The Impacts & Benefits of Tourism: Greening an Industry (Part 4)

In November 2020 when we first officially launched The Sustainable Switch, our owner, Saige Friedman wrote a series on the impacts and benefits of tourism for Canadian adventure company Peak Adventure. These articles will now be available via our website and Peak Adventure’s Journal. Part 4 focuses on sustainable tourism guidelines and certifications.

Sustainable Tourism Guidelines & Certifications 

According to the International Ecotourism Society, certification sets standards and helps distinguish genuine ecotourism and sustainable tourism businesses from those that make empty claims. This helps to protect the integrity of these concepts and promote those businesses truly making the effort. While certification is not an end in itself, it is an important tool in motivating businesses and others to improve their environmental, social, and economic performance – while being rewarded for doing so. These benefits can be both tangible and intangible. For example, certification tends to reduce operating costs; this has been found in almost every type of business certification. In tourism, it has been shown to dramatically reduce the costs of water, electricity, and fossil fuels, without reducing the quality of service. Alternatively, certified businesses can increase public awareness of responsible business practices. 

Some examples of sustainable tourism guidelines and certifications  include the following: 

UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Sustainable Tourism Development Guidelines

According to the guidelines established by  UNWTO, sustainable tourism development guidelines are applicable to all forms of tourism, in all types of destinations – from mass tourism destinations (e.g., all-inclusive resorts) to niche tourism travel (e.g., extreme adventure trips). To achieve sustainable status, a balance must be achieved between the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism to ensure its long-term sustainability. As such, sustainable tourism should meet the following criteria: 

Ensure optimal use of resources key to tourism Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communitiesImplement long-term economic operations
Maintain essential ecological processesConserve the built & living cultural heritage & traditional values of the communityProvide fairly distributed socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders
Aid in the conservation of natural heritage & biodiversityContribute to inter-cultural understanding & toleranceProvide stable employment, income-earning opportunities, social services to host communities & contribute to poverty alleviation

Code of Ethics & Guidelines for Sustainable Tourism 

In 2011, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada held a national roundtable on the environment and the economy. This roundtable established a Code of Ethics for Tourists, Code of Ethics for the Industry, and a set of recommended guidelines for the tourism industry and for certain key sectors, including:

  1. Tour Operators 
  2. Ministries of Tourism 
  3. Tourism Industry Associations 
  4. Accommodation 
  5. Food Service

Under each, there are a number of policies and directions, such as: 

  1. Policy, Planning & Decision-Making
  2. The Customer
  3. The Community
  4. Development 
  5. Natural, Cultural & Historic Resources
  6. Conservation of Natural Resources
  1. Environmental Protection
  2. Marketing
  3. Research & Education
  4. Public Awareness
  5. Industry Cooperation
  6. Global Village

AITO’s Sustainable Tourism Guidelines 

AITO has established a set of guidelines for travelling sustainably and responsibly, as “AITO members are committed to enjoying and preserving our fragile planet, by ensuring environmental and cultural demands are kept as low as possible.” To help with this, AITO has established a list of simple tips and tricks designed to help support its objectives.

