Management Organizations), and businesses can and should incentivize communities to protect and care for natural and historical attractions. 

International tourists on safari in Africa
Source: Voortman, Gerbert. “Brown and Black Jeep Wrangler.” Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-and-black-jeep-wrangler-10740862/.

When these attractions generate and diversify income sources for communities, it results in a positive feedback loop of continued conservation. Natural attractions are often found in rural areas that could benefit from economic opportunities.

Additionally, several sectors feed into tourism – agriculture, creatives and handicrafts, and manufacturing. 

Therefore, if a country’s tourism sector places great emphasis on developing and sourcing from local supply chains, a boost in tourism can mean greater demand and growth for other closely related sectors. 

However, realizing all of tourism’s economic and social benefits is contingent upon addressing the connectivity challenge.

Looking Ahead: The Imperative of Travel Connectivity

Why should we prioritize improving transport connectivity within Africa, and why now? 

The answer is two-pronged. 

Firstly, the African continent has immense potential as a tourism destination. 

  • Africa’s tourism sector has exhibited robust growth, outpacing global averages and rebounding swiftly from the COVID-19 pandemic. With projections indicating continued expansion in the years to come (about 5.1% growth yearly), the imperative for enhanced connectivity becomes clear.
  • Africa’s status as the “last tourism frontier” underscores the urgency of investing in transportation infrastructure. From undiscovered gems to pristine natural landscapes, the continent boasts a wealth of attractions awaiting exploration while other regions and continents are fast approaching their saturation points. However, realizing this potential hinges on overcoming the logistical barriers that impede intra-Africa travel.
  • Improving connectivity within Africa can profoundly impact economic development and environmental conservation. Improved connectivity can bolster conservation efforts and biodiversity preservation by facilitating access to protected areas and virgin forests. This access can support research and sustainable tourism activities, incentivizing communities to preserve their environments. Consequently, enhanced transportation networks can unlock new opportunities for job creation and revenue generation, particularly in rural areas. 

Secondly, African people have vast potential as customers in the tourism sector and as the human capital engine powering it.

  • Africa has a booming youth population, projected to reach 2.4 billion by 2050, all in need of entrepreneurship and employment opportunities, which are abundant either directly or indirectly through the tourism sector
  • The youth demographic is driving the growth of the adventure tourism market, for which the African continent is well-positioned. Tourism forecasts by UN Tourism “predict the region will receive 77 million arrivals by 2020 (compared with just over 30 million in 2010), 50 million of which will be intra-regional visitors”
  • With a burgeoning middle-income demographic in the continent eager to explore other countries and cultures, alongside a growing appetite for adventure tourism, the demand for intra-Africa travel is poised to soar, underscoring the significance of investing in transportation infrastructure.

Conclusion: Navigating the Path Forward

In conclusion, the future of tourism in Africa hinges on our ability to overcome the barriers of connectivity and transportation. As we strive to unlock the continent’s vast potential, we must prioritize investments in transport and travel infrastructure and sustainable destination development strategies. By addressing infrastructure gaps, streamlining regulatory frameworks, and fostering cross-regional cooperation, we can pave the way for a thriving tourism sector that benefits all Africans and preserves the continent’s rich natural and cultural heritage. East Coast or West Coast, the journey towards realizing Africa’s tourism potential begins with bridging the gaps that separate us and forging a path towards a more connected and prosperous future.

Africa's connected and prosperous future in tourism
Source: Simon, Balazs. “Photo of an Elephant with a Calf in the Savanna.” Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-an-elephant-with-a-calf-in-the-savanna-15994111/.

Sustainable Food Tourism: Why Does it Matter?

From street food adventures in bustling markets to exclusive dining experiences in hidden culinary gems, exploring the world through taste is important to the human experience. Food tourists see travel as discovering a culture or region through food methods, dining experiences, and local ingredients. Food tourism is a relevant tourism discipline, but sustainable food tourism is making its way into research due to the popularity of environmental awareness among upcoming generations2. The Slow Food Movement has also gained popularity and has contributed to sustainable tourism development 3. This pursuit for environmentally and culturally friendly experiences can look like wine tasting in Georgia, visiting the best artisanal bakeries in The Upper Tanaro Valley, or patronizing locally-owned restaurants and cafes in your next travel destination*. Food tourism is important not only to travelers but also to restaurants. Still, it can impact a region’s economic and cultural landscape by engaging with the local community and cementing a region’s identity that travelers can support.

Photo by ELEVATE: https://www.pexels.com/photo/chef-preparing-vegetable-dish-on-tree-slab-1267320/

* When choosing a locally sustainable restaurant, look for certification marks such as Green Standards, BREEAM, ENERGY STAR, or FSC.

