Responsible tourism gets the green light

Did you know that South Africa is the seventh most biodiverse country in the world? We are a nation that promotes tourism which positively affects the upliftment of its communities, while not affecting our ecological and natural resources. Ecotourism is closely linked to responsible tourism, which is characterised by the involvement of the industry stakeholders and close monitoring to ensure a progressive impact on communities and the environment is always maintained. Responsible tourism also helps economic growth for local people and communities.  

South African tourism takes the role of responsible tourism seriously and is always trying to encourage, support and facilitate the use of eco-friendly practices.  Several platforms have been established, all working towards a greener industry. This includes Fair Trade Tourism South Africa, which provides a guide for visitors wishing to experience sustainable tourism initiatives in South Africa, and the Sustainable Tourism Alliance, which strives to promote an understanding of sustainable tourism.

Many South African players are proud of their work in this area to date, and the kudos that has accompanied it. For example, in 2009, three South African lodges were named among National Geographic magazine’s top global eco-lodges. The industry continues to come up with innovative ways to uphold the environmental imperative and support the green economy, whether it’s through the incorporation of sustainable strategies such as the reuse of grey water in hotel design, or offering green activities and incentives, like spoor tracking in the wild or visiting a cultural village.

The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) salutes these efforts, reports Daryl Erasmus, the organisation’s Chief Quality Assurance Officer. He notes that sustainable tourism has been identified as a priority by the TGCSA, and steps are being taken to ensure that this becomes a key criterion for graded establishments going forward.

Erasmus explains that TGCSA reviews its grading criteria every three years. “This ensures that we remain relevant and up to date with global trends – important, because this is a space that changes rapidly,” he observes. The criteria review is an extensive and collaborative process between the TGCSA and the hospitality industry.

The current review commenced early this year and is scheduled for completion in November 2016. Erasmus reports that there has been a repeated call for the greater consideration of responsible tourism in the criteria – and when the industry talks, TGCSA listens. The questionnaires completed by establishments, undergoing assessments to achieve their star grading, already include responsible tourism criteria, largely related to the use of water, waste and energy management. Yet, it should be noted that this section of the criteria will receive greater emphasis and prominence going forward, according to Erasmus.

This isn’t the first time the TGCSA is putting responsible tourism on the agenda. The organisation was called upon to assist the National Department of Tourism (NDT) with the formulation of its Minimum Standard for Responsible Tourism (SANS116) which are currently housed at the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS).

“It’s an area that is set to become ever more important, going forward,” Erasmus confirms.

In the meantime, there are plenty of establishments that South African and international travellers alike can book if they’re seeking a green establishment. Chief considerations should be the hotel or lodge’s efforts to promote conservation, as well as its interactions with the community. Ideally, there should be a financial benefit for the community – but that’s not all. The establishment should also facilitate meaningful interactions between guests and community members, and should consult them in all decisions that will have a bearing on their lives.

Ultimately, ecotourism is a model with benefits for all concerned. By nurturing respect for the environment and communities, and fostering an appreciation for them, visitors develop a true love and desire to protect them.