Before You Go 
Global WarmingOne of the biggest environmental costs when travelling is the carbon footprint created when flying. 
LanguageLearn the lingo! Attempting to master a few words of the local language is a great way to bring down barriers. It illustrates cultural respect when greeting, thanking and saying goodbye to locals in their own language. 
Local Customs Religious beliefs, customs and traditions vary significantly around the world & play a large part in daily life. It’s important to be familiar with the local dress code, cultural etiquette & potentially any relevant political information. 
Remember: you are the visitor & by showing respect, you will be respected yourself.
PackingKeep your luggage to a minimum & avoid disposable goods. Waste-disposal facilities can be limited in some destinations & recycling is often non-existent in many areas of the world. 
Gifts & Presents You may make special connections or experience great hospitality. Gifts that are evocative of your home countries such as postcards or photographs make excellent presents to show your appreciation. 
On Holiday 
Eat with LocalsSupport local businesses & preserve traditional cuisine by dining in local restaurants, not just your hotel. It’s a great way to sample local specialties & ingredients. 
Souvenirs & ShoppingWherever possible, buy souvenirs from local shops. Haggling is often customary & can be fun, but stop once you’ve been offered a reasonable price; a few dollars won’t make a difference to you, but it can mean everything to someone trying to make a living. Avoid buying souvenirs that exploit wildlife or threaten endangered species. Finally, items from ancient civilizations may still be found or bought in certain countries. Leave them: a country should keep its historic artifacts. 
Plants & ShellsOne of the joys of travelling is the spectacular variety of plants & shells you may come across. These should remain in their natural environment, so avoid picking up or collecting any. 
Remember: it’s also illegal to import certain plant species. 
Wildlife & Animal WelfareAvoid disturbing wildlife & damaging their natural habitat. Take care not to touch coral reefs, feed animals or fish, and stay quiet when viewing animals when on safari. 
BeggingDon’t give out sweets or money, especially to children. Giving will only teach them that begging is rewarded. It is far better to interact with children in a positive way. Though begging is the sole source of income for many of the world’s poor, it’s far more constructive to give money to charities which can offer long-term support to a greater number of people. 
LitterMany countries do not have adequate litter collection or recycling, so the less litter you leave behind, the better. Plastics in particular take a long time to decompose, so consider bringing along a reusable water bottle. 
PhotosPeople in the colourful local dress make good subjects for photographs, but make sure to ask before you snap a picture. Many people, for a number of reasons, do not like being photographed, so you should always gain permission first. 
WaterIf it’s necessary to wash in streams or rivers, do not use detergents or other chemicals; it may be someone’s drinking water further downstream. So, use eco-friendly soaps instead & use water sparingly. 
Back at Home
Continuing SupportYou may have come across charitable projects or been impacted by humanitarian or conservation concerns while travelling. Many tour operators offer a wide variety of charitable initiatives, or advise you where to direct your support, so you can give back to the destination of your choice. 
Feedback If you have any positive or negative comments regarding sustainable tourism issues on your vacation, provide feedback! 

UNESCO World Heritage Sustainable Tourism Toolkit 

Sustainable planning and management of tourism is one of the most pressing challenges facing the future of the World Heritage Convention and is the focus of the UNESCO World Heritage & Sustainable Tourism Programme. UNESCO established a series of ‘How To’ guides for World Heritage Site managers and other key stakeholders to enable a growing number of World Heritage Site communities to make positive changes to the way they manage tourism. These resources are valuable for site managers in particular, who often lack the tools and knowledge necessary to effectively manage tourism impacts and maximize its benefits. The series has been structured as a step-by-step process: 

  • Guides 1-4: Establish the basic foundations for sustainable tourism 
  • Guides 5-10: Tailored to more specific issues, which will have greater relevance at some sites than others. 

Overall, the goal is to “stimulate local solutions in communities through capacity-building in best practice. With the immense scale and variation of the World Heritage Properties around the globe, coupled with scarce human and financial resources, this is now more important than ever.” Sustainability is a complex system to navigate, and as such, UNESCO has provided its site managers and operators with a number of detailed guides to provide them with best practices.

Sustainable Tourism Certification

Sustainable Tourism 2030 offers support to tourism organizations through expert guidance, marketing support and credibility. Getting this certification will help attract customers to win awards, secure new contracts, and build new partnerships. Sustainable Tourism 2030 will provide those who are awarded certification with an outdoor sign, window decal, certificate of use, and the Sustainable Tourism Certified logo for various marketing materials, website usage, etc. All it takes is 5 simple steps: 

  1. Become a Member – Join online to become a member; pay an annual fee and gain access to the online portion of the assessment. 
  2. Take the Assessment – Go through the questions; some businesses may do this in under 2 hours and some will take more time to gather responses from their team. 
  3. Schedule Your Call – Schedule an assessment call to review the assessment. The call will last from 2-4 hours, and the assessor will review the assessment responses in detail. 
  4. Submit Your Evidence – After the call, the evidence must be submitted for a random selection of criteria. Once this has been done, the assessor will finalize the report. 
  5. Get Certified – Once the evidence has been received, the assessor will finalize the report and sustainability action plan. If the minimum requirement has been met, the score from the assessment will determine the level of certification (bronze, silver, gold or platinum). 