The Potential of Sustainable Food Tourism: Cornwall, South England

Cornwall is a peninsula far southwest of England, jutting into the Atlantic Ocean. This unique region is distinguished by its Celtic heritage, distinct from the rest of England, with a history and culture deeply rooted in its ancient past. Tourism is an essential topic within Cornwall, with the top 25% of jobs reliant on industry 4. The Cornish people are known for their pride and strong regional identity, evident in the local customs, traditions, and the vibrant arts scene. Cornish pasties, saffron buns, cornish yarg, and stargazy pie are some of the featured delicacies in their unique food culture. 

Cornwall has faced obstacles on its way to becoming one of the top culinary tourism destinations. The English countryside struggled socially and economically after the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic, which caused the domestic tourism market to decline by £2 billion. After the region centralized sustainable food and agricultural practices, the region saw great benefits.

Photo by Rachel Claire: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-woman-sitting-on-white-boat-4577117/

Investing in Food Culture

Before the boom in sustainable food movements, food tourism was underestimated as simply a trip motivator and an economic part of the traveler experience instead of an integral part of a destination’s culture and lifestyle. Cornwall started to create specialty food groups such as ‘A Taste of the West’, now one of the UK’s largest independent regional food groups.  New engagements started to give the South a foundational identity as regional differences were celebrated and a mantra of quality over quantity spread. After sustainable tourism efforts gained traction, restaurant owners noticed a positive change. There were social and cultural benefits like diverse seafood at the oyster festival. The success of sustainable food also helps to sustain cultural and familial heritage.  Skills like meat hanging, fishing, and maintaining small family farms were now economically supported, keeping the family farm and traditions alive.

Culinary Food Tourism: Food as an Art

As food writer Craig Claiborne would say, life is too short for mediocre food. Enhancing a community’s engagement with food tourism and curating unique experiences and recipes that stand out can engage tourists. As destinations like Italy attract food tourists to find the best quality pasta, countries in the global south can also utilize their unique methods and ingredients with a focus on quality and cultural engagement. Like birdwatchers, snowboarders, and mountain climbers, food tourists create community and raise the standards for food travel and dining experiences.  Netflix’s cable show Chef’s Table showcases the highest levels of these culinary interests, bringing the community to the love of gourmet food, often sourced from specific parts of the world. 

Photo by Markus Winkler: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-inside-a-building-with-food-stalls-12081251/

The Top Chef Effect

Food television can be a form of destination promotion through markets of food tourists in search of region-specific ingredients and produce. The American television show Top Chef is hosted in different areas, exposing audiences to global food perspectives, cooking methods, and cultural traditions.  Top Chef has cultivated a “Top Chef Effect” due to its large effect on food tourism, making it a public relations success for tourism in each region the show has hosted 6. Fisheries in Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California benefited from this market recognition as world-renowned chefs, praising the area for the best seafood. Culinary tourism is expected to increase by USD 126.28 billion between 2022 and 2027.

Photo by Tanya Gorelova: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-man-preparing-food-3933217/

Social Media: A Generation of Authenticity

Popular culture and the newest social media generation are searching for authenticity, which is consistently evident in how they approach food and travel.  Acting as the antithesis of previous generations of perfectly curated and minimalistic environments, the newest social media generation is dedicated to “de-center the physical self” 9.  This means social media is now filled with fewer selfies and more photos of authentic experiences, like food not available to friends back home or a candid photo of local people on the street.  Social media is shaping how people show and choose what to eat. 75% of Instagram users choose a restaurant solely based on social media photos, and 60% regularly scroll through food photos on social media, 

Photo by ready made: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-black-samsung-android-smartphone-3850213/

Reviews are Essential

Travelers in an area not familiar to them no longer rely on the business’s storefronts but on real recommendations from other travelers. Online reviews are also important, with apps like Yelp having a major impact on a business’s success, 92% of consumers state that they are less likely to do business with a company if they have seen negative reviews 11. Understanding a restaurant’s social media presence and the impact of personal reviews can change destination marketing strategies, with a larger focus on aesthetic experiences that stand out online rather than location alone. Rather than picture-perfect dining experiences, travelers look to share unique experiences.

How to use Sustainable Food Tourism

Restaurants, marketing strategists, or tourism operators looking for ways to utilize sustainable food tourism should strive to offer genuine experiences that reflect the local culture and culinary identity. This can be achieved by employing local staff to connect to local farms or fisheries and showcase these choices to customers. Countries with geographical diversity, like Cornwall, focus their efforts on their food culture, creating their strong, unique identity.  Similarly, Indonesia is represented by major islands and has a distinct food culture. The region has been shaped by natural conditions, history, and cultural influences, offering various flavors and dishes 13. Traditional Indonesian meals typically involve dishes served collectively on a table with rice as the staple, accompanied by savory options and condiments. Inviting travelers to participate in communal cooking and eating can transcend an average restaurant experience. 

