Responsible Tourism

Acting Responsibly, Growing Sustainably

So the holiday season is finally here, and for some establishments, this means going on holiday. For others, it means working harder than they have worked the entire year, as their occupancy rate remains at 100% for two months.  Now there is no time to worry about admin, compliance and entertaining myriads of sales people trying to sell your establishment the latest and greatest tool, technology or  solve-all-your-problems solution, writes Niki Glen.

Looking back over the past year, a typical day in the life of a guest house owner is not simple, and focus is not always on the guest. The year usually starts with a bang (whether after a relaxed holiday or a stressful busy season). Now the bills start coming in for Association Membership, Tourism Grading, Liquor Licenses, SAMRO, SAMPRO, TV Licenses, Health and Safety Compliance, Electricity, Water, Rates and Taxes, Tourism Levies, DSTV, Accommodation Booklets, On-line Booking Systems, Public Liability Insurance, Credit Card Machines, Banking Charges, VAT, SARS, More Marketing  – the list goes on.

Running an establishment successfully and profitably is by no means an easy feat. Just having time to sit down for a cup of tea is not possible.  When you are not busy with managing guest comforts and requirements, you are busy buying daily food supplies or monthly groceries – often from many different sources.  Then you have to sit and listen to at least one sales person per  week, trying to convince you to buy an on-line booking engine,  a worm farm, new light bulbs, a security system, iron free bed sheets, conservation memberships, more association memberships, better telephones, better smelling guest amenities and bigger marketing space.

On top of that , you need to start making sense of new grading  requirements, as your re-grading is due in two months’ time, new public liability insurance requirements, new by-laws, new fire regulations, new health and safety requirements, more signage, increased pressure to get certified for responsible tourism and still costs keep  escalating each month.  And all you are trying to do is run an establishment full of happy guests.

Smaller Accommodation Establishments

For Smaller Accommodation Establishments (SAEs), all of these requirements may become overwhelming.  Running an SAE is a cut throat business, and to remain on top of your game requires constant hard work and dedication.

SAEs are generally defined as establishments with less than 15 rooms and are often owner managed and privately funded.  Large hotels are often publicly funded. On a day-to-day basis, SAE owners and managers grapple with compliance to various costly standards and regulations – larger hotels can employ teams of people to look after compliance. SAEs often employ only a small number of people, each of whom fulfils many different roles. Large hotels can employ one person per role, and those people often are able to employ more team members.  SAEs have very low margins and battle to keep their costs down in the face of rising utility, food and transport costs.  Large hotels can rely on economies of scale to overcome these issues.  SAEs struggle to maintain high occupancy rates throughout the year, while larger hotels (often parts of a group) have greater market access through their brand strength.

SAEs suffer most when the tourism industry has a down turn, and in 2010 / 2011, many had to close their doors for business. Various types of regulation and by-laws make little distinction between an SAE and their larger counterparts, yet they have distinctly different business models. However, it would appear that the attention is being drawn to SAEs when it comes to sustainable tourism planning. The National Tourism Sector Strategy has set out bold plans to become a top 20 tourism destination by 2020.

Caroline Ungersbock, the President of the National Accommodation Association of South Africa (NAA-SA) and Chairperson of the Growth & Development Cluster of the National Tourism Sector Strategy, believes that the only way to grow tourism sustainably is by focusing on the SAE sector and for SAEs to be recognised as a separate sector from their larger hotel counterparts.

Sustainable Tourism Partnership Programme formation

Through the work that Caroline has been doing with the NAA-SA, she has teamed up with the writer of this article Niki Glen, a Responsible Tourism Consultant and doctorate student in Responsible Tourism Implementation. Bringing together our industry experiences, Niki and Caroline have established the Sustainable Tourism Partnership ProgrammeTM (STPP).

The STPP was established as a collaborative framework to address the requirements of Responsible Tourism in a sustainable way and to create better understanding amongst stakeholders of the needs of SAEs.  The STPP helps to build linkages between compliance requirements, environmental best practice, conservation, skills development, job creation, local community beneficiation and stakeholder collaboration for SAEs and their sector.

The programme focuses on tourism business communities at a large scale, rather than single business-to-business interventions, and uses Responsible Tourism Guidelines, as set out in SANS 1162:2011 as the backbone of their implementation model.  The programme provides practical solutions to the day-to-day management of an SAE and hand holds establishments through every step and over every obstacle. The programme has succeeded in forming many partnerships with industry stakeholders and together they develop fit-for-purpose SAE specific solutions.

Many of the programme offerings to SAE owners / managers are free of charge or at reduced rates, e.g. through their partnership with STPP, Media Company Alive2Green, the programme is setting up  a series of Tourism Dialogues and Seminars, which are aimed at better understanding the requirements of SAEs, facilitate conversations between SAEs and other tourism stakeholders such as municipalities,  local government and other tourism service providers (the first event was on 27 July 2012 as part of Sustainability Week).

Free energy retrofit

Through a partnership with an international energy product and service provider, the STPP has set up a country-wide roll-out of free retrofit for various energy components.  This programme launched in early November 2012.  Through employing economies of scale, the programme has put into place various offerings for ‘mass participation’ i.e. 10 – 30 establishments at a time – depending on the offering.  These include offerