During the GSTC Sustainable Tourism Training online course in April, key topics related to the "business case for sustainability" were discussed, including the role of certification in promoting sustainable tourism practices and encouraging long-term positive business impacts.
Here are some take-aways and lessons learned from the course related to this topic.
Certification and Continuous Improvement
One of the key underlying themes when discussing the global sustainable tourism standard - as emphasized in this presentation by GSTC CEO Randy Durband (Global Sustainable Tourism Conference - October 2016) - is continuous improvement.
Sustainability is not one static point to set as a goal, but commitment to continue improving performance by applying best practices and implementing innovations. And certification as a mechanism can be a part of encouraging continuous improvement in sustainability practices among tourism industry stakeholders.
To maintain certification, organizations are required to be re-certified at regular intervals, which is an opportunity for strengthening motivation for employee engagement internally, and for engaging customers and partners through communications about sustainability achievements and initiatives.
For example, Innovation Norway’s Sustainable Destination certification program, which was one of the case studies shared during the GSTC training online course, participating destinations are required to publish and report on 10 indicators annually.
Ensuring Long-Term Commitment
Staff turnover is a critical issue in travel and tourism. When engaged in processes that require continuous improvement over multiple years (such as sustainability certification), how can tourism organizations ensure long-term commitment?
One solution to this problem may be to work on establishing a sustainability management structure within the organization with interconnected groups, each responsible for monitoring, documenting and reporting on its respective area. This could help minimize the impact of one person (or a few people) leaving the organization.
Here is an example of such a structure, from TUI Group:
(Source: TUI Group, Better Holidays, Better World Report 2016)
Another key question on this issue is how to ensure smooth transition in terms of knowledge transfer. Proper documentation of sustainability efforts is needed for this purpose, so that it’s easy to track who does what, what has been done so far, and what needs to be done moving forward.
Beyond Achieving a Label
Achieving certification in sustainable tourism is not a matter of ticking off the check list, but an ongoing process of implementing positive change within the organization.
So in addition to (and after) achieving a certain certification label, how should a tourism organization keep the momentum going for continuous improvement in sustainability practices?
- Implement ongoing sustainability training as part of organization-wide skills development efforts (not just for "sustainability coordinator" positions). Prioritizing sustainability skills helps enhance the “culture of sustainability” within the organization, which in turn helps create an environment where employees are more engaged and motivated.
- Produce a sustainability report on an ongoing basis, and engage your team in the process. Use the report as a way to encourage employee-led sustainability initiatives. Allowing employees to publicly share what they’re proud of will help motivate them towards continuous improvement.
- Apply for awards. Regardless of the outcome, participating in award programs can be a rewarding experience that allows you to reflect on your current sustainability practices and assess where you’d like to improve. If you do win, whether it’s an international award program - such as the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, Sustainable Destinations Top 100 - or a local program, that will of course offer additional marketing benefits to help spread the word about your sustainability achievements to an even wider audience.