ITB Berlin bills itself as the world’s leading travel show. It’s a behemoth of an event, jaw-dropping in its scope of more than 100,000 visitors to more than 10,000 exhibitors’ stands over the course of five days (March 7-11). True to something so generously expansive, and given the assembled brain trust, in parallel with the displays ITB Berlin packs in an impressive three-day program of convention seminars covering major cross-cutting qualities of the industry.
Two key subject areas this year were sustainability and responsibility in tourism.
Lest you think my responsible-travel appeal from earlier this month was a fringe consideration, ITB Berlin went so far as to recognise “responsible trade, sustainability and environmental awareness” as more than just trendy topics. Acknowledging them as “social imperatives and pre-conditions for long-term economic success and competitive ability,” ITB actually devoted 18 of the official program’s 52 pages to its CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Event, and for the fourth year in a row brought together representatives from business and politics to discuss best practices in and the economic prospects for sustainable tourism.
One of the CSR Day sessions that drew a very large crowd examined whether there are too many sustainable tourism certification programs. (Without wading too far into the debate, the outcome seemed to be that yes, the jungle of labels is thick, but that’s not the problem; what’s really at issue is whether anyone understands the labels and whether they advance the sustainable tourism cause.)
“Eighty-six percent of consumers do not believe in self-claims” about sustainabilityOne key takeaway was information shared by Ms Erika Harms, Executive Director of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, about the United Nations–affiliated Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria – “an effort to come to a common understanding of sustainable tourism.”
“Eighty-six percent of consumers do not believe in self-claims” about sustainability (hotels that claim they’re green), remarked Ms Harms, so third-party labels are needed to confirm it. And now, faced with the proliferation of standards, one has usefully emerged against which all others can be measured.
Why should this be important to you?
Chris Doyle, Executive Director (Europe) of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, Editor of AdventureTravelNews™ and host of ITB CSR Day, told me:
No matter how many certification schemes there are in the world, they are rendered useless unless the traveller understands what they are. What we hope for is that travel journalists will seek to understand what it all means and then be the front line of communication to the traveller. I think that travel journalists who don’t invest time and energy into understanding the principles of responsible travel are irresponsible. The media ought to step up a level to where responsible travel is central to the way in which they communicate to their readers.
Although you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the excessive under representation of responsible and sustainable in the exhibitors’ stands at ITB Berlin, “Sustainability has become mainstream,” says the introduction to the certification programs session.
Now, if scores of the industry’s leading practitioners have taken it so much to heart, and there’s a global effort to strive for transparency in green certification in tourism, isn’t it time you took interest too?
Feature Image: Gap089
- 3 April, 2012 @ 5:36 [Current Revision] by Ethan Gelber
- 10 March, 2012 @ 10:38 by John O'Nolan