In preparation for the Environmental Management in Tourism conference to take place in November, we are introducing a series on green tourism today.
During the 20th century our world was thrust into a massive technological revolution, with new developments and discoveries being made at a pace never before experienced by humankind. Our parents took full advantage of the conveniences of these technologies, blissfully unaware that their newfound ‘luxury’ lifestyle came with a heavy price tag for the planet and for future generations.
Toward the end of the century, scientific revelations awoke the world to the harsh realities of fossil fuel exhaustion, ozone depletion and global warming. It became increasingly clear that very few activities associated with new technologies are sustainable without the conservation of resources or the pursuit of more ecologically friendly and carbon-neutral alternatives.
The emerging concerns about the potential consequences of human indifference meant that those of us educated in the 80’s and 90’s were drilled about the importance of sustainable development. We were taught that sustainable and responsible tourism are of paramount importance to preserve biodiversity in a tourism-orientated country like South Africa. In the new millennium the term eco-tourism replaced sustainable tourism and the concept encompassed not only environmental sustainability, but also social and economic criteria.
Green criteria require industries to uplift, integrate and educate local communities, ensuring they experience direct economic benefits from tourism activities and are in no way negatively impacted. The Nomad African Trust is an example of a tourism organization which is successfully implementing strategies which focus on planet, people and prosperity. Their initiatives include: reducing population growth through family planning and education, focusing on the needs of rural areas, creation of jobs through tourism activities, integration of communities through skills development as well as active involvement in animal breeding programmes, relocation projects and anti-poaching campaigns.
The deep footprint of long haul
Today’s international tourist is much more environmentally responsible, and is placing higher priority on green criteria when planning a holiday. South Africa is a long haul destination resulting in a large carbon footprint. A round trip from the UK to Johannesburg costs 1500kg of carbon dioxide per individual. What does this mean for tourism? The tourist may feel morally inclined to visit somewhere closer to home! Luckily South Africa offers many unique qualities which cannot be experienced elsewhere. These relate to its biodiversity, climate, landscape, coastlines, World Heritage sites, cultural diversity, political history and palaeo-biological significance.
In addition to this, South Africa has a seemingly infinite selection of outdoor activities which have always been of interest to tourists wanting to escape the European winter.
Green events and conferencing have been actively implementing green practices for many years in South Africa. More recently the green revolution has extended to guest houses and hotels. A method of green grading has become necessary to guard against green-washing (fake eco-tourism) where operators parade themselves as eco-friendly, whilst involved in activities which continue to exploit or destroy communities and environments.
Green grading ensures the credibility of green establishments, however the one size fits all approach of Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria does not always suit the unique South African situation. This has resulted in the creation of various certification bodies within South Africa for a more applicable approach.
When comparing the number of establishments graded with the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, the numbers of green graded establishments pale in comparison. This is often due to high assessment costs and membership fees, as well as expenses associated with installation of energy-saving devices. As the manageress of a soon-to-be renovated 6-bedroom 4-star guest house in Franschhoek, I can confirm first-hand that quotations relating to the installation of solar panels and heat pumps accumulate to tens of thousands of rand per room. For small guest houses this is a major concern – the tourism market has taken a dip as a result of the recession, and there is no guarantee that the marketing and financial benefits of large capital investments into greening technologies will be realised in the short-term.
The marketing benefits of certification:
- increased internet and media exposure
- the use of internationally recognized logos
- exposure at Trade Fair Shows (eg. Indaba) enables members to share ideas and create green itineraries
- access to green databases and training programmes
- expert assistance when implementing new policies and procedures
How does certification proceed?
The certification process typically involves an online application, followed by an on-site audit where an independent assessor will observe operations and interview members of staff. The adjudication phase will result in the allocation of a grading level as well as written feedback on recommendations. As an example: the Fair Trade Tourism assessment can take 2 – 5 days with extravagant assessor fees of R2750 per day reported in 2010. There is also a mandatory 70% contribution to transport costs.
Certification schemes may do things slightly differently and with varying emphasis, but in general they all mould themselves around reputable international organizations and adopt ethical principles to meet their green objectives. Some have even branched out into different sectors of the economy and have been pioneers in initiatives for the rest of the world to follow.
The value of impact assessment studies should not be underestimated. Impact assessments paint a picture which is often more effective than words in conveying the severity of a situation. Assessments provide quantifiable starting points as well as environmental management strategies which can be monitored and measured. The Green Leaf Eco Standard attempts to quantify the direct impact of accommodation units on the environment so steps can be taken to decrease the carbon footprint of each unit. Tourism establishments are more inclined to buy into concepts and initiatives where performance can be measured and monitored.
Other organizations in the greening game
Green Wilderness was established in 2007. They assess the current status of tourism operations and determine critical changes required to offset the residual carbon footprint without compromising on quality. Members have peace of mind that offset funds are invested in sustainable projects relevant to Southern Africa. These projects include job creation and investments in local green technologies. One example is the award-winning Green Cab – a safe and affordable transport alternative which utilizes biodiesel and liquefied petroleum to reduce the carbon footprint in a measurable way. The Green Cab also addresses under-representation of women in the transport sector by being a female owned and run initiative.
Then there is also the Imvelo Responsible Tourism Awards, established in 2002. This is an annual ceremony to reward the greenest establishments for going the extra mile. Criteria for the awards are in line with the UN World Tourism Organizations Code of Ethics and Imvelo has had a significant impact on increasing our country’s awareness of environmental management.
GreenStaySA originated in 2004 and was particularly influential during World Cup 2010. GreenStaySA is an online self-assessment tool enabling establishments to determine their current environmental performance and providing potential alternatives for reducing the environmental footprint. It provides consulting and training services where necessary, to assist with the implementation of environmental management solutions.
Government provides much-welcomed support
The importance of green growth and developing South Africa’s integrity as a green destination was highlighted by the Minister of Tourism, Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, in his budget vote speech in April 2011. He expressed concern that existing certification schemes lack uniformity and that a National Minimum Standard for Responsible Tourism in South Africa is necessary. The NMSRT will eliminate the potential for ‘green-washing’ and thereby contribute to the development of South Africa’s integrity as a reliable green destination. ‘Green growth’ was one of his 3 growth strategies for SA tourism in the next 10 years, and will be necessary if his policies of ‘New Growth- Shared Growth’ are to be realised.
New Growth aims to create 225000 new jobs & more than double annual foreign tourism figures by 2020. This can only be achieved if the responsible traveller is satisfied with our green initiatives. Shared Growth aims to increase employment in rural communities (especially among women and youth) and promote entrepreneurial activity. This will only be possible through community uplifting projects associated with green tourism.
The new national Standard (NMSRT) will be administered by the widely recognized Tourism Grading Council of South Africa. Existing green grading facilities will need to be accredited with the new national standard to ensure they adhere to the minimum criteria. The national standard will also provide green building guidelines for new, redeveloped or refurbished facilities. Establishments wishing to be certified will need to consider land rights and adopt sustainable construction and building practices.
South Africa is a perfect candidate for green tourism and is approaching the initiative with a positive attitude. This commitment has been demonstrated by the development of the various accreditation schemes over the last decade. Possible future obstacles to green grading are the high costs involved. Once established, the new national standard will need to carefully consider assessment and membership fees, as smaller establishments may otherwise not survive the paradigm shift to green tourism.
With the new legislation now in full support of green growth and assuming co-operation from all areas of the tourism sector, optimists predict that South Africa stands a good chance of achieving the tourism growth objectives set for 2020.
By Kathrin Bell