Environment & Poverty Times
Children from the Reed Valley School taking part in the 3C progamme by planting trees. Amakhala Game Reserve.
Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) - www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbj9vkM9BOc
Reducing poverty and conserving nature through responsible tourism development
By Sarah Van Mill
Located in the Amakhala Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, the Heri- tage Collection is a group of five businesses – four of which are certified by Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa – that epitomize sustainable tourism in action through their commitment to biodiversity, education, business development, training and local procurement.
Tourism is often considered a sector well suited to poverty reduction due to its labour intensive nature, its dependence on natural and cultural resources (which marginalized people often have access to), the diversity of the sector (which facilitates wide par- ticipation including that of women), and the necessary proximity of the customer to the producer (which creates opportunities for formal and informal linkages such as producing and selling curios). Many of the aforementioned opportunities are lost, how- ever, when workers are untrained, unfairly paid and overworked, and when the environ- ment and local culture are not respected. Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), a pioneering non-profit organization that promotes responsible tourism development through a range of activities including the world’s first, and still only, tourism Fair Trade
certification programme, seeks to ensure that the people whose land and resources are used for tourism activities actually benefit from tourism.
An example of FTTSA’s principles in ac- tion is the Heritage Collection, a group of five businesses in the Amakhala Game Reserve of South Africa – four of which are FTTSA-certified. The Amakhala Game Reserve began in 1999 as a joint venture between six families who sought to return marginal farmland to its natural state by reintroducing a variety of flora and fauna, including the so-called Big Five (rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo). Since 1999, the businesses have contrib- uted significantly to conservation, local economic development, social uplift and gender equality. To date, the reserve has created over 107 jobs, 87 of which are for local people. Approximately 80% of these jobs are held by black people and about 60% by women. In cash wage terms, the annual injection into local households is over US$300,000. These are significant achievements, as historically most jobs in the area were for men, because of the pre- dominance of farming. And this success is due to the commitment of the companies to local economic development through the development of local skills.
The Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria
The Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC Partnership) is a coalition of more than 40 organizations working together to foster increased understanding of sustainable tourism practices and the adoption of universal sustainable tourism principles. The Partnership was initiated by the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Foundation, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). These criteria are the minimum standard to which any tourism business should aspire, in order to protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources while ensuring tourism meets its potential as a tool for poverty alleviation.
To develop these criteria, over the course of nearly two years the partnership consulted with sus- tainability experts and the tourism industry and reviewed more than 6 0 existing certification and voluntary sets of criteria already being implemented around the globe. In all, more than 4,500 criteria were analyzed and the resulting draft criteria received comments from over 2,000 stakeholders. Since the launch of the criteria in October 2008 the GSTC Partnership has focused on engaging all tourism stakeholders – from purchasers to suppliers to consumers – to adopt the criteria. To facilitate this, the partnership is developing educational materials and technical tools to guide ho- tels and tour operators through the process of implementing sustainable tourism best practices.
Since the Sustainable Tourism Criteria were introduced, they have progressed from theory to practice as major player in the tourism industry, and have been applied in projects such as: Travelocity launched a Green Travel Directory in January 2009, featuring third-party certified hoteliers that are aligned with the criteria.
• For more information: www.sustainabletourismcriteria.org
The International Hotel & Restaurant Association launched a new sustainable hotelier rec- ognition programme, Emeraude Hotelier, based on the GSTC The German Sustainable Development Cooperation Agency, in cooperation with Rainforest Alliance and others, is financing a project to build capacity among small tour operators in Latin America to align themselves with the criteria. The Egyptian government, with assistance from a host of German allies including EcoTrans, launched a new eco-label in December 2008 called the Green Star Hotel Initiative that is aligned with the criteria.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) launched a sustainability scorecard based on the GSTC to guide its large scale investment decisions in tourism projects in Latin America.
And the city of San Francisco and 172 other cities endorsed the GSTC as the minimum guidelines that lodging and tour operators should adhere to during the 77th Annual Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors.
The GSTC have also been approved as the primary input for the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council, an umbrella organization that will set universal minimum standards for certification programs and accredit those that meet them. This will be a critical component to ensure cred- ibility to the use of the GSTC.
Initially, a shortage of local businesses proved to be an obstacle to local procure- ment, a key tenet of responsible tourism, but the Collection have increased their local procurement by investing in local busi- nesses. For example, a local woman wanted to start up a small business doing laundry for one of the lodges. The owners not only agreed to support her micro-enterprise, but also lobbied the other Collection lodges to do the same, resulting in a new, woman- owned local business.
Similarly, specialized skills such as guiding and cooking are scarce in the area and would typically be sourced externally. To reduce external recruitment of labour, the Collection reached an agreement with a guide trainer to establish a tourist guide training school especially for locals. The first of its kind in South Africa, the three-month Ulovane Envi- ronmental Training programme has created a pool of local black trainee guides who would otherwise struggle to find employment.
Lodge owners also minimize the environmen- tal impacts of tourism through a self-imposed one bed per 50 hectare limit on lodge devel- opment – developed and agreed upon based on the number of beds per hectare needed to ensure commercially viable businesses, the amount of land contributed by each of the
original land owners, and the desire to ensure a minimal carbon footprint. The reserve also utilizes an Off-Road Impact Index (ORI) that minimizes tourist density and environmental impacts. The ORI is completed daily to deter- mine the potential vegetation damage caused by game drives. Depending on rainfall, road conditions, and soil and vegetation type, rang- ers may be prohibited from driving on certain roads at particular times.
The Amakhala Conservation Centre links con- servation, tourism and education, and enables local children to experience the reserve and learn about conservation and tourism. Aware- ness-raising initiatives conducted for staff, their families and the surrounding communi- ties include participation in World Water Day, World Environment Day and World Arbour Day. The Centre also funds a tree planting initiative – 3Cs (carbon, community, conserva- tion) – which has resulted in the planting of 500 indigenous trees since 2006.
Through their commitment to sustainable development and Fair Trade in Tourism principles, the Heritage Collection proves that tourism can meaningfully contribute to poverty reduction and conservation.
About the author: Sarah Van Mill is Research Intern at Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa.
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