Adopting sustainable practices has become a necessity rather than a choice for the tourism industry of our country, especially after what the global economic downturn has taught us by visibly demonstrating how drastically the tourism industry can be affected with any negative alteration in the economic, environmental, or social scenarios occurring worldwide. Achieving sustainability tops the list in strategies that the world economies are adopting to recover from the downturn, and there is an increased level of awareness on the impacts that climate change has on all sectors including tourism. For India, Kerala Tourism is taking the lead in actually demonstrating the power of adopting sustainable practices through the proactive steps through Responsible Tourism initiatives it had embarked since two years. The sustainable tourism practices into its travel, tourism and hospitality sector would not only help to remain competitive in the tourism market, but also to achieve the much needed harmony between the industry, the host community and the natural and manmade attractions that together make or break a tourism destination.
To achieve the objective of sustainable tourism there is a dire need that our tourism businesses, visitors and most importantly our destinations and the host communities take a well planned stride towards achieving sustainability in its management, operations and even in the simplest of actions that are taken to support tourism in a destination. This would only be possible by adopting a 360 degree approach to sustainable tourism – that includes all aspects effective sustainability planning, maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community; enhancing cultural heritage; and reducing negative impacts to the environment. The tourism industry has a major role in achieving the sustainability of a destination ably supported by the government, local administration and the local community.
The proposed classification system called ‘Responsible Tourism Classification’ of the tourism industry initiated by Kerala Tourism is meant to provide a visible and adoptable platform for those tourism enterprises that would like to practice the sustainable/responsible tourism practices. It is also proposed to start the initiative with the classification of the units providing accommodation to the visitors and include resorts, hotels, houseboats, homestays etc.
The criteria for the classification is developed in line with the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) to finally form a part of the global initiatives and customizing to Kerala context by incorporating necessary changes from the experiences of Responsible Tourism initiatives. The Classification system will be a voluntary procedure that assesses, audits, and monitors. It is also considered as a written assurance that a business, product, process, service, or management system conforms to a specific standard. A marketable logo is given to those that meet or exceed the prescribed standard using various criteria and related indicators.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC)
GSTC is an effort to come to a common understanding of sustainable tourism, and will be the minimum that any tourism business should aspire to reach. The criteria are part of the response of the tourism community to the global challenges of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability – including climate change – are the main cross-cutting issues that are addressed through the criteria. Beginning in 2007, a coalition of 27 organizations – the Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria – came together to develop the criteria. Since then, they have reached out to close to 100,000 tourism stakeholders, analyzed more than 4,500 criteria from more than 60 existing certification and other voluntary sets of criteria, and received comments from over 1500 individuals.
GSTC is organized around four main themes: effective sustainability planning; maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community; enhancing cultural heritage; and reducing negative impacts to the environment. Although the criteria are initially intended for use by the accommodation and tour operation sectors, they have applicability to the entire tourism industry. Some of the expected uses of the criteria include the following;
RT Initiative of Kerala Tourism
Responsible Tourism is a Tourism Management Strategy embracing planning, product development, management, and marketing to bring about positive economic, social, cultural, and environmental impacts. For tourism operators it is about providing more rewarding holiday experiences for guests whilst enabling local communities to enjoy a better quality of life and conserving the natural environment. The definition often preferred on Responsible Tourism is that ‘it is about creating better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit’. From providing cost savings to increasing economic stability and ensuring the long-term appeal of a destination, responsible tourism practices simply make good business sense.
Recently, considerable changes have come up on the concept of ‘the classical traveller’. Tourists themselves are becoming increasingly vigilant consumers. In a study by ABT (Association of British Travel Agencies) which is an umbrella group which consists of about 95% of the total travel agencies in UK, it is made clear that 62% of tourists are keen to know about the local issues of their destinations and 70% of them believe that their visit can be beneficial to the local community. Among the tourists, the concern about the local community and their responsibility towards it is increasing day by day. Destinations promoting good practice undoubtedly have a market advantage. Responsible environmental practice has other benefits by good environmental management also improves the quality of a tourism operation’s surroundings, enhancing the overall experience for guests. Lastly, responsible tourism may well be a matter of survival. Local communities need to be meaningfully involved in tourism to perceive its benefits. Good economic practices can create jobs, stimulate entrepreneurship and boost regional economic growth. A responsible approach ensures that all sectors of society benefit from a virtuous tourism cycle.
Kerala Tourism was piloting implementation of Responsible Tourism practices at 4 destinations Kumarakom, Wayanad, Kovalam and Thekkady in triple bottom line – economic, socio-cultural and environment responsibility- and could come out of a model which can be replicated to other destinations with active participation of the tourism industry, local bodies, NGOs and local community. Kerala Tourism now desires to take the initiative forward in two models called enterprise model led by the tourism industry and the destination model led by the local bodies. Both these model will support and complement each other to make the destination sustainable. The RT Classification scheme is the first step for the enterprise model
The formal decision to develop the RT Certification scheme was taken in the State Level Responsible Tourism Committee held on 16th February 2010. The draft of the criteria for the Classification was then discussed widely among the industry partners individually and collectively before finalizing.
