By Kevin Mearns
“Putting tourism on a sustainable path is a major challenge, but one that also presents a significant opportunity” Klaus Topfer, UNEP Executive Director.
Changes in the market forces, as well as the move towards more environmentally sensitive and sustainable forms of tourism, have led to significant changes in tourism. The emergence of sustainable development has been a major driving force in this change towards a new form of tourism. The negative economic, socio-cultural and environmental impacts resulting from tourism’s rapid and unplanned developments associated with mass tourism led to calls for a new or alternative form of tourism. Sustainable or responsible tourism is one such alternative approach to tourism that has been embraced by the tourism industry in an attempt to respond to the changing market conditions.
The concept of sustainability has had a profound influence on the world and the way in which the tourism industry, and in fact all business, conducts itself. Business now has to concern itself not only with economics but also with social and environmental issues, referred to as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Careful consideration must be given to the minimization of negative environmental impacts while enhancing the positive impacts. Responsible tourism is being advocated by the tourism industry to achieve equity, responsibility and sustainability. The Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism (2002) was the result of the Cape Town Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations organized by the Responsible Tourism Partnership as a side event preceding the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. The conference addressed ways in which stakeholders can work together to take responsibility for achieving the aspirations of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Global Code of Ethics and the principles of sustainable tourism. According to the Cape Town Declaration (2002) responsible tourism has the following characteristics:
- It minimizes negative economic, environmental and social impacts.
- It generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, and improves working conditions and access to the industry.
- It involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances.
- It makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, as well as to the maintenance of the world’s diversity.
- It provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.
- It provides access for physically challenged people.
South Africa committed itself to the principle of responsible tourism in its 1996 White Paper on the Development and Promotion of Tourism in South Africa. The principles of responsible tourism were, however, later elaborated on (DEAT, 2002) Responsible tourism is about enabling communities to enjoy a better quality of life through increased socio-economic benefits and an improved environment. It is also about providing better holiday experiences for guests and good business opportunities for tourism enterprises.
But how do we measure how well or how badly we are doing in terms of our responsibility or sustainability targets? “Indicators have been identified as desirable instruments and/or measuring rods to assess and monitor the progress towards sustainable development”(Tsaur, Lin, & Lin, 2006) Indicators are defined by Hart (2013) as “something that helps you understand where you are, which way you are going and how far you are from where you want to be”. An indicator also has the ability to reduce a large quantity of information to its simplest form, without losing the essential information in order to answer questions being asked. Indicators are therefore variables that summarize relevant information to make visible phenomena of interest. Whereas statistics provide raw data with no meaning attached, indicators of sustainable development provide meaning that extends beyond the attributes directly associated with the data.
The use of sustainable tourism indicators was developed to help tourism managers obtain and use information in support of better decision making in the sustainable development of tourism. Indicators are proposed to be the building blocks for sustainable tourism and they are intended to be used as tools that respond to issues most important to managers of tourism destinations. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO, 2004) explains that indicators are: measures of the existence or severity of current issues, signals of upcoming situations or problems, measures of risk and potential need for action, and a means to identify and measure the results of our actions.
Indicators are information sets which are formally selected to be used on a regular basis to measure changes that are of importance for tourism development and management. They can measure: a) changes in tourism’s own structures and internal factors, b) changes in external factors which affect tourism and c) the impacts caused by tourism. Both qualitative and quantitative information can be used for sustainability indicators.”
“Used properly, indicators can become key management tools – performance measures which supply essential information both to managers and all stakeholders in tourism. Good indicators can provide in-time information to deal with pressing issues
and help guide the sustainable development of a destination” (UNWTO, 2007)
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO, 2004) some of the benefits of good indicators are the following:
- better decision making – lower risks and costs
- identification of emerging issues – allowing prevention
- identification of impacts – allowing corrective action when needed
- performance management of the implementation of plans and management activities – evaluating progress in the sustainable development of tourism
- reduced risk of planning mistakes – identifying limits and opportunities
- greater accountability – credible information for the public and other stakeholders of tourism fostering accountability for its wise use in decision making constant monitoring that can lead to continuous improvement – building solutions into management
The tourism industry has monitored destination performance for many years by using conventional tourism indicators such as arrival numbers and tourist expenditure. In the same way as GDP has been found to be an inadequate measure of human welfare, conventional indicators can be seen as inadequate measures of tourism’s true performance.
Indicators are those sets of information chosen because they are meaningful to our decisions and can be supported in a way that provides us with the information when needed. The UNWTO process was designed to assist tourism managers in identifying which information was key to their decisions. This would help them reduce the risks to their enterprise, the community and the environment. Consequently, the UNWTO identified a core set of indicators which are likely to be useful in almost any situation which needs additional indicators critical for management in a particular ecosystem or type of destination (UNWTO, 2004).
Indicators are not an end in themselves. They become relevant only if used in tourism planning and management processes, and ideally they become effective in creating better and more sustainable decisions.