Research shows that businesses who actively try to address social and environmental issues in their businesses are better at retaining employees, and tend to have a more loyal consumer base. All of this works to generate higher returns for tourism businesses by engaging in behaviours that are good for the community, earth, and bottom line.

Ontario By Bike Network

Figure 1 – Before & After Golf Course Construction

The Ontario by Bike Network offers a range of information on cycling in Ontario, aiming to inspire visitors and locals to explore the province via bike. Over 1000 accommodations, restaurants, and attractions are ‘bike friendly,’ with the certification also working to promote bicycle-friendly businesses and cycle tourism in a number of areas. The Network is open to accommodations, and food services, attracting, cycling-related businesses and organizations interested in getting involved with cycle tourism. 

GroupsExamplesObligatory/Minimum Requirements
AccommodationsHotels, B&Bs, vacation rentals & other private accommodation locations that may be used by cycle tourists. – Covered & secure bike storage area
– Cycling information, including any published cycling route maps
– Staff able to direct cyclists to information on cycling routes in the immediate area; local bike shops, bicycle rentals and tour operators, weather reports
– Basic bike repair toolset
– Healthy, local food & beverage options; if served onsite 
– Assistance with Ontario By Bike Network evaluation whenever possible, including informing the network of the number of room nights sold to cycle tourists & inviting them to review accommodations 
– All frontline staff were informed of participation in the Network & mentioned service amenities
– Any additional requirements may be established through consultation 
CampgroundsN/A – Secure daytime bikes lock-up area, such as bicycle stands or posts for bike parking in the most visible location possible
– Cycling information, including any published cycling route maps (if there are no cycling maps for the area, access to an Internet-connected computer)
– Staff able to direct cyclists to information on cycling routes in the immediate area, local bike shops and hours, bicycle rental and tour operators, weather reports
– Basic bicycle repair tool set
– Healthy, local food and beverage options, if served on-site
– Assistance with Ontario By Bike Network evaluation whenever possible, including informing the Network of the number of nights stayed by cycle tourists, and inviting cyclists to review the campground accommodation
– All frontline staff informed of participation in Ontario By Bike Network, and the above services and amenities
– And any additional requirements may be established through consultation
Food ServicesRestaurants, cafes, food shops & stops that may be used by cycle tourists. – Healthy food options on the menu
– Inclusion of local foods and specialties, whenever possible
– Secure daytime bike lock-up area in the most visible location possible (preferably bicycle stands or posts for bike parking – or provisions for cyclists to bring bikes onto property, such as a patio)
– Cycling information for the region, if available, including any published cycling route maps
– Assistance with Ontario By Bike Network evaluation whenever possible, including informing the Network of the number of cycle tourists visiting the location, and inviting cyclists to review the location
– All frontline staff informed of participation in Ontario By Bike Network, and the above services and amenities
– And any additional requirements as may be established through consultation
Tourist Attractions – Secure daytime bikes lock-up area, such as bicycle stands or posts for bike parking in the most visible location possible
– Access to washrooms (where possible), rest area (preferably covered) and water (either from a water fountain or by purchase from a concession stand)
– Cycling information for the region, if available, including any published cycling route maps
– Healthy, local food and beverage options, if served on-site
– Assistance with Ontario By Bike Network evaluation whenever possible, including informing the Network of the number of cycle tourists visiting the location, and inviting cyclists to review the location
– All frontline staff informed of participation in Ontario By Bike Network, and the above services and amenities
– And any additional requirements may be established through consultation
Business Areas– Bicycle-Friendly Business Areas (BFBA) must submit the registration for the designation through a Business Improvement Area, Chamber of Commerce or similar association
– At least five (5) applicable businesses participating and certified as bicycle-friendly locations, including one of each category – accommodations, food services, attractions
– Note: A certified bicycle-friendly accommodation business located no further than a 3km distance away from proposed business area
– Ample bike parking available within the proposed business is
– Allocation of (at least) one storefront location designated and clearly promoted as a Bike Welcome Centre, equipped with a bike repair station and up-to-date local cycling information and maps
– Cycling infrastructure and/or signed route in and out of the proposed business area
– Dedicated webpage indicating the BFBA designation, listing certified bicycle-friendly business locations
– Participating locations display Ontario By Bike Network Decal in visible locations
– BFBA must be located within a region supporting the Ontario By Bike Network
– Bicycle-Friendly Business Area champion(s) to outreach and promote Ontario By Bike Network to member businesses through the distribution of the Business Outreach Kit
– When hosting community events, additional bike parking or bike valet service is made available
– Cycling was promoted as an option to get to and from local events
– Assistance with Ontario By Bike Network evaluation, including an annual Business Perception Survey of both participating and non-participating businesses
– All association staff informed of participation in the Ontario By Bike Network, the Bicycle-Friendly Business Area designation and the above services and amenities
Bicycle-Related ListingsThis category is for businesses that provide services to cyclists (e.g., bike shops, services, tours, rentals). There are no certification criteria at present. 