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh: https://www.pexels.com/photo/asian-woman-selling-seafood-on-street-market-3871758/

Showcase your Sustainable Menu

Quality over quantity as a foundational value can be a main attraction to those seeking authentic, culinary, popular, or health-driven experiences. Restaurateurs should highlight local food, promote traditional methods, or showcase cultural objects12. The overall dining experience of the restaurant is important, as it has been shown to help formulate the destination identity, build reputation, and create visitor loyalty12. Sustainable food tourism is not a passing trend; it’s a transformative movement that can redefine the role of restaurants in the tourism industry. By adopting sustainable practices, celebrating local culture, and engaging with both tourists and the community, restaurants can create a delicious dining experience while being sustainable. As the world becomes more conscious of the impact of travel and dining, restaurants that embrace sustainability will thrive and become cherished parts of the global food tourism narrative.

benefits of sustainable certification in the tourism industry

Sustainable Tourism Certification: Steps and Benefits

In this modern era, where responsible travel is becoming more popular, the way we travel is changing significantly. Travelers are increasingly looking for authentic experiences that not only satisfy their desire to explore but also have a positive impact on the places they visit. This shift in traveler behavior is closely linked to the growing awareness of global environmental and social issues.  Explore the role of sustainable tourism certifications.

What Are the Key Modern Travel Trends in the Evolving Tourism Landscape?

According to the research of Expedia Group Media Solutions, today’s travelers are making increasingly mindful choices, with 90% actively seeking sustainable options when they embark on their journeys. These conscientous decisions encompass visiting local cultural or historical sites (46%), opting for environmentally friendly transportation options (43%), and venturing into smaller, lesser-known destinations (41%). Notably, travelers are willing to go the extra mile for sustainability, with over half expressing a readiness to pay more for sustainable transportation, activities, or lodging.

This growing interest in sustainable travel leads us to the concept of sustainable certifications. As travelers become more conscientious about their impact on the environment and local communities, they seek businesses and destinations that hold recognized sustainability certifications, which serve as indicators of a business’s dedication to environmental stewardship, community involvement, and ethical conduct, offering travelers the confidence that their choices align harmoniously with their personal values.

Community Engagement, Ethical Practices, Sustainable Management.
Choosing sustainable tourism companies is a way to be a responsible traveler (Photo Credit: Ketut Subiyanto)

What Does Sustainable Certification Mean in the Context of Responsible Tourism?

The essence of sustainable certification lies in a commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. Obtaining such certification necessitates adherence to well-defined standards and requirements that comprehensively cover aspects of environmental, social, and economic sustainability. This process is carried out by a reputable third-party organization recognized for its credibility in assessing and certifying sustainability practices within the tourism industry.

What Are the Essential Criteria for Achieving Sustainable Certification in the Tourism Industry?

The specific criteria for sustainable certification can vary widely depending on the organization or body that administers the program. However, common areas of focus for sustainable tourism certifications often include:

  • Environmental Conservation: Ensuring that businesses or destinations minimize their negative impact on the environment, including efforts to reduce energy consumption, manage waste responsibly, and protect natural resources.
  • Social Responsibility: Promoting ethical practices, fair labor conditions, respect for local cultures and communities, and engagement with and support for the well-being of local residents.
  • Economic Sustainability: Encouraging economic benefits for local communities, including job creation, support for local businesses, and contributions to the local economy.
  • Cultural Preservation: Promoting the preservation and celebration of cultural heritage, traditions, and practices within the destination.
  • Sustainable Management: Encouraging responsible management and planning of tourism activities to ensure long-term sustainability.
  • Consumer Education: Providing travelers with information and guidance on sustainable practices and responsible tourism choices.
 Certification Bodies, Environmental Conservation. Tourism certifications. Leading sustainable tourism orgaizations.
Top 10 leading organizations providing sustainable tourism certifications (Photo Credit: Tara Winstead)

These criteria are designed to be straightforward guidelines that consider what we’ve learned over time about how to protect the environment, support local communities, and make tourism more responsible. They provide a clear roadmap for businesses and destinations to follow in order to be more eco-friendly and socially responsible in the world of travel.

Exploring the Leading Organizations Offering Sustainable Certification in the Tourism Sector

Many different organizations offer sustainable certifications to interested parties. They create their own certification rules and focus on specific types of businesses. This process can take a while and can be costly because they need to make sure the standards match the unique needs of each group they’re certifying.The list below features the leading certification bodies in the tourism space:

