Only those tourism stakeholders that implement strategic sustainability initiatives that reduce costs, increase revenue and improve guest experiences will earn a competitive advantage, believes Kingshuk Biswas who is on the UNWTO panel of Tourism Experts.
Recently I had purchased a Cadbury Silk chocolate from a convenience store. On top of the wrapping was highlighted in bold ‘100% sustainably sourced Cocoa’. I clearly foresee that in the coming months or years, we will have more and more products and services branded as ‘sustainable’. There is also a marked shift towards green, sustainable tourism as more tourists are expected to opt for eco-friendly travel in the post-COVID world.
One of the major misconceptions of sustainable tourism is that it is only related to the environment. But, the subject of sustainability is much wider; any action by tourism stakeholders which provides economic benefits to the local community while preserving their cultural identity is also a step towards sustainable tourism.
How can tour operators help?
Tour operators are perfectly poised to promote sustainable tourism. This is the time for them to explore unknown destinations, road trips and unique experiences. This strategic investment in creating new unique local experiences would stand a long way in their recovery. Many OTAs now have separate sections on experiences and tours. This is the right time to develop innovative and sustainable tour packages and experiences for the domestic market. A good starting point for understanding sustainable tourism can be the Ministry of Tourism’s website which has a section on ‘sustainable tourism for India- criteria and indicators’. I think everyone in the Indian tourism sector should have a serious look at this section. The criteria mentioned are for both hotels and tour operators. These guidelines are based on Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) guidelines.
Getting a certification
Worldwide, there are more than 100 international certification agencies related to sustainable tourism. In fact, one is spoilt for choice. So tour operators who are keen to get their agencies certified have a variety of choices. However, for authentication sake it should only be a third-party certification which tourists can trust. But how many hotels in India are certified green buildings and how many tour operators have a sustainable tourism certification? None of the major global OTAs have a search filter for ‘green’ or ‘sustainable tourism’ certified hotels. Why so? Most of us in the industry will not be able to answer the question because there is no available data about them.
I am not suggesting that certification is a must for the industry. Just like hotel classification in India, sustainable certification should also be voluntary. But, it would certainly help boost customer confidence in these trying times.
State tourism policies
Tourism stakeholders generally are aware of the tourism policies in their respective states. States have been innovative and some of them have launched policies/incentives which support sustainable tourism. States like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka have an incentive scheme for caravan tourism. Caravans now come equipped with solar panels, too, thus promoting clean energy. However, sustainability is not merely related to the tourism sector as it has implications in practically each and every sector in the economy and thus, tourism stakeholders should look beyond tourism policies in their respective states.
For example, many state
governments have numerous schemes for adopting solar power at commercial complexes. States like Delhi and Telangana have exclusive Electric Vehicle (EV) policies which should certainly be helpful to both hotel owners and transport operators. Already, at Delhi Airport one can order an electric vehicle for pick-up and drop-off. Similarly, Gujarat has a separate solar energy policy, which incentivises any business that adopts solar power and there is no ceiling for solar power capacity. The latest tourism policy in Gujarat offers incentives for hotel owners to set up electric vehicle charging stations in their premises. The policy also offers hotels incentives for converting their hotels into green buildings while incentivising green building certifications. For tour operators, it offers part reimbursement of sustainable tourism certification if the agencies qualify for GSTC certification.
The bottomline is that increasingly, travellers and travel service providers are seeking confirmation that sustainability practices are in place. Also, travel companies are looking for services that are not only certified sustainable, but certified sustainable by an accredited third-party certifying body. A competitive advantage will be earned by only those stakeholders that implement strategic sustainability initiatives such as advanced energy and water saving technologies that reduce costs, increase revenue and improve guest experiences.