Ian Taylor reports from Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) conference in the Azores

Sustainability certification for hotels, supply chains and destinations can drive mitigation of travel’s negative impacts faster than focusing on consumer demand.

That is the view of Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) chief executive Randy Durband and Tui sustainability director Jane Ashton.

Ashton told the GSTC conference in the Azores last week: “Customers say they want more sustainable choices, [but] we’re still waiting for them to make choices [based on sustainability]. We haven’t got there yet.

“The [online] search buttons for certified hotels are under-used even in the most-aware markets such as Scandinavia and the Nordics. Consumers really are not thinking about this at the point of booking. They are thinking about choice, destination and quality, not sustainability.”

Durband said: “We’re so far from consumers on this that we have to push the supply chain to make products sustainable. This is where we can have the greatest influence [despite] the complexity of the supply chain in travel. This is what is going to drive sustainability.

“We’re just going to cause ourselves pain, banging our heads on a wall, if we think we’re going to get consumer awareness to change in the next 10 years.”

Durband added: “Any success you have in reaching consumers is going to need product available [anyway]. The certification process pushes businesses to be more sustainable. If we want change, this is what we have to push.”

He noted: “There is a time lag to the model. If a business wants to get certified it can take two to three years, so we need to set targets [and] a reasonable timeline to targets. We need clarity, and targets motivate people.”

Alexandra Pastollnigg, founder of Swiss online travel agency Fair Voyage, insisted: “The solution is to drive consumer demand for sustainable products.”

She highlighted the confusion about sustainability and accused many travel companies including “big platforms” of ‘greenwashing’, arguing: “Companies use the least amount of budget to create a sustainability programme and then put a huge amount of marketing around it.”

Pastollnigg told the conference: “Consumers are bombarded with marketing messages. Why not make it easy for travellers to make sustainable choices?”

Durband agreed: “There is a huge problem of confusion. People don’t understand sustainability and we need to simplify it.”

But he argued: “When the GSTC came into existence [in 2007] there were 150 [certification] labels. It took us years to build an approach. We talk to national governments that insist on having their own [certification] schemes. A lot of schemes are struggling to scale. [But] we don’t have an enforcement mechanism.

“We need trade associations to take a lead and help sort this out. We need a major procurement campaign through the largest players to find a solution.”

Japan commits to sustainability

Japan has become the first country to commit to adopting GSTC destination criteria nationally.

The GSTC finalised new destination criteria last week, and chief executive Randy Durband revealed: “The Japan Tourism Agency has committed to adopt the destination criteria as part of its national tourism plan. It has ambitious plans to increase arrivals [and] has built the GSTC criteria into its strategy.”

The JTA plans to begin the process by sending a questionnaire based on the criteria to all Japan’s destinations.

Durband said: “Most standards you pay for, we make ours available free because we want them to be used. We spent more than a year consulting with hundreds of trade associations, holding workshops all over the world, produced draft criteria then consulting again on them. These are not our standards, they are yours.”


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