  1. Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC): GSTC is a global organization that has developed criteria for sustainable tourism. They offer GSTC-recognized standards and certification programs for accommodations, tour operators, and destinations.
  2. Rainforest Alliance: Rainforest Alliance has established criteria for sustainable tourism certification, with a focus on conserving biodiversity, promoting community well-being, and reducing environmental impacts.
  3. EarthCheck: EarthCheck provides criteria and certification for environmental and sustainability performance in the tourism industry, helping businesses and destinations measure and improve their sustainability efforts.
  4. Green Key: Green Key offers criteria for certification of eco-friendly accommodation and restaurants, focusing on environmental management and responsible business practices.
  5. Travelife: Travelife provides criteria for sustainable practices in tour operators, travel agencies, and accommodations, covering environmental, social, and economic aspects.
  6. Fair Trade Tourism: Fair Trade Tourism has established criteria for ethical and responsible tourism, focusing on fair wages, community engagement, and cultural preservation.
  7. Biosphere Tourism: Biosphere Tourism offers criteria for sustainable tourism certifications, emphasizing sustainability in the tourism industry’s various sectors.
  8. QualityCoast: QualityCoast provides criteria for coastal and marine tourism destinations, focusing on environmental and cultural sustainability along coastal areas.
  9. TourCert: TourCert offers criteria and certification for sustainability in the tourism sector, promoting ethical business practices and social responsibility.
  10. Fair Trade Federation: While primarily focused on fair trade, the Fair Trade Federation also offers criteria related to ethical and sustainable practices within the tourism industry.

Who Qualifies for Sustainable Certification in the Diverse Tourism Industry?

Sustainable Certifications, Sustainable Travel Trends, Responsible Tourism. Tourism entities.
Tourism entities meeting sustainability certification criteria and standards (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

Sustainability certification in tourism can be awarded to a wide range of entities involved in the tourism industry. This includes accommodation such as hotels, resorts, and lodges, as well as tour operators, travel agencies, transportation providers (like airlines or car rental companies), and even destinations themselves. Essentially, any entity within the tourism sector that meets the specific criteria and standards set by a recognized certification body can be a recipient of sustainability certification. 

As we have mentioned, certification bodies often tailor their criteria to specific target groups. For example, Green Key primarily focuses on certifying eco-friendly accommodations and restaurants, while Travelife extends its certification standards to cover tour operators, travel agencies, and accommodations. The mentioned approach ensures that sustainability standards are precisely adapted to meet the unique needs and priorities of various sectors within the tourism industry.

What are the benefits of the Sustainability Certification in the Tourism Industry?

Sustainable certification plays a pivotal role in benefiting organizations or destinations within the tourism sector in several ways. The potential advantages are distributed among the company, communities, nature, and travelers. These benefits are outlined below.

  1. Environmental Conservation: Certification encourages businesses to adopt eco-friendly practices, such as energy efficiency, waste reduction, and wildlife protection, contributing to preserving natural resources and biodiversity.
  2. Community Engagement: Businesses with sustainability certifications often prioritize local communities by creating job opportunities, supporting local economies, and involving residents in tourism-related activities.
  3. Ethical Practices: Certifications promote ethical conduct by encouraging businesses to respect human rights, support fair labor practices, and engage in responsible supply chain management.
  4. Consumer Trust: Certifications provide travelers with confidence that they are supporting responsible tourism, leading to increased trust in businesses and destinations displaying these credentials
  5. Market Competitiveness: Certified businesses gain a competitive edge in the market, as they appeal to a growing segment of travelers who prioritize sustainability.
  6. Cost Savings: Sustainable practices often lead to cost savings through reduced energy consumption, waste management, and improved efficiency.
  7. Positive Brand Image: Businesses with sustainability certifications build a positive brand image associated with responsible and ethical tourism.
  8. Regulatory Compliance: Certifications help businesses meet and exceed environmental and social regulations, reducing the risk of legal issues.
  9. Long-Term Viability: Sustainable practices, encouraged by certifications, enhance the long-term viability of tourism destinations by preserving natural and cultural assets.
  10. Global Recognition: Many sustainability certifications are internationally recognized, allowing businesses and destinations to attract a diverse range of travelers worldwide.

These benefits not only contribute to the overall sustainability of the tourism industry but also resonate with travelers who seek responsible and mindful travel experiences. They can make more informed choices, ensuring that their travel aligns with ethical and environmentally friendly values. This enables them to enjoy travel experiences that positively impact the destinations they visit, fostering a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

How to Begin the Sustainability Certification Process?

 Sustainable Management, Tourism Industry, Sustainable Tourism Initiatives, Community Engagement, Ethical Practices.
Discover the process of obtaining sustainable tourism certifications (Photo Credit: Handmrts)

Initiating the sustainable certification process begins with readiness, a willingness to engage in a long-term commitment, and envisioning a clear future for the organization within the tourism industry. The steps can follow a structured and coherent sequence.

Step 1: Conduct thorough market research to identify a certification body that aligns perfectly with your organization’s needs and interests. For instance, if you are a travel agency, seek a certification body with well-developed sustainability criteria tailored specifically for travel agencies or tour operators.

Step 2: Initiate contact with the chosen certification body. Typically, they assign a dedicated representative who is keen on expanding their community. Often, they offer a 30-minute informative online meeting introducing certification criteria, duration, pricing, potential benefits, acknowledgments, and more.

Step 3: Many certification bodies provide a coaching system. As a beginner organization, you’ll have a personal coach who guides you through the steps. They’ll assist in baseline assessment, creating a sustainability policy, action plan, and other essential documents. The certification process often occurs online or through specific forms that need to be completed.

