Tourism for Tomorrow Newsletter May 2018

WTTC and UN Climate Change announced new partnership to tackle climate change


The World Travel & Tourism Council and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have agreed a common agenda for Climate Action in Travel & Tourism (T&T). Announced at the WTTC Global Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina in April, the Common Agenda sets out a framework for the two organisations to recognise and address the linkages between Travel and Tourism and climate change. 

This common agenda focuses on three central efforts. First, the importance of communicating the nature and importance of the interlinkages between T&T and climate change. Second, the need to raise awareness of the positive contribution T&T can make to building climate resilience. And thirdly, that actions to reduce the contribution of T&T to climate change must be based on meeting science-based targets. Speaking at the summit launch, Chris Nassetta, WTTC Chair and CEO of Hilton, stressed the particular importance of this last effort. 

“Building on the global scientific consensus around decarbonisation efforts that came out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and WTTC’s subsequent call for the dialogue on carbon to turn to science-based targets, now it is time to turn that dialogue into action,” he said. “As Chairman of WTTC, I encourage our Member companies and the wider industry to follow the Paris Climate Agreement and incorporate its objectives into their own actionable science-based targets.”

Sustainable cities focus: Bangkok


This month, to coincide with the 4th UNWTO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism, which takes place from 30 May to 1 June 2018 in Bangkok, our monthly assessment of tourism and sustainability in major urban centres looks at the Thai Capital. Tourism contributes 12 per cent of Thailand’s GDP, with the country receiving 35.4 million tourists in 2017 - equivalent to half its own population and twice as many as in 2010. According to WTTC’s City Travel and Tourism Impact Report for 2017, Bangkok’s relative share of Thailand’s travel & tourism has fallen from 60 per cent in 2006 to 50 per cent in 2016 as other destinations within the country have grown rapidly. Nonetheless, while there has been significant media attention for the stress this growth has put on some of the island’s beaches, the growth in overall numbers of tourists to the country as a whole means the capital city Bangkok is also struggling to deal with issues around overcrowding. 

Even without the influx of tourists, the city’s streets are some of the most crowded in the world. According to the TomTom Traffic Index 2017, Bangkok has the second worst traffic in the world, after Mexico City, with drivers expected to spend 61 per cent extra time each day due to congestion. With transport now responsible for 23 per cent of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, congestion costs Bangkok over 5 percent of GDP and impacts disproportionately on the city’s poorer residents, who spend 25 to 30 per cent of household income on transport.

This year, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has launched a Go Local campaign that looks to redirect international visitors to secondary cities. TAT will monitor the ratio of visitors to main cities as compared to secondary cities, aiming to divert an additional 10 million tourists to these secondary cities, generating an estimated 10 billion baht (US$312 million) in tourism revenue in 2018. 

Although most of the ecolodges and other sustainable accommodation is found along the coasts and in rural areas, the capital city is home to the ecofriendly Bangkok Treehouse, situated on the artificial island of Bang Krachao, known as the Green Lung of Bangkok. There are also several local social enterprises based in the city and working to use tourism to support grassroots initiatives. Courageous Kitchen offers cooking classes and street food tours for tourists, which fund the provision of nutrition and cooking classes for students at risk of poverty, malnutrition, poor education, and exploitation. Meanwhile LocalAlike and Hivesters connect travellers with local communities and responsible tour operators.

Tourism and Development Focus Interview with Judy Kepher Gona, Founder, Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda (STTA)


On June 19-21, the 2018 Green Tourism Africa Summit takes place in Nyeri, Kenya. Organised by Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda (STTA), it seeks to build a common understanding of green tourism development in Africa. WTTC speaks to STTA’s founder Judy Kepher-Gona about the challenges of tourism and sustainable development

WTTC:  From your work with STTA and elsewhere, how do you see tourism best being used to support and promote sustainable development?

