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Penning Down Some Thoughts On Sustainable Tourism

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Freeda

There is a buzzword that is making headlines and sweeping the minds of the present breed of thoughtful travelers, “Sustainable travel”. What does it mean for us to be this way and how do we go about doing it all right? 

THE IDEA IS NEW, SO MANY THINGS GO INTO SUSTAINABILITY AND THE AVERAGE TRAVELLER EITHER DOES NOT KNOW ABOUT ALL THESE OR DOES NOT HAVE THE BANDWIDTH TO THINK THROUGH THEM. 

We all want to do our homework to understand this concept, which is still very nascent in the market of tourism business and be sure…. And thus, our pursuit is to seek answers and make the right choices.

One can easily find oneself confused, is it about choosing hotels and or tour operators with good sustainability labels? Believe me, this could be a daunting job as there are more than 180 labels to choose from, making the job tougher. It can be perplexing and maybe a juggernaut for the ones seeking to know… and really, Know what? Sustainable travel options, responsible travel options, eco-friendly options? Eco-labels?

This conundrum and then the whole confusion of the niche words Ecotourism and Adventure Tourism used widely as a synonym, in conjunction with sustainable tourism.

“And there are those whose travels are a means of claiming fame and outcompeting fellow travelers in who can make the bigger splash, post the coolest photographs, and garner the most followers”. For the ego-driver traveler, sustainability can quickly become another ‘woke’ box to check.

Some questions to ponder over….

The most common statement that can determine sustainability in people’s minds is that “it is the concept of visiting a place as a tourist and trying to make only a positive impact on the environment”. One could wonder at this and could seem rather vague too. Travels and making a positive impact, now how is this possible? 

Isn’t traveling using lots of resources, isn’t it about spending one’s hard-earned money for “an experience” and going about ticking itineraries to satiate one’s ego to be with the rat race!

Isn’t it about using barrels of fuel, letting the tap of the hotels run dry because we would have just wasted water and not bothered to even think where this water came from if it came from the borewells dug deep and gone dry and another one around the area dug deep and gone dry? (sometimes this area can be on the red map of the Water table! … )

Isn’t it about shutting the doors to our hotel rooms with lights on, the air conditioners on? the cool air coming in while eating into every drop of the moisture outside? 

The restaurant would have laid out a buffet of different spreads, we would serve ourselves more than we can digest and leave the remaining food on the plate unfinished? All the leftover food sometimes just gets dumped into leachate and rot. Very rarely does this food gets used for biogas or sent to the piggery….

For long, single-use plastics were the norm on travels. Till we find ourselves in a place so pristine, so high up in hills that could be tackling solid waste management caused due to tourists throwing trash, that were stuck in its ravines and crevices of these Godly green highlands! Today reusable (Single-use versus reusable) containers too are scary.

What are we going to do about this environmental milieu?

Few more thoughts….

Giants in the sustainability business have made large promises, as major companies set more aggressive targets around metrics like carbon emissions, water, and waste, but the point here is all these commitments incorporate the one aspect of sustainability; “Environment”.

What about others like the people associated, the culture, the heritage buildings, the economy? How can we make positive impacts on these aspects? Aren’t they too stakeholders, who are direct and indirect beneficiaries of our Travels?

And the governance aspect; to maintain destinations usable to generations that will come by.

Let us explore how this puzzle can be solved, come be with us on this 20-year long Journey…. Of travels and researching, of deep-dive analysis. Of seeing what it is to be practitioners of sustainability. How we now believe, Sustainability is a way of life, not a part of some activity.

There is no universal answer for the questions, given the diversity of destinations. What is sustainability to one, can be a time-consuming and monetarily draining activity for another and or both of these.

It is also resource-dependent, for instance, in dry areas, water conservation may be a focal point to look into for that region, for that business, in another it may be local people depending on tourism for employment opportunities and the onus of recruiting the locals may be the need of the hour for the business.

Each one is tackling Sustainability differently, in ways that meet their needs, conducive to their immediate environment.

The way forward…..

How important is it to create value to our travel needs, how to choose products and experiences that are holistic in value creation; to NATURAL RESOURCE AVAILABILITY/SCARCITY, EMPLOYMENT, COMMERCIALISATION AND APPROPRIATION OF LOCAL CULTURE, PRESERVATION OF LIVELIHOODS THAT MAINTAIN LOCAL CULTURE AND UNIQUE LOCAL VALUES, THE FOOTPRINT OF BRINGING LUXURY TO REMOTE LOCATIONS, THE DISPOSAL OF WASTE GENERATED, ETC’.

Do we choose hotels that have effectively adopted sustainable practices and are making a difference, or do we select hotels based on their eco-labels without confirming how accurate such labels are?

There was a lack of standards in the tourism industry when it came to sustainability. Standards that included every aspect, every indicator, that feeds into becoming benchmarks for value creation and their overall impact on the environment that includes socio-economic and the cultural aspects as well. 

The criteria developed by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), are the most rigorous and well-respected sustainability standards. So fool proof that they have neatly laid out, time-tested specifics for destinations and the Governments to better their policy decisions, the industry that involves hotels and tour Operators, for corporates and business travel, for formal certification bodies, and the most important of all the Traveler.

The Criteria are available on the website that can be made use of, yes you heard that right! It is free and downloadable in PDF formats. (www.gstcouncil.org)

 Well, now we all know what to look for!

There’s something very interesting that GSTC does. One can choose to get their businesses certified through the GSTC accredited certification Bodies. Mind you GSTC does not engage in direct certification. The GSTC Accreditation Manual draws compliance standards based on ISO and GSTC specific guidelines from the ISEAL Alliance standard-setting code. 

The accreditation provides international credibility that the certification standard complies with universal criteria for sustainable tourism and its procedures meet international principles for transparency, impartiality, and competence. Being certified by a GSTC Certification Body means that your hotel, tour operator, or destination complies with the highest social and environmental standards on the market and provides you with a credible solution to environmental and social issues.

“There Can Be Hundreds Of Different Sustainable Tourism Standards To Choose From. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council Has A Reliable Guide, And Maintains Recent Sustainability Criteria For Hotels, Destinations, And Tour Operators.”

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

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