Step 4: Upon successfully completing all the required tasks and taking responsibility for future agreed-upon actions, your company will receive the certification and a badge that can be proudly displayed online.

Step 5: This step is an ongoing process that involves continually working on sustainable initiatives, integrating sustainability guidelines into your company’s operations or the life of the destination, and monitoring progress.

Step 6: After achieving initial certification, consider exploring advanced levels or additional certifications within the sustainability framework to further enhance your commitment and impact.

Step 7: Maintain a strong relationship with the certification body. Engage in regular updates, workshops, and collaborative efforts to stay informed about the latest sustainability trends and practices.

Step 8: Share your sustainability journey and successes with your customers, partners, and the wider community to inspire others and create a ripple effect of positive change in the tourism industry.

What occurs after the completion of sustainable certification?

Typically, after receiving sustainable certification, awarded companies or destinations embark on an active marketing campaign aimed at disseminating their achievements and alignment with sustainability criteria to as many people as possible. In a best-case scenario, this effort attracts the interest of responsible travelers, leads to numerous partnership proposals, and contributes to an overall enhancement of the organization or destination’s reputation.

Summing up the Impact of Sustainable Certification in Tourism

In conclusion, sustainable tourism certification is a pivotal tool in the modern travel landscape. Travelers increasingly prioritize responsible and mindful experiences, while businesses and destinations strive to meet these expectations. Sustainable certification bridges this gap, providing a clear path toward eco-friendly, socially responsible, and economically sustainable practices. It benefits not only organizations but also communities, nature, and travelers alike. Embracing sustainability in tourism not only safeguards our planet but also ensures that travel remains a force for good, leaving positive footprints on the places we explore.

Do you represent the destination of a tourism organization interested in being certified as sustainable? Solimar can help you to choose a certification program that suits your future sustainability goals. Contact us to learn more.

What is greenwashing?

What does greenwashing mean? 

Consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental and social impacts of the businesses they support. This trend is on the rise across industries, and travel is no exception. According to American Express’ 2023 Global Travel Trends Report, 76% of respondents are interested in minimizing the environmental impact of their trips, and 69% would spend more during a vacation if they knew it supported the local community. While this is a positive and promising trend, it can also incentivize businesses to design their marketing in a way that appeals to this key demographic without necessarily aligning their operations. 

Greenwashing definition: At its core, greenwashing is all about misdirection. It occurs when businesses apply a “green sheen” to their services with language they know will satisfy search engines and appeal to conscientious consumers without actually doing the work to drive positive environmental or social outcomes. 

Greenwashing example: A DMO uses vague or ambiguous language like “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” without clarifying what those terms actually mean in the context of the services it provides and the destination it serves.

Greenwashing can also show up in the imagery a business uses in its marketing materials. Photos and graphics play an important role in sustainability messaging and can misleading consumers if they don’t align closely with the claims being made. 

Greenwashing example: A hotel relies on non-renewable energy sources for heating and cooling but includes a photo of solar panels on its website to convey a more sustainable approach to energy fulfillment. 

How to identify genuine sustainable tourism practices 

It’s one thing to understand how to avoid greenwashing in travel, and another to understand how you can break through the noise to identify meaningful sustainable tourism practices to celebrate the companies, brands, and destinations that are deploying them. Asking the following three questions can help gauge whether an organization is culpable of greenwashing or implementing tourism practices that genuinely preserve natural and cultural resources. 

1. Are sustainability goals material to the organization’s operations and supported by a clear roadmap? 

When seeking out genuine sustainable tourism practices, you can start by looking for an environmental policy and a commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion (bonus points if the organization has set measurable goals for carbon reduction, biodiversity, or conservation). It’s worth noting that while these policies are crucial, the process of implementing them can be time and resource-intensive, particularly for small businesses. 

Additional signs that an organization is on the right track in its sustainability journey include commitments toward: 

  • Localizing its supply chain (i.e., sourcing local food and beverages) 
  • Eliminating single-use plastics (think key cards and toiletries)
  • Using renewable energy sources
  • Managing waste and water efficiently
  • Employing locals and outlining a progressive path for career development 
  • Advocating for animal and child welfare
Supporting sustainable agriculture and local farmers in Vietnam
Learning about and choosing locally-sourced foods can be a fun and effective way to reinforce sustainable tourism practices and support local farmers (Photo Credit: Laura Rankin)

Learning about and choosing locally sourced foods can be a fun and effective way to reinforce sustainable tourism practices and support local farmers.

If these types of commitments aren’t readily available via a company’s public-facing channels, don’t be afraid to respectfully ask about sustainability standards and the steps being taken to drive positive social and environmental action before, during, and after your trip. 

Some examples of the types of questions you can ask to better understand a company’s commitment to sustainability include: 

  • Are you taking steps to measure and reduce your carbon footprint? 
  • How do you manage food waste? 
  • Do you monitor and control energy use, especially heat and air conditioning? 
  • Do you reinvest profits back to serve the local community?
  • What are your key sustainability metrics? 
  • What are your sustainability goals for the future?  

