Development Crossing

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability

With a strong focus on sustainable tourism, Kelly Bricker, Chair of the Board of Directors for The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), recently shared some of her thoughts with us. A big thank you to Kelly for taking the time out of her busy schedule.

1. Can you provide a brief overview of the International Ecotourism Society? How does the organization achieve its vision of uniting communities, conservation, and sustainable travel?

Founded in 1990, TIES is the largest and oldest ecotourism organization in the world dedicated to promoting and disseminating information about ecotourism and sustainable tourism. TIES currently has members in over 90 countries including tour operators, lodge owners and managers, academics, consultants, conservation professionals, governments, architects, development experts, NGO’s, the media, and travelers. As a non-governmental organization, TIES is unique in its efforts to provide
guidelines and standards, training, technical assistance, research and publications to foster sound ecotourism development.

TIES defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and
improves the well-being of local people." This means that those who implement and participate in
ecotourism activities should follow the following principles:

• Minimize impact.
• Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
• Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
• Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
• Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
• Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate.

TIES promotes responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people by:

• creating an international network of individuals, institutions and the tourism industry;
• educating tourists and tourism professionals; and
• influencing the tourism industry, public institutions and donors to integrate the principles of ecotourism into their operations and policies.

As the world’s oldest and largest international ecotourism association, TIES seeks to be the global source of knowledge and advocacy uniting communities, conservation, and sustainable travel.

2. What do you feel are the top three challenges facing the ecotourism industry over the next 12 to 18 months?

The world is facing a huge economic crisis—which obviously impacts the communities and places we travel to and support through travel efforts. Certainly the economy is a challenge. The second challenge would be keeping the focus on sustainable development during difficult economic times. We must continue to consider the environmental and social outcomes of the industry as well as provide diversification within communities to see through difficult economic times. Ongoing is the challenge of continued conflicts in many parts of the world. These conflicts impact all of us and close down opportunities for sustainable tourism opportunities.

3. Do you expect the current downturn in the global economy to hurt or strengthen the shift towards sustainable tourism?

Interesting question. I feel that in some cases it may take the eye off the ball to some degree. I think especially through economic downturns, it is all the more reason to focus on how we do business, and how to sustain businesses through the low periods. Sustainable tourism is all about economic efficiency, as well as sustaining the planet in which so many ecosystem services are provided—so perhaps it will help us all reshape our thinking on how things are done.

4. What advice do you have for individuals looking to be more responsible in their travels, but feel overwhelmed by the increased “noise” in the ecotourism industry? (i.e. With the growing number of “sustainable” claims by tour operators and regions, it has become increasingly difficult to separate the good from the bad)

We have a great document available to our membership called “your travel choice makes a difference.” This is a helpful guide for tourists encouraging them to ask questions of the accommodations and tours they are interested in. I think, as with most situations, the tourist must take control and be diligent about finding out how their choice of operator or accommodation impacts the community and destination etc.

In addition, as a concerned group of dedicated sustainable tourism advocates, we understand the difficulties the consumer faces as well as the operator in choosing the ‘right thing to do’. Recognized by the industry, NGO’s, conservation groups and many stakeholders, there is a great initiative called the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria Partnership and the development of the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council to accredit tourism certification programs—generally so the industry as a whole is all working towards a common language.

We have put together a fact sheet on the GSTC efforts to date.

The Global Partnership for the Sustainable Tourism Criteria (STC Partnership) is a coalition of 26 organizations working together to foster increased understanding of sustainable tourism practices and the adoption of universal sustainable tourism principles. The Partnership, which was initiated by Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the United Nations Foundation, will launch the Sustainable Tourism Criteria at the World Conservation Congress in October 2008. These criteria will be the minimum standard that any tourism business should aspire to reach in order to protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources while ensuring tourism meets its potential as a tool for poverty alleviation.

Additional members of the STC Partnership Steering Committee are the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST), Choice Hotels, Conde Nast Traveler, Conservation International (CI), the Convention on Biological Diversity, ECOTRANS, Expedia, Inc., Federation of Tour Operators (FTO), Hyatt Hotels, Instituto do Hospitalidade, International Hotel & Restaurant Association (IH&RA), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Kenyan Ecotourism Society, Sabre/Travelocity, Sustainable Travel International, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Tauck World Discovery, Tourism Concern, the United Nations World Tourism Organization, VISIT, and Solimar International.

Background and Objectives
Sustainable tourism is on the rise: consumer demand is growing, travel industry suppliers are developing new green programs, and governments are creating new policies to encourage sustainable practices in tourism. But what does sustainable tourism really mean and how can it be measured and credibly demonstrated to build consumer confidence, promote efficiency, and fight greenwashing?

In an effort to come to a common understanding of sustainable tourism, the STC Partnership is developing a set of baseline criteria organized around the four pillars of sustainable tourism: effective sustainability planning; maximizing social and economic benefits to the local community; reduction of negative impacts to cultural heritage; and reduction of negative impacts to environmental heritage.

To develop these criteria, the partnership consulted with sustainability experts and the tourism industry and reviewed more than 60 existing certification and voluntary sets of criteria already being implemented around the globe. In all, more than 4,500 criteria have been analyzed and the resulting draft criteria have received comments from over 1000 stakeholders. When the consultation process is complete and the criteria are launched in October 2008, the partnership will focus on engaging all tourism stakeholders – from purchasers to suppliers to consumers – to adopt the criteria. To facilitate this, the partnership will develop educational materials and technical tools to guide hotels and tour operators through the process of implementing sustainable tourism best practices. Some of the expected uses of the criteria include the following:

• Serve as basic guidelines for businesses of all sizes to become more sustainable, and help businesses choose sustainable tourism programs that fulfill these global criteria;
• Serve as guidance for travel agencies in choosing suppliers and sustainable tourism programs;
• Help consumers identify sound sustainable tourism programs and businesses;
• Serve as a common denominator for media to recognize sustainable tourism providers;
• Help certification and other voluntary programs ensure that their standards meet a broadly-accepted baseline;
• Offer governmental, non-governmental and private sector programs a starting point for developing sustainable tourism requirements; and
• Serve as baseline guidelines for education and training bodies such as hotel schools and Universities.

To view and register comments on the criteria and learn more, visit www.SustainableTourismCriteria.org.

5. Are there any best practice examples that you could share from around the world where tourism is not only having a positive impact on the environment, but also alleviating poverty and providing other benefits to local communities?

There are many examples—but as soon as I mention one, I have left out someone. So will refrain for now. However there are terrific programs that recognize best practice examples including the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, Ashoka’s Changemakers Awards, etc. I suggest people that are interested where tourism is making a difference check out some of the programs that have won these awards over the years.

6. Any additional thoughts?
Thank you for the opportunity to add my thoughts!

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Just a heads up, we'll be relaunching the interview series in the coming weeks!

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