Minster launches National Standards for Responsible Tourism

To Featherbed Nature Reserve, here in Knysna, where Minister for Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, launched the National Minimum Standard for Responsible Tourism on Monday of this week. 

I think it was a particularly apt venue: Featherbed Nature Reserve is situated on the Western (or ‘natural’) headland of the Knysna Lagoon, and it’s very presence there has ensured that at least a part of our natural environment has been spared the kind of disastrous over-development you tend to see along this section of the coast. 

Featherbed provides employment to more than a hundred people, and is a bastion of the local tourism economy. And in the years since it was founded (in 1985 – ask me, I was its first tour guide), has offered a meaningful experience of the environment to hundreds of thousands of visitors. 

South Africa has taken the lead in making responsible tourism part of the national tourism strategy – as far back as the ‘1996 White Paper on Development and Promotion of Tourism in South Africa,’ responsible tourism was seen as the guiding principle for tourism development. 

Since then, a number of accreditation bodies have sprung up, and this National Minimum Standard puts rules in place to ensure that they’re genuine. 

Accreditation has too often been one of the perks of membership of some private schemes. (Who needs an audit? – if you pays your money, you gets your badge, no questions asked. It’s called greenwashing.) 

According to the handout we received at the launch, “The National Minimum Standard is based on the three cornerstones of sustainable tourism (social-cultural, environmental, and economic responsibility) and has 41 criteria under 4 main categories. These categories are Sustainable Operations and Management; Social and Cultural; Economic Criteria, and Environmental Criteria. The criteria deal with the following issues: 

“Sustainable Operations and Management: organisational policies, procedures and systems; staff training; transparent and accurate marketing; visitor feedback and accessibility.

“Social and Cultural: protection and showcasing of local heritage and culture; benefits to local people; engagement with local people; and visitor codes.

“Economic: local and fair trade buying, local employment, labour practices, skills development and local business support.

“Environmental: biodiversity conservation, energy consumption; water use, waste management; pollution management and visitor information.”

The handout goes on to say that “The National Minimum Standard for Responsible Tourism was published as a South African National Standard (SANS) by the South African Bureau of Standards(SABS) on 31 March 2011” under the official name ‘SANS 1162:2011 Responsible Tourism – Requirements.’ 

And SANS, we are told, will be ready to start to accredit certification agencies by the middle of next year (this will give them time to get to know the requirements, to make changes to comply with them, and to provide the necessary training). 

Hard copies of the Standard were included in our conference packs, but if you want them, I’m afraid your going to have to register on the SABS web store and buy the pdf or hard copy at a cost of R81.00. 

I think that’s a bit thick for a 12 page document. 

Still, as the Minister said,South Africahas shown the way – we are apparently the first country to include sustainable tourism in our national tourism strategy, and the first to “bring sustainable tourism into the government agenda.” 

And it’s not all talk, either – “being a responsible tourism establishment will soon be a prerequisite for government funding,” said the Minister. And for tourism grading. 

And that’s a good thing – because responsible tourism isn’t a niche market thing. It’s very, very mainstream, and it’s good for your bottom line.

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