Becoming carbon neutral by 2030 is an admirable goal, but it doesn’t really mean anything without a clear roadmap that details the strategies and metrics involved in achieving it. Genuine sustainability commitments require a detailed action plan as well as public-facing information on any progress made to date. 

Key takeaway:

Companies with genuine sustainable tourism practices go beyond talking the talk to walk the walk. Their marketing is in lockstep with their operations, and this is evident in the clear roadmaps they’ve laid out to achieve their sustainability goals. 

2. Are sustainability claims transparent and backed by data? 

Sustainability claims should be backed by concrete data whenever possible, and this quantitative information should be presented in a way that’s transparent and publicly available. Combining specific figures and evidence with written communications and marketing materials such as links, infographics, and statistics adds depth and credibility to messaging. 

Example: Rather than claiming to be “carbon friendly” and calling it a day, a tour operator ought to support the claim with data on emissions reduction over time in a way that is digestible and helps consumers understand the true impact behind the efforts being taken. 

Further, engaging expert auditors to validate sustainability data and reports can fortify credibility and demonstrate a commitment to integrity and transparency. Given the rise of greenwashing in an already saturated tourism market, it’s more important than ever to establish accountability and trust between companies and consumers. 

Key takeaway:

A vital step to avoid greenwashing is to ensure sustainability claims are backed by trustworthy and transparent data. This data must go beyond the individual organization to consider the entire value chain. 

3. Are sustainability claims reinforced by credible third-party certifications and standards? 

Established third-party certifications and standards that are backed by rigorous assessments and criteria can help to bolster the credibility of an organization’s sustainability claims. 

A few examples of credible sustainable tourism certifications and frameworks are: 

  • Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC): The world’s leading accreditation platform for sustainable travel companies
  • B Corp: Provides third-party validation of a company’s practices around social, ethical, and environmental impact and aggregates it into one overall score determined by the size and scale of its operations
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 17 interconnected goals established by the UN to transform the world by promoting prosperity while protecting the planet, reflecting the notion that ending global poverty requires a multifaceted approach
  • Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi): Drives ambitious climate action in the private sector by enabling organizations to set science-based emissions reduction targets and a clearly-defined path to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals

There are plenty of sustainability certifications and standards that exist on global, national, and regional levels. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know how to start navigating this space, you can begin by identifying what’s important to you. 

Example: If you’re passionate about ocean conservation, you can search for destinations and experiences that align with SDG 14: Life Below Water. 

View overlooking the Gulf of Thailand
Scuba diving is one example of a popular activity that provides travelers the opportunity to support businesses that are making strides to conserve and regenerate marine environments (Photo Credit: Laura Rankin)

Scuba diving is one example of a popular activity that provides travelers the opportunity to support businesses that are making strides to conserve and regenerate marine environments. 

It’s important to note that while certifications can help build trust between brands and consumers, they have their limitations and are certainly not an end-all. Certifications can be rigorous and expensive, and it’s important to consider whether an organization has the means to meet third-party standards. In some cases, a small business may be operating sustainably, but lack the capital required to secure certification. 

Key takeaway:

Certification can provide a framework for sustainable practices and a benchmarking tool for tourism businesses. However, it also requires significant investment, limits innovation, and is just one piece of the whole sustainability puzzle. 

Sustainable Tourism
Choosing organizations that are working to drive positive impact and being transparent about their journeys is voting for a regenerative tourism future (Photo Credit: Kyle Cleveland)

Support sustainable practices to influence the future of tourism 

Choosing brands, tour operators, and destinations that are working to drive positive impact for people and the planet and being transparent about their sustainability journeys is voting for a more regenerative tourism future.

When it comes to sustainable tourism, it’s important to stay curious, look at the whole picture, and understand that there’s no silver bullet solution. At the end of the day, it’s essential that brands, companies, and destinations are transparent about their hopes and plans – even if they’re just beginning their sustainability journeys. 

Traveling should be joyful, and it should also remind us that our planet is beautiful, delicate, and interconnected. Looking to credible sources, executing due diligence, and asking respectful questions can help you spot genuine sustainable tourism practices and contribute to the co-creation of a regenerative tourism future. 

Want to learn more about tourism for sustainable development? Get in touch, and be sure to follow along with us on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Tourism is not static. It ebbs and flows, along with changing cultures, preferences and tastes. Destinations often struggle with adapting to the dynamic mindset of tourists, however. There are a number of techniques to mitigate seasonality in strategic destination planning, but what exactly are these?

A little story, when I was eight, I experienced the impact of tourism seasonality for the first time. I went to Sorrento, a picturesque beachside town on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula. During my summer visit, I observed numerous tourists enjoying the beaches. They patiently queued up outside restaurants and ice cream shops. Additionally, all the stores were open, catering to the needs of tourists who were purchasing souvenirs and various items.

