How authentic are those Sustainability credentials?

samburu elephants

“Authentic sustainability credentials should reflect in the health of a destination and wealth of the host communities. I strongly believe we cannot have a healthy ecosystem without a wealthy community”- @GonaJudy

Everyone has jumped into the sustainability bandwagon. Some have faked it (green washed)  until they made it. Good news. Others are still faking it (Green washing). The sad thing is that they are receiving attention. The numerous awards and certification programs have not helped.

I have always had a problem with certification and award programs that don’t provide for field assessment of applicants. They have encouraged armchair sustainability champions who hire PR experts to complete their certification and award applications and to create amazing sustainable tourism policies  for businesses whose directors have never passed a resolution on sustainable tourism. The staffs too are clueless on the concept. There is no plan.

Yet with each passing day, media is awash with winners of this and that sustainable tourism award. At this rate we may end up with a growing list of sustainability operators but not commensurate positive impact on destinations (both ecological and socio-economic).

I know of hundreds of award winning destinations and operations in Africa. Most of these destinations are wildlife conservation areas and the operators are based in these conservation areas. Their award winning practices revolve around benefiting host communities and supporting conservation of iconic species. So why is Africa loosing its big mammals and cats at such alarming rates despite many awards won by tourism operators for supporting conservation? Why do host communities in wildlife dispersal areas in Africa still kill wildlife in retaliation from human wildlife conflicts yet everyone is winning awards for benefiting communities from sustainable tourism? Which brings us to another question. Will sustainable tourism save destinations? That’s for another day

One may argue that there is nothing wrong with ad hoc sustainability actions provided they are meeting a desired outcome. True, but how do you explain the disconnect between the winning trends for businesses and the continued losses for biodiversity and dissatisfaction of host communities (common good)? 

“What you don’t measure, you can’t manage.” This quote summarises my belief that a truly credible sustainable tourism operation must have sustainability plan, have a goal and targets, have a monitoring and reporting system. These plans should be measurable in terms of investment and impact. It is the transformative value of these plans that should be considered during awards and certifications, not un-coordinated actions of kindness that make the business look good. Short cuts will benefit the businesses but not the people and places we depend on for tourism

The quest for sustainability in tourism needs to shift gear from rewarding activities to rewarding impact. And every claim must be assessed!


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