JUDY KEPHER GONA: Tourism can be used best to support and promote sustainable development if tourism is truly sustainable. Evidence abounds, through data on best practices and impacts of sustainable tourism, on the adeptness of tourism’s sustainability actions in making effective contributions to addressing sustainability challenges we face today. Such have enabled tourism to promote and support protection of resources, secure livelihoods of host communities, empower host communities to conserve and benefit from resources that attract tourists, create and protect jobs in tourism, support social development in destinations, influence policy through practice, support restoration of lands rights and equity through fair trade, support revitalisation of cultures, support partnerships and promote peace, among other impacts. Therefore the ability of sustainable tourism to support sustainable development is no longer in question.  The big question is whether the scale of documented impacts, is large enough to result in a sustainability revolution at the macro level. 

WTTC: What do you see as the biggest challenges to it achieving this, and how would you address them?

Until now, much of the effort has come from private sector in different destinations, supported mainly by national, regional and international civil society organisations, with little support from government. Commendably, these efforts have created awareness in the industry and led to global efforts to develop sustainable tourism standards through initiatives like GSTC.  However, owing to limited resources that hamper support for implementation and lack of enforcement abilities by facilitating organisations like GSTC, the uptake has been slow. A good example is Kenya. Kenya launched its sustainable certification scheme for accommodation facilities more than 20 years ago. To date, only a small percentage of tourism accommodation facilities are eco-rated. Achieving scale is a big challenge. 

Closely related the issue of uptake and scale is limited resources available to organisations facilitating certification schemes. GSTC, like many regional and national certification schemes, are struggling with funding. This limits their ability to monitor, undertake advocacy and do continuous assessment of trends and best practices. Many end up relying on fees from certification for operations. Focus then shifts from certification being used for improving practice in tourism, to a fundraising tool for these organisations. 

Another challenge to tourism being used to support and promote sustainable development is skepticism by tourism operators. Lack of enforcement of standards and competing sustainable tourism programs have left industry skeptical of the agenda. Some see it as a civil society agenda to raise funds through high certification fees, and create opportunities for themselves, a perception most likely to demonise tourism.

Worth noting also, is that the character and structure of tourism as a sector also frustrates its efforts to link to sustainable development.  Tourism is made up of many small and micro enterprises that only need a little space, either physical or digital, to operate. This affects enterprise attachment to places, attractions and products promoted, with noted variations in level of attachment to each. Often, enterprises tend to attach value to the client, at a near complete disregard to the product or experience they promote. The consequential disconnect from an overall integrated attachment to product attributes is hard to change, and discredits support for a sustainability agenda in tourism, for both the developing and developed worlds. 

For many developing countries, the perception that tourism is a trade and not a profession is a challenge. Rules of entry in tourism as an operator are very fluid. This means many operators enter the industry and learn the ropes and rules while in the business. Retraining these operators to rethink sustainable tourism is expensive for most destinations. 

At a global level, the message sent by leading organisations, is that numbers are critical for tourism growth. The statistics relayed on performance are always about numbers. It is not about value based reporting. This messaging gives private sector and governments, confidence to continue their quest for numbers, without much attention to sustainability. This is why we see a big disconnect between competitive destination index and SDGs. 

WTTC: What policies are needed to deliver sustainable development?

JUDY: In order to fuel existing awareness and action related to sustainable tourism into a revolution to effectively support and promote sustainable development, public and private sector must work together, to realise the required scale for a revolution. SDG17, on partnerships, is therefore key to catalysing tourism to support and promote sustainable development. Yet the call for partnerships in tourism is not new. The first global call to action for tourism sector to embrace sustainability, the Agenda 21 for Sustainable Travel & Tourism, is anchored on private public partnerships for sustainable development of the sector. Likewise, present day Tourism must uphold its devotion for partnerships, and build scale in order to support and promote sustainable development.