This time, things were different. Many shops were closed, including the ice creamery. There were a few restaurants open, but only half full. The beach only had a few individuals walking along the sand, and the ambience was more relaxed and mellow.

Maya Bay, a popular area in Thailand that had to be closed off due to overtourism and seasonality.
Maya Bay, a popular area in Thailand that had to be closed off due to overtourism and seasonality (Photo Credit: MikeClegPhoto/Pixabay)

“Mum, where are all the tourists?” I said,

“Not many tourists come in Winter; it’s too cold for the beach; it’s the low season.” Mum exclaimed,

“But, Sorrento has many other great activities to do, so it should attract tourists throughout the year!”

The idea that came to me as an eight-year-old is something that tourism professionals have struggled with for many years.

How can we tell tourists that there is no such thing as the ‘best season’? How do we tell them that our product is engaging and enjoyable outside peak times so that they keep coming? In addition, in some cases, how do we deter individuals from coming during peak times to prevent overtourism? These are the considerations needed to curtail seasonality in strategic destination planning.

What is the meaning of seasonality?

Seasonality‘s definition in tourism relates to the volatility of tourist numbers in a destination over time due to natural and institutional factors. Natural factors predominately include the weather and climate, which may affect elements of experience within a destination.

The cherry blossom season in Japan occurs in late March or early April. It is a well-known example of natural seasonality in tourism. Thousands of tourists come to see the cherry blossoms, causing airfares and hotel prices in Japan to increase significantly. 

Institutional factors are related to specific events which may occur at different times of the year. In my home city of Melbourne, Australia, a major example is the Australian Open. This is an annual major tennis tournament that attracts swarms of tourists both domestically and internationally.

Kinkakuji in Japan. Japan is a destination negatively affected by seasonality.

Kinkakuji in Kyoto, Japan, a destination that grapples with the effects of overtourism and seasonality. (Photo Credit: Kevin Li)

What is the effect of seasonality?

Seasonality’s effects on destinations can be far-reaching, affecting the environment, society, and the economy. High demand in peak times puts strain on locales and can cause long-term damage. In low seasons, tourism-dependent places may experience poverty, a decline in material living standards, and overall despondency.

Overtourism: Strain on local resources and services during peak season

During peak season, certain places get overwhelmed by too many tourists, which strains local services and infrastructure. This is what is called ‘overtourism’, which has been an issue affecting destinations for decades. This is a key development focus that Solimar International partners with destinations to prevent.

In particular, this has intensified in some destinations following the end of the end of COVID-19 lockdown. Overtourism heavily affects Venice in Italy and Barcelona in Spain, particularly during the summer months. These destinations have experienced environmental damage, alienation of local residents, and impacts on the capacity of local services. The impact of too many tourists can bother residents, making them dislike tourists more and worsening the tourist experience.

Overtourism can be so bad that it also threatens the local ecology, both fauna and flora. 

For example, tourism destroyed Thailand’s Maya Bay after the movie “The Beach” made it famous in 2000. This was particularly because the vast majority of tourists would visit the bay during Thailand’s ‘cool season’, meaning a concentration of tourists around this time period.

Tourists and boats damaged coral, causing marine animals like sharks to leave and the bay to lose its natural beauty. It took a major closure and regeneration project at Maya Bay to return it to its pristine glory.

However, even after these works, the area is still at risk. Some say that current efforts to curtail tourist numbers are not enough to protect it. There are calls to close Maya Bay off to tourists completely in peak season. The need for drastic measures to keep tourism sustainable and mitigate seasonality in strategic destination planning is increasingly apparent.

Economic hardship during the low season

When destinations enter their low season, demand for local goods and services often decreases substantially. This depends on the destination’s reliance on its tourism industry.

For destinations with high social and economic reliance on tourism, the results can be very alarming. When visitor numbers drop, people may lose their jobs and income, putting pressure on their household budgets.

Places with high seasonality have difficulty getting outside investment because people think they won’t make as much money overall. This is because spending and growth are not consistent, even if the place has a popular holiday season.

Seasonal employment

One pivotal challenge facing destination management organizations is the intricate puzzle of seasonal employment. Places with fluctuating demand use temporary contracts to hire more staff during busy times. However, the company releases these staff members when demand decreases.

Some people, such as adventurous working holidaymakers, find these contracts suitable. But in certain areas, they become the main source of income for residents throughout the entire year. The consequence? A pervasive shadow of seasonal unemployment looms over destinations, casting a gloomy veil of poverty. Notorious among these are ski destinations, where extended closures outside peak times exacerbate the issue.

In addition, many places struggle to staff their businesses adequately during peak periods. This happened most recently in 2021-2022 with the easing of COVID restrictions in the USA. However, this is not the first time it has happened, and it will likely be an issue for future ski seasons. Thus, developing a sustainable employment solution is vital when curtailing seasonality in strategic destination planning.

What are some strategies to mitigate seasonality in strategic destination planning?

