Is Certification Important to Travellers?

Filed in Awareness, Certification by on July 20, 2013
The Rocktail beach at sunrise

The Rocktail beach at sunrise (pic © Tessa Buhrmann)

Most of us are influenced by the experiences of others when it comes to buying something – word of mouth often trounces advertising or product claims, and this is often the case in our choice of travel destination, entertainment or destinations. As does environmental certification.

Would you travel to a destination about which you knew nothing but what was included in the glossy hotel brochure, or would you try get an opinion from someone else first? This is where certification plays its role, and globally travellers are being guided by the independent certification, rating or grading of holiday and business destinations or facilities. Certification provides a degree of assurance to claims made by a business, and offers consumers a means to identify those that self-claim against those that truly make a difference.

Certification is the process by which the claims made by a specific business are independently measured and evaluated for the benefit of the travelling public. In much the same way as you may select a hotel based on its grading responsible travellers worldwide are increasingly basing their decisions on the certification given to destinations on their responsible practices.

How else would you know that the resort that you are travelling to operates responsibly in respect of its ties to the local community; the development of the destination or care for the environment?  Greenwashing – or the practice of placing an environmentally favourable spin on marketing, is widely practiced in the travel sector. ‘Pristine private beaches’ could be code for ‘we don’t allow the local community access to their traditional fishing spots or leisure areas’, while ‘green’ could be a misnomer for any number of poor practices. The number of hotels and resorts that claim to care for the environment by encouraging you to re-hang your towels is rising, but most of them are doing this to save themselves the cost of additional cleaning – not to care for the environment at all. Being ‘green’ involves a range of operational practices that extend far beyond saving electricity or water or reducing waste.  Being ‘green’ requires an integrated approach to the way the business interacts with its environment; its local community and the development of sustainable communities and businesses around its premises. Too often, hotels or resorts become ‘islands’ surrounded by a sea of poverty, degradation and human suffering, and most visitors remain oblivious of this when they check-in.

Without certification by an independent organisation, you would not recognise many of the nuances that the travel industry use, and often your visit could be contributing to degradation of the environment or the restriction of age-old rights to local communities. Certified businesses are each assessed by independent specialists to measure and ascertain the degree to which responsible practices are being applied. These specialists have the ability to investigate claims made by the business, and to measure the extent to which what is advertised and promoted is actually being done.

Being certified also creates an obligation to the business to maintain and constantly improve their performance. This in turn ensures the development for the business itself (and ensures improved performance) but also for the host community.  Travel and tourism businesses worldwide are embracing the certification route because on the one hand there is growing demand from environmentally responsible travellers, but perhaps more importantly, because it is the right thing to do!

As the consumer – and in the same way as consumer activism has given rise to eco-labelled products such as soaps, cleaning products and personal items, you have the power to change the way in which tourism is practiced by simply making the right choice. Select those products that carry a third-party certification of their environmental performance, and help make a change in the way that tourism impacts and contributes to community development.

Written by Greg McManus


For certified establishments in Africa check out the listings in the TRAVEL menu

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