According to Tourism 2030 DestiNet Services there are more than 200 voluntary eco-tourism certifications around the world. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council alone lists 28 sustainable tourism standards that meet their definition of sustainable tourism. In addition, on the 15 September 2017, the UN World Tourism Organisation transformed the Code of Ethics for Tourism into an international convention, the first in the life of the Organization providing yet more guidelines to sustainability.
The basic definition of sustainable tourism covers four criteria: economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts. Herein lies the problem for most operations, especially for the millions of small hotel and tour operators, is that certification becomes too complex, too expensive and / or impossible to comply with.
For example how does a 5 or 10 room B&B put together a staff motivation and training plan for the management of environmental, sociocultural, health, and safety practices? Or come close to purchasing “Fair Trade goods and services” in support of sustainable local communities? In some cases there is even a cost associated with purchasing the standard before an establishment can ascertain if they wish to participate or not. In short, for many operations, it’s just all too hard.
It is important to note that there are 200+ sustainable certification standards for a reason. The industry and tourists want to participate in a sustainable framework and there has been a huge investment by millions of people towards sustainable tourism. Our premise is in the obvious, the world is changing and the Circular Economy offers alternatives that may be suitable to a range of tourism operators that have not be able to engage in the current sustainable tourism guidelines.
Why is a Circular Tourism Standard (CTS) different?
First of all the CTS will not promote itself as being under the umbrella of a sustainable standard thus removing much complexity. Of course it will not be recognised by the GSTC and that is a condition we are willing to accept.
Secondly, there are many establishments and operators who may only be able to manage one action and that action will be to handle their waste better. Just to recycle. Just to place their separated recyclable resources into a receptacle that can end up being recovered for remanufacturing. Once you create a positive narrative around the circularity of these actions, you can begin to create change.
Third, the CTS will work towards develop and promote Circular business models which can increase profitability across a range of industry sectors that exist on the periphery of the tourism industry. This is a very long term goal and in many places it may take a generation or two before it eventuates. Yet it’s a road that, ultimately, most businesses will end up going down.
In most countries where there is an informal recyclable collection system, surprisingly, there are not enough informal collectors. Establishing some elementary structure and efficiencies will create jobs. Creating jobs means more recyclable materials can be recovered and the opportunity for investment into downstream processing facilities to reprocess or remanufacture recovered resources into new items becomes economically feasible.
However the truth is we do not really want the CTS to focus solely on recycling. Yet just like the tourism operators that we wish to encourage into our program we also need to start somewhere.
Why establish a Circular Tourism Standard?
Moving informal recycling collectors into a structured and efficient Recyclable Resource Recovery system has the potential to increase incomes, improve working conditions, offer convenience to households and businesses and, eventually, ensures recyclable resources ends up where it should. Our story started in Thailand, a country with a huge tourism industry, and it became apparent that unless we engaged the tourism sector and all the orbiting industries we would lose out not only on a huge segment of the market but to a sector that contributes a lot to global waste and a country’s GDP.
The question was how to engage the many micro, small and medium tourism operators into more tangible ‘sustainable’ practices without stretching their resources. Or better yet, how to encourage them to stretch their resources if it is good for business? A Circular Tourism Standard may be the only standard they can meet for the near future.
That’s when the idea of a Circular Tourism Standard was born and during 2016 we interviewed hundreds of tourists and hotels to determine if this was at all feasible. The results were more than encouraging.
How are we going to start?
Our plan for the successful development will meet this criteria:
– We will increase our exposure to industry and will push, prod and be tenacious until we get enough feedback to move this forward.
– We are also in the process of testing the Recyclable Resource Recovery pilot project to guarantee its success.
– As such a huge percentage of hotel bookings are made online, we will collaborate with an online booking site to test and tweak the system to ensure it is practical for the whole online booking industry.
– During the 2-year testing phase, we will form alliances with a number of hotels (small, medium and large) to verify it is broadly implementable, practical and engages staff and guests. It needs to tell a story of sustainability, improvements for informal recycling collectors, Circular business models and recyclable resource recovery.
– Finally it needs to be easy, simply and inexpensive for EVERYONE: guests, staff, managers and establishment owners.
Tourism is all about new and exciting experiences, however when we don’t manage the environment well, when waste lies everywhere and when we see locals throw their waste anywhere, our experience is diminished. In 2016 while interviewing hundreds of hotels as to their recycling practices, one manager said “…a proper recycling collection system would boost staff morale.” He explained that younger staff want to put into practice their environmental education yet the perceived higher economic costs by hotel owners seemingly makes this impossible.
Recyclable Resource Recovery System
Our Recyclable Resource Recovery system and Circular Tourism Standard is human centric whilst using the best technology has to offer. The Circular Economy makes a lot of economic promises of resource cost savings and increased profits but if we cannot deliver those promises to the bottom-of-the-pyramid we will have failed.
Here at Keep Asia Beautiful we don’t see why this has to fail. We believe in the potency of our imagination, the power of ideas and the strength of human endeavour as we face critical climate change challenges for some generations to come.
We are excited by our work and look forward to sharing all our successes and failures as we work across the Asian region as these countries shift into a brave new world.