Tourism, sustainability, and certification

In many ways the next few years cannot be treated as business as usual. It heralds a new period of time where societal, economic and environmental uncertainty and disruption have become the norm. It is now clear that not only is regional and global climate change a reality but there are other hazards and vulnerabilities that need to be factored into our business plans. Managing risk, building resilience and factoring in adaptation and recovery responses are now required as standard operating procedures.

With the gradual easing of travel restrictions across the world people will once again start to leave their homes in search of reconnection with the outside world and their own re-creation. Given that international travel will remain constrained for a considerable period of time (2-3) years local and domestic tourism will provide the green shoots in a post COVID-19 environment. While it can be expected that people will initially start travelling to sites closer to home this will gradually extend to longer day trips, overnight stays and then extended breaks as the wider economy opens up.

Our current research indicates that hygiene, general visitor safety and cleanliness will be front and centre for all destinations, precincts and businesses as we move into a reset and recover phase in the next months. Spending time with family and friends will increase in importance and visiting them will be a key motivator for travel. The great outdoors are likely to boom as travellers shift their preferences and avoid crowded places and the benefits of the outdoors on mental health are realised.

It is now clear that the post COVID-19 conscious consumer will begin to scrutinise every aspect of a destination, business and supply chain. Some organisations will genuinely achieve these aims, others will falsely claim they have, and some just simply don’t care. Some would like to, but don’t know how. One way of rewarding the businesses or destinations that are truly complying with these goals is by giving them credible (independent) third party recognition. Certification is a tool for doing so, and here we have developed some guides for you. 

The certification 4 way test

A code to guide a review of sustainability programs

Download Checklist

An ocean of labels

Navigating the world of certification

Download Guide

Certification versus accreditation

The following ISO definitions are applied: certification is the award given to a business, product, process, or service, while “accreditation” is the process of qualifying, endorsing and licensing entities that perform certification. In other words, accreditation is certifying the certifier.

At its core certification is a way of ensuring that an activity or a product meets certain standards. Within the tourist industry, different organisations have developed certification programs measuring different aspects of tourism: (a) quality, for the entire tourist industry, (b) sustainability, also for all sectors, and (c) ecotourism, for sustainable tourism that takes place in natural, protected, or fragile ecosystems, and (d) health & hygiene, also for all sectors.

Certification sets standards and helps distinguish genuine sustainable (and/or hygienic) tourism businesses from others that make claims that cannot be substantiated, or merely indicate a desire to act in a specific way. This helps to protect the integrity of these concepts.

Certification is not an end in itself. It is one of a number of tools for motivating businesses and others to improve their environmental, social, and economic performance, while rewarding them for doing so. These rewards are sometimes tangible and sometimes not.

Benefits for businesses

  • Certification helps businesses to improve themselves: undertaking a certification process is educational. Many certified businesses have stated that one of the greatest benefits of the certification process was to teach them the elements of sustainability (risk, resilience and hygiene included) in their operations and focus their attention on the changes they needed to make in their businesses. A better-operating business tends to be more efficient and to attract more clients and is reported to lead to more engaged and supportive employees.
  • Certification tends to reduce operating costs. This has been found in almost every type of business certification. In tourism, it has been shown to dramatically reduce the costs of water, electricity, and fossil fuels, without reducing the quality of service. We have independent research from Griffith University, using our data, supports this claim.
  • The process of implementing certification of sustainable tourism is often accompanied by easier access to technical assistance and financing for businesses to implement new technology – the business is educated about these technologies, while donors and financial institutions are more likely to offer low-cost financing. We are doing a huge amount in sustainable finance and green bonds at the moment. Liquidity and confidence are key pillars here.
  • Certification can provide a marketing advantage to certified businesses, as consumers learn to recognise credible certification brands. This has happened in other industries, such as organic foods, wood products, clothing, wine, etc...

Benefits for consumers

  • Certification provides visitors and guests with environmentally and socially responsible choices – it helps consumers to know which businesses are truly socially and environmentally responsible and to make choices on this basis. EarthCheck Certified is considered the leading certification program in the tourism industry and our clients see tangible benefits in their reputation and popularity.
  • Certification in general increases public awareness of responsible business practices.
  • Certification can alert tourists to the environmental and social issues in an area, allowing them to act more respectfully or contribute to solutions.
  • Certified businesses and destinations tend to offer better quality service

Benefits for governments

  • Certification helps governments protect their market niches as sustainable tourism destinations, especially when the credibility of the destination is threatened by greenwashing or building back confidence post COVID-19.
  • Certification raises industry standards in health, safety, environment, and social stability.
  • It lowers the regulatory costs of environmental protection.
  • By channelling economic benefits to communities, certification can help reduce poverty, especially in rural areas.