There are a number of product and operation benefits to achieving certification, including access to resources and networking opportunities, and the many marketing benefits that go with any specialization that can differentiate your business from others. 

EarthCheck Certified

EarthCheck Certified is the world’s leading environmental certification and benchmarking program for the travel and tourism industry. Using a science-based approach, EarthCheck aids travel and tourism organizations in increasing their efficiencies, maximizing guest experience and minimizing their overall ecological footprint. With rapid changes in regulatory environments and markets, organizations require specialized tools and expertise, which EarthCheck can provide. With decades of experience, EarthCheck has invaluable advice and resources for those who want to be industry leaders. 

For instance, EarthCheck established a code to guide the review of sustainability programs, titled The Certification 4 Way Test. This test includes:

Test #QuestionCriteria
Test 1 Can you trust the data? The golden rule: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. – Sustainability programs must be built on evidence-based and scientific data
– Poor inputs ‘indicators “ will deliver measures and outcomes Indicators need to be ‘SMART’ Simple, Measurable, Achievable. Repeatable, Timely)
– Data must be consistently collected and independently verified
– Being comprehensive does not equate to having hundreds of criteria, particularly if you only need to meet 51% of the criteria or fewer to pass
– Deep historical data are essential because it allows performance-based trend lines to be mapped while fostering knowledge management
Test 2 Would it meet strict audit guidelines? The golden rule: Sustainability is not a logo, it’s what you do! – Does the programme accurately track operational performance against industry and competitor benchmarks and baselines? 
– Does it have internationally recognized carbon reporting calculators which will allow science-based targets to be determined? 
– Does it provide ISO-trained independent auditors who deliver ISO quality reports?
– A checklist is not a report. Anyone can verify data. Auditors have a code of conduct. 
Test 3Is the program credible? – Credible programs are built on good science and serviced by trained and talented people who care
– Good science needs to be constantly reviewed, questioned and refreshed by independent researchers
– Is it holistic?
– Sustainability is not a linear concept; it needs to have 360-degree thinking covering design, construction and operations
– Does it have a secure software platform which allows data to be seamlessly uploaded and analyzed to provide ROI advice?
Test 4 Is it bankable? Does it meet owners, managers, financial market & consumer needs? – Owners want bottom-line metrics on the performance of their assets
– Management wants practical advice on how to improve resource efficiency and reduce costs and risks
– Consumers want peace of mind and transparency that they are staying in a healthy building which is good for their wellbeing and good for the planet
– Financial markets demand data integrity

Overall, there are numerous benefits of certification for businesses, consumers, government, the environment, and local communities. As such, more certification and standards should be created and recommended by the government at local levels and should be undertaken by more businesses in order to differentiate themselves in the market and make positive impacts in a number of ways.


Throughout the 4-part series that was The Impacts & Benefits of Tourism: Greening an Industry, we explored a number of impacts and benefits associated with tourism and the tourist industry. While sustainable tourism guidelines and certifications are to be followed by businesses over tourists, it is up to us as tourists to hold businesses accountable, and encourage the implementation of such systems by choosing accommodations, restaurants, and other tourist-based businesses and entertainment that promote those values associated with sustainable tourism, and follow such guidelines. As well, as world travellers, it is important to learn more about those places we choose to visit, in order to be respectful and be met with respect from locals in return.

This concludes the fourth and final part of the Greening an Industry series. We hope you have enjoyed it and learned something new for your next trip!

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