Criteria for RT Classification
Responsible Tourism Criteria has been grouped into 4 key areas viz. Sustainable Management, Socio – Cultural Responsibility, Economic Responsibility and Environment Responsibility. Potential indicators have been identified under each criterion which is quantifiable and measurable. Scores have been assigned to each potential indicator. The properties who would like to get classified need to get a minimum score in each sub-group to become eligible for the classification. The final classification is awarded based on the total score obtained by the property. The major criteria used under each sub-group are given below.
Sustainable Management Criteria
The first step towards achieving sustainable business practices is creating a sustainability management system (SMS) that includes transparent, documented policies and procedures, implementation and communication plans. A well-written sustainability policy will define and clearly communicate organizational goals and objectives as they relate to the business’ environmental, socio-cultural, and economic performance. The primary purpose of the sustainability management plan is to guide decision-making, management, and the daily operations of the business in a sustainable manner. Following are the Sustainable management criteria considered for the classification;
Socio - Cultural Responsibility Criteria
Socio - Cultural responsibility focuses on the efforts of the properties for community development, promotion of local arts and, culture, addressing social issues etc. The following are the criteria included under this head;
Economic Responsibility Area
Economic Responsibility criteria measure the efforts of the property in contributing towards the economic benefit to the local community including employment. The following are the criteria included under this head;
Environmental Responsibility Criteria
Environmental responsibility focuses on energy and water conservation aspects, waste management, green house gases etc.
The details of the RT Classification criteria with indicators and the score of each indicator under each criteria have been detailed in Annexure A
Total score of 1000 has been divided into under four responsibility categories as;
Sustainable Management 200
Socio Cultural responsibility 250
Economic responsibility 250
Environmental responsibility 300
Properties are expected to achieve a minimum score in each responsibility areas to qualify for classification as given below;
Sustainable Management 100
Socio Cultural responsibility 125
Economic responsibility 125
Environmental responsibility 150
The properties that have scores between 750 – 1000, 600-749 and 500-599 will be classified into Platinum, Gold and Silver respectively.
Institutionalization of the Classification Process
Training of RT Captains
Training programmes will be conducted regularly by Department of Tourism, the nodal agency for the implementation of Responsible Tourism in the state. The programme will cover general awareness on RT, Global initiatives such as Global sustainable Tourism Criteria, Initiative of Kerala Tourism on RT, Detailed explanations on the proposed RT Criteria etc. The training also will have visit to Kumarakom to understand the models adopted in the destination for the implementation of RT by various partners and stakeholders.
The training programme is planned now for 3 days. At the end of the training programme, the successful participants will be awarded a certificate by Kerala Tourism as 'RT Captains'.
Government will seek the help of industry partners such as Kerala Travel mart (KTM) Society, Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry (CKTI), various associations of hotel and tour operators for the successful institutionalization and conductance of the training programme.
Support from the Destination
Support of local self government institutions, NGOs, Self help groups and the local community in general is essential for the industry to successfully fulfill the Classification criteria. It is the responsibility of the respective units to find ways and means for ensuring this support. However, Department of Tourism will try to facilitate the process of creating healthy partnership of the industry with various social networks wherever possible.
Applications for the RT Classification are to be submitted to Director, Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala, Park View, Thiruvananthapuram online in the prescribed format by logging in the Kerala Tourism website www.keralatourism.org. There will be provisions for uploading all the required documents. However, the applicants may submit the supporting documents by hardcopy also. It is advised that before the application is sent to Department of Tourism, each applicant fill in the form and assess the status of each indicator of various criteria prescribed for the classification.
It is proposed to have a non-refundable processing fee of Rs.10000/- along with the application by way of Demand Draft drawn in favor of Director, Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala payable at Thiruvananthapuram.
Finally Kerala Tourism expects the process of RT classification to be directly linked with the accreditation by Tourism Sustainability Council (TSC) based on GSTC. TSC is a global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism practices around the world and TSC expects the process of accreditation to be done by approved Accreditation agencies. As this global process of accreditation is only getting in position, the RT Classification proposed by Kerala Tourism will now be done by a Committee nominated by Government for the purpose. The committee will have representations from experts from various aspects of responsibility considered for classification and representatives from the industry. The proposed configuration of the RT Classification Committee (RTCC) is as follows;
Secretary Tourism - Chairman
Director of Tourism - Convener
Three experts nominated by government from 3 thematic areas (Social, economic and environment)
Two representatives nominated by government from the tourism accommodation providers who are practicing sustainability principles
Two representatives nominated by government from among tour operators who are promoting responsible travel
The application submitted by the applicant will be evaluated in detail by the committee. The evaluation process will have detailed site inspection, discussions with various stakeholders etc.
The classification in eligible category based on the scores obtained by the units as recommended by the Committee will be awarded by Department of Tourism
Validity Period of Classification
The classification certificate will have validity for 3 years. But it is the responsibility of the units to maintain the score under each criterion so that it do not fall below the classification limits. Eventhough the classification validity is for 3 years, the units can apply for upgrading the category of classification at any time by adopting the same procedures for applying for fresh classification. Department of Tourism also reserve the right to cancel any classification if it is found that the criteria are not met at any point of time