Imperative for the partnerships is their commitment to issues that define a truly sustainable tourism development approach. Specifically, a fair amount of attention, if not equal, must be given to measuring, monitoring and reporting impact of tourism, as that given to reporting arrivals. The change must begin with leading global tourism organisations in order to influence government and destinations, then operators will follow. Most governments, especially in developing countries, treat tourism as the ‘goose that lays the golden egg.’ As such little effort is put in management of tourism, and sometimes management is limited to licensing, and marketing. The licensing is majorly to collect taxes. This fuels the quest for numbers, oblivious of the potential risks of tourism activities exceeding limits of tourism growth in destinations. Thus regulation to guide sustainable growth in tourism is urgent.

Still, imperatives for the integration of sustainability in industry practice are lacking across multiple destinations, and micro enterprises in the sector pursue sustainability out of their own volition. The transition of standards from voluntary to regulated practices through state agencies is a sure way for tourism to support and promote sustainable development, especially if standards are aligned to SDGs and sector targets are set each year. 

Additionally, attention should be given to consumer focused / driven efforts to drive the desirable change towards sustainable tourism so that tourism supports and promotes sustainable development. This will address challenges related to character of the sector.

Destinations need effective progressive policies to reorganise and manage tourism. The sector has more than 100 certifications schemes globally, not to mention the awards, and the GSTC standards. All these are resources that if properly harnessed through destinations policies and global calls for actions, would transform tourism to support and promote sustainable development.

Government takes over development of tourism infrastructure in destinations, on behalf of host / resident community, then invites private sector to operate. By doing this, they can develop tourism in line with the SDGs, and make tourism contribute to SDGs. The supposed cost of transformation from unsustainable to sustainable practices is hindering many operators from transitioning to sustainable forms of tourism.

Progressive policies would result in visitor management. Visitor numbers should be actively managed by taking away focus of measuring tourism growth in numbers of arrivals to measuring growth based on economic impact and social impact.

Affirmative action to supporting community based tourism to become competitive is vital. Community based tourism has potential to address rural poverty as it brings revenue directly to communities. In developing countries, revenue from community tourism is used in social projects like education, healthcare, and water, which are target areas in the SDGs.

However, policies without targets will not achieve much. So it has to be a stepwise approach that starts with assessing where tourism is today and its impacts and setting indicators for measuring its impact. This must be followed by requirements to disclose social and environmental considerations made by operators each year to make operations sustainable.

WTTC: Looking specifically at tourism and conservation, how best can the industry promote tourism's potential to support vital conservation efforts?

Judy: There are many good actions to compel tourism to respond to vital conservation efforts, but they are fragmented and come from other sectors, mainly civil society, and conservation NGOs whom tourism often ignores. This hampers effective attention and action by tourism to vital conservation efforts. 

In Kenya, for example, where the industry relies heavily of wildlife, actions by tourism to respond to vital conservation efforts remain wanting. There has never been an industry statement to condemn poaching or even contribute resources to support conservation efforts. A recent example has been the case of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino. The industry was happy to use Sudan to sell Ol Pejeta Conservancy where he resided, but not to organise to support the efforts to save Sudan. This same industry will rally together and issue hundreds of statements, when there is a security issue that threatens visitor arrivals. 

In general, the industry can promote tourism potential to support vital conservation efforts by joining the highest table and adding voice to efforts like climate action by breaking it down for tourism and making commitments and set targets for the sector. This is a call to UNWTO and WTTC. 

Airbnb and Handicap International work together for greater inclusion

Airbnb Logo

Airbnb and, the new information platform created by Handicap International, recently announced the introduction of 19 new accessibility criteria on the home sharing platform for people with reduced mobility.

Airbnb’s new accessibility features and filters therefore allow guests to search for listings that are much more suited to individual needs. The 21 new accessibility filters now include refinements such as Step-free access, Flat path to front door, Accessible-height bed, Wide doorway, and Roll-in shower with chair. Previously, guests on Airbnb were only able to search for 'wheelchair accessible’ listings, which did not always meet travelers’ individual needs.

