Travel sector ‘must drive sustainability take-up’, says Sustainable Tourism Council chief

The path to sustainability can’t wait for consumers to demand it. Ian Taylor reports

The travel industry needs to move beyond waiting for consumers to request sustainable tourism products and work to provide them.

That is the view of Randy Durband, chief executive of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), who insisted: “Traveller demand for sustainable products is growing, but it’s a challenge to find them.”

Durband told the GSTC conference in Seville in December: “So many businesses have said for so many years ‘travellers are not asking for this’. As an industry, we have to move beyond ‘the traveller is not asking for sustainability’ and make it available.”


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He suggested a focus on price at the point of purchase was unlikely to disappear, arguing: “The psychology of the travel purchase is dominated by price because if you’ve already selected a range of destinations, what are you looking at? Not many of us are interested in anything but price at the point of purchase.”

The GTSC is a non-profit organisation created by the UN Environment Programme and UN World Tourism Organization and charged with developing sustainable tourism standards and programmes to drive their adoption.

It produced GSTC industry criteria in 2008 (updated in 2012 and 2016) and destination criteria in 2013 (updated in 2019) and has begun to develop criteria for meetings (MICE) and attractions.

Durband conceded: “Nobody has done much research on the impact of certification on consumer choice.” But he argued: “Preferred contracting is the incentive. If a wholesale customer gives priority to sustainability, that is a powerful incentive. Major buyers can move at scale.”

He continued: “Certification is driven by the big players. Our heart is in supporting SMEs, but if we want to effect change, we have to build systems based on scale. We have to drive the big guys and that will drive the systems. The pathway to making this accessible and affordable to SMEs is to drive it at scale.”

Durband noted: “Our criteria were developed for tour operators and hotels but are relevant for any kind of tourism business. These are truly global standards, relevant from Brussels to Beijing.

“There is nothing else like them in tourism. Big brands with teams of lawyers like the credibility of our systems.”

He reported: “During Covid we grew tremendously. Many public sector organisations came to us. We now have 28 national members, and many state and provincial members. Things are moving slowly but going in the right direction.”

GSTC members include Tui, Jet2holidays, easyJet holidays, Booking.com, Google Travel, Intrepid Travel, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Accor, IHG, Hilton, Airbnb and Hotelbeds.

Durband noted “it’s difficult to comply with the whole of the GSTC criteria” so the council recommends a phased move towards compliance, suggesting businesses try to meet 14 of the 42 GSTC criteria by self-assessment by the end of 2024, 28 by 2026 and seek full accreditation by 2028.

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