The UNWTO (2004) indicates a series of applications in which indicators support tourism planning and management:
Indicators and policy: Indicators are helpful in identifying the key policy issues that need to be addressed during the development process to achieve effective and responsible management.
Using indicators to strategically plan for tourism: Planning is about knowing what you want, how you will get there and how you will know if you have achieved it. Indicators are useful in all three of these phases of planning for continual improvement, as they provide the means to measure how close the tourism venture is to the desired state or outcome.
Indicators and regulation: Most regulations are based on the achievement of a specific standard. Indicators assist in measuring adherence to these desired standards.
Carrying capacity and limits to tourism: Indicators can be very useful in monitoring whether specific limits or carrying capacities which may affect the sustainability of tourism are being reached.
Public reporting and accountability: The information collected through indicators needs to be shared with the public in order to ensure transparency and accountability.
indicators and certification programmes: Indicators are used to monitor and measure the adherence to a series of criteria as prescribed by the certification authority or programme.
Performance measurement and benchmarking: Tourism ventures are increasingly being called upon to measure their performance in relation to other tourism ventures and benchmarks. Indicators play a critical role in determining both benchmarks and baselines for comparison as well as the performance of tourism venture in relation to one another and the predetermined benchmarks.
In order to understand how well we are performing in terms of our sustainability targets we need to continuously monitor our performance. Monitoring should be kept simple and feedback should be obtained from visitors, tour operators and local people. Simpson (2008, p.263) supports this need for ongoing monitoring by stating that “[t]he importance of on- going monitoring cannot be understated in order to refine strategies, mitigate costs, maximize benefits to communities and ensure long-term sustainability of individual tourism initiatives”.
The results of indicator monitoring are not always self-evident and will be of little value if they cannot
be accurately interpreted and understood. Baselines, thresholds, targets and benchmarks provide valuable tools to assist in the interpretation of the results obtained from indicator measurement. Baselines normally represent the agreed starting point of the monitoring process, often being the first year for which data has been collected. The indicator results are then interpreted based on the degree of variance from the baseline. This tool works well as long as it is clear that the baseline may not necessarily represent
a desired state, as a critical limit may already have been exceeded.
A baseline, as the first tool used in the interpretation of results, does not always indicate what action is necessary and it will only indicate if a previous level has been exceeded. Additional tools for the interpretation need to be used in conjunction with the baseline data. These tools are thresholds, targets and benchmarks. Thresholds indicate a critical point or threshold that should not be passed. Thresholds often act as an early warning system which if reached should trigger some form of management action to ensure that the issue is resolved or remediated. Targets and benchmarks provide a focus or an aim of a desired subjective state that would like to be achieved. These targets and benchmarks continuously drive management actions towards the attainment of the target. Baseline data therefore forms a critical component in the interpretation of indicator results.
Sustainable tourism indicators have been identified as valuable tools for determining and monitoring sustainability. Indicators have also been said to operationalise sustainability by providing social, economic and environmental information that supports more effective and holistic tourism planning, management and decision making. Now the question arises which indicators should be used? Before selecting the indicators to use, two other important questions needed to be answered:
How many indicators need to be selected?
Clearly there was no ideal number of indicators to select. Any attempt to address all the aspects of sustainability using too few indicators would leave important gaps, while too many indicators in turn could overwhelm users and the collection of information for the numerous indicators could become too complex and time-consuming. According to the UNWTO (2004, p. 41) “[m]ost practitioners agree that it is essential to prioritize issues and the indicators that correspond to them, to help create a shorter list”. Furthermore, “practitioners agree 12-24 indicators are optimal” (UNWTO, 2004).
Which issues do the indicators need to address?
Issues that need to be addressed when measuring and monitoring the sustainability of a tourism venture need to include the new triple bottom line of sustainability reporting namely social, economic and environmental sustainability, or otherwise stated as people, profit and planet.
The World Tourism Organization (2004) identified 12 baseline issues and their associated baseline indicators which served as an important point of departure for the identification of indicators (Table 1). The list of baseline indicators covers a range of social, economic and environmental issues likely to be found in most destinations. In Table 1 the social, economic and environmental sustainability dimension has been added in square brackets for each baseline issue.
This list of indicators merely provides a basis upon which the sustainability performance of tourism ventures could be measured and monitored. The selected list of indicators need to be adapted to
suite local conditions and the tourism product being monitored in order to provide valuable information to guide sustainability decision making that is relevant to the product and local conditions. As tourists become more aware of their impacts on the environment, they are demanding more sustainable tourism experiences.
In an attempt to respond to these changing market trends the tourism industry has to embrace respon- sible tourism. Responsible tourism in turn can only be achieved if all the relevant role players are able to take collective responsibility for achieving sustainable tourism in order to create better places for people to live in and to visit.
Source: Responsible and Sustainable Tourism Handbook Volume 1
Book your seat here.
Join the discussion here.