“Handicap International is very proud to be working with Airbnb on inclusion,” said Manuel Patrouillard, Managing Director, Humanity & Inclusion at Handicap International. “We are providing our expertise in accessibility and raising awareness of the importance of welcoming people with all types of disabilities. This partnership is now bearing fruit, since the Airbnb platform now offers numerous filters to enable people to find homes which fit their needs. The new filters also put the spotlight on inclusion in travel - something which is a major issue for disabled people worldwide. It can be extremely difficult for people with disabilities to travel, so this is a great foundation to build upon, so that holidays can be accessible to all.”

TreadRight Foundation introduces shepherd dogs to address leopard threat


The TreadRight Foundation has partnered with leading conservation organisations Cheetah Outreach and The Cape Leopard Trust to ensure local communities can protect themselves and their livestock from a top predator responsibly and sustainably, while also helping protect one of Africa’s most endangered wild animals.   

The Cape Leopard is one of the few predators at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat and its surrounding region in the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa. As local human populations have grown, so too have the number of encounters and conflicts between the rare Cape Leopards, people, and their livestock. This has led to an increase in instances of Cape Leopards attacking domestic livestock over the past several decades, risking not only depletion of essential domestic animal populations, but also significant, irrecoverable damage to economic and social wellbeing of local communities. Consequentially, this has caused there to be a sharp increase in the number of Cape Leopards killed by farmers. 

Bushmans Kloof and TreadRight, working with neighbouring farmers, has found and funded a natural resolution:  three Anatolian Shepherd dogs have now come to Bushmans Kloof as livestock guardian dogs, with more to follow. Originating in the hills of central Turkey, for generations these animals have used their strong and sturdy anatomy, sharp eyesight and hearing, and exceptional speed and agility, to protect vulnerable livestock at risk of becoming prey to local predators. Born and bred guardians, the Anatolian Shepherds offer a unique solution for Bushmans Kloof and the surrounding region. 

Asilia tops Fair Trade Tourism survey of safari certification standards


East African safari company Asilia was found to have the highest percentage of properties rated at best practice level according to GSTC accredited certification schemes, in a new review of certification across safari camps and lodges undertaken by Fair Trade Tourism. The survey, conducted across eight countries on the continent, found that Asilia has 48% of its properties certified at best-practice responsible tourism level, Wilderness Safaris has 42%,  Great Plains 29%, Elewana Collection 27%, Serena and Classic Safari Africa both have 14%, and Sanctuary and &Beyond both have 10% of their properties certified at best-practice level. 

“We congratulate all tourism companies that achieve best-practice certification - it is not only a testament to their commitment to doing the right thing, but to their impressive level of transparency,” said Jane Edge, Fair Trade Tourism Managing Director. “We believe independent auditing against globally respected standards is the only credible way to verify responsible tourism claims.” 

In addition, Asilia is the only safari company in Africa to be certified by the Global Impact Investment Rating System.  Ranked at Platinum Level, Asilia is in the top 10 of impact companies worldwide.

Lyft to make all rides carbon neutral through offset purchases


US based rideshare company Lyft announced recently that all of its rides will be offset to be carbon neutral from now on. The company’s founders committed Lyft to the move through the direct funding of emission mitigation efforts, including the reduction of emissions in the automotive manufacturing process, renewable energy programs, forestry projects, and the capture of emissions from landfills. 

The company is working with partner 3Degrees, who will oversee the independent verification of all projects and ensure that Lyft only supports emission reductions that are new and would not have happened without Lyft’s investment (in other words this means they are ‘additional’). The majority of these projects will happen near the company’s largest markets, and all the projects will be US-based. 

Lyft is also a member of the 'We Are Still In' coalition of states and companies pledging their support to the Paris climate goals regardless of White House policy. Other tourism signatories include Airbnb, Green Travel Media, Lindblad Expeditions, Natural Habitat Adventures, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, and numerous individual US resorts.

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Written and edited by Jeremy Smith

Tourism for Tomorrow in the news: A selection of news articles from last month