France has emerged the world leader in promoting sustainable tourism, in a new report that ranks which countries are best at preserving their social, cultural and environmental capital. Radio Sputnik spoke with Randy Durband, chief executive officer at Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).
Sputnik: What is sustainable tourism?
Randy Durband: Yeah, very good. You get the same number of answers to what sustainable tourism is as the number of people you ask. There is tremendous amount of confusion about it. In 2005 the UN, UNWTO and UNEP put together a single sentence definition which is quite good. We think that the GSTC criterion is the best large definition because tourism includes so many different facets. First of all tourism is often referred to as one industry but it’s really many industries. Aviation, rental cars, hotels, attractions and so forth. So it’s very complex. Sustainability and tourism is far more complex that sustainability of one commodity and I think that contributes to the confusion.
That’s the big problem that there is very little awareness of the breadth and depth of all the issues and sustainable tourism. At the GSTC we see the term sustainable tourism as aspiration. UNWTO says the exactly same thing that there is really no truly sustainable tourism practiced, practically anywhere. If it’s practiced anywhere it’s a very small business or very small destination. But we see it as a pathway, an aspiration, a set of principles to aspire to.
Sputnik: Photographs of people coming together to clean beaches, or coral reefs and oceans where there is an accumulation of plastic often appear on social media, can that somehow help to create awareness?
Randy Durband: I agree with you and I think the great value to what you suggest is two-fold. One is you are getting things cleaned up, it might be temporary but more importantly is that you are creating a mindset. If someone volunteers to clean up, whether they are a visitor or a resident of that community they learn powerful lessons and hopefully they then inspire others. We have seen programs in various places around the world where destinations will teach school children about not littering, and then the children go on scolding mom and dad later when they are on a family picnic and that can be an effective way.
So what you are saying is a combination of things: social media teach the kids, put up sign posts, create awareness campaigns, and create brigades of volunteers to do the cleanup. All those things are necessary because we need to change the mindset of people all over the world about being cleaner, because we just have so many of us on the planet that we don’t have the luxury anymore to just keep throwing things in the oceans or on the land.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.