Increasing numbers of destinations are striving for the “sustainable” label, but what does sustainability mean when we’re talking about an entire city or region?
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council, a group loosely affiliated with the United Nations World Tourism Organization, has been attempting to supply an answer. The GSTC, its volunteer Destinations Working Group (I am a member), and contributors from around the world have proposed over 30 criteria for what constitutes a sustainable destination. The GSTC is now requesting your opinion and has extended the deadline for filing your comments.
Given the GSTC’s three-year effort and its extensive U.N.-related partnerships, there’s a good chance these criteria will become enshrined as internationally accepted guidelines for destination stewardship. Aided by Sustainable Travel International, members of the Destinations Working Group have done the best job we could on this very complex question. Not surprisingly, we’re not always in agreement.
So it may be worth a bit of your time to offer your thoughts, especially since six “early adopter” destinations have already signed on. They are:
- Okavango Delta, Botswana
- Jackson Hole, Wyoming
- Huangshan, China
- St. Kitts–Nevis, Caribbean
- Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain
- Fjordland, Norway
Several additional applications are pending. These places are committing to follow the GSTC criteria, so it’s important that the criteria be worth following. Through March 15, 2013, the floor will be open to any thoughtful stakeholder—business, nonprofit, resident, past visitor and aspiring visitor—who wants to comment on these guidelines.
So take the consultation survey. It divides the criteria into four sections:
- Sustainable Management
- Well-being and Cultural Heritage
What do you think?
As you review the criteria, questions may occur:
• Are they culturally biased?
• Are some criteria irrelevant for sustainability?
• Do they anticipate the many things that can degrade or uplift destination quality—pollution, cultural impacts, scenic issues, tourism management, appropriate architecture and landscapes, health of local businesses, community benefit for residents, and quality travel experiences for visitors?
• Most important perhaps, in this era of globalization, do the criteria sufficiently address all those things that make one destination experience differ from another and contribute to a distinctive sense of place?
Be prepared to spend some time—at least half an hour or more. Rather than fussing too much over the wording, instead look for what’s missing, or what shouldn’t be there in the first place.
This is Big Picture time. The GSTC is trying to cope with one of the major megatrends of our times: The erosion of authenticity and distinctiveness in destination tourism. At stake are the quality of the world’s destinations—and thereby the very value of travel itself.
So tell us what you think. Do it now.