Seasonality can really bring destinations to their breaking point. At Solimar International, we work with destinations to develop comprehensive strategies to prevent this. No single technique will eliminate seasonality; however, using a careful mix of different techniques can mitigate the issue. These techniques can include economic, marketing, and societal dimensions to tackle seasonality in strategic destination planning from all sides.

The Louvre. Whilst seasonality remains moderate in Paris, where the Louvre is, overtourism is high, and is a key concern for the protection of the Louvre's artwork.

The Louvre, a very prominent tourist destination in Paris, France, often overrun by tourists, especially in peak holiday seasons. This can affect the integrity of the artwork inside. (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

Strategic destination planning technique 1: Implementation of a seasonal pricing strategy

When the weather is not conducive for tourism, there must be another compelling reason to visit the destination. Altering prices is a great way to encourage people who want to travel on a budget. Increasing prices in peak season to subsidize cheaper prices in low season means that average income remains the same.

Most hotels often use demand-based pricing to maintain steady revenue flows. Airlines also use seasonal pricing and service offerings to increase yields from tourism. Local businesses can make use of seasonal pricing in their service offering.

In peak season, restaurants can increase their menu prices, entry fees, and range of services to attract greater yield. During slow times, businesses can link together to offer affordable package deals that attract visitors and increase spending. This incentivization allows the destination to defy seasonality in strategic destination planning, increasing yields from tourism to benefit the local economy.

Strategic destination planning technique 2: Target locals and domestic tourists

Locals are fantastic people to target when attempting to combat seasonality. Low barriers to tourism, such as lower cost and distance, increase their propensity to travel in off-peak times. These times of the year are quieter and are likely to attract locals who wish to have a more relaxing experience.

An example was the Victorian travel voucher scheme, which encouraged tourism within Victoria, Australia, in late 2020. The vouchers gave a $200 discount on tourism in regional Victoria, if customers met certain requirements. Customers had to spend at least $400 on activities, lodging, or tours in regional Victoria to use them.

This helped regenerate tourism after a period when tourism numbers were at an all-time low. The DMO used this plan during the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown. However, destination managers can also use it to fight against seasonal changes. In Australia, this strategy is part of a broader narrative to create a ‘tourist mindset‘, bolstering domestic visitation.

With a strong domestic tourism economy, cheaper, shorter travel leisure trips help to fill in gaps in low periods, aiding stability. This is particularly important in areas with high economic reliance on tourism.

Strategic destination planning technique 3: Development of a broader product and package range

Creating tourism products and packages for low and shoulder season tourism are great ways to combat seasonality. Every destination has something to offer at all times of the year, even if it is not their hallmark product.

A great example of this are “four season resorts” (and no, we are not just talking about the lavish hotel chain), where unique experiences are offered at all times of the year.

Guests can enjoy skiing in winter, swimming in summer, and other indoor activities like ice skating or leisure treatments. Operators can also create special deals for conferences and MICE events for low season to fill in the gaps. Ensuring that there are no times when the tourist does not have a reason to go is key in combatting seasonality in strategic destination planning.

A prominent example of this is, coincidentally, the “Four Seasons” Resort in Whistler, British Columbia. While most prominently a ski resort for winter months, it also offers experiences in fall, summer and spring. Combined with adjusting season rates and other seasonality adjustments, the resort brings in visitation year-round. This preserves jobs and ensures stability for the destination, even if there are minor fluctuations in seasonality patterns.

Whistler, Canada, the location of an all-seasons resort that aims to mitigate seasonality

Whistler, Canada, the location of an all-season resort that caters to tourists throughout the year, not just the winter peak. (Photo Credit: Brigitte Werner/Pixabay)

Key takeaways to eliminate seasonality in strategic destination planning

The bottom line is tourism will happen if tourists are happy and will slow if they are not. The key to any successful strategy lies in how customers respond. This comes down to the needs of the tourism segment in your market and the external environment. Listening to both customers and the needs of society and the environment is vital in creating a sustainable tourism strategy.

For price-sensitive tourists, seasonal pricing of airfares or hotels may be an effective approach. However, in areas frequented by more affluent tourists, enhancing the quality and breadth of tourism offerings can serve as a better incentive.

Monitoring peaks and troughs in tourism activity and their repercussions on the broader economy, society, and environment is paramount. If local communities, infrastructure, and natural ecosystems are adversely affected by fluctuating tourist numbers throughout the year, proactive measures are necessary.

If you’re considering a trip, it’s an opportune moment to reconsider your travel timing and approach. Sustainability concerns aren’t solely the responsibility of destination marketing organizations; significant changes can stem from individual behavioral adjustments. Opting for off-peak travel times and educating yourself about current issues in your destination can contribute to mitigating adverse impacts.

Solimar’s tourism expertise helps you create a captivating story that promotes tourism all year, not just in peak season. Want to help implement sustainable tourism solutions? Learn more about our virtual internship opportunities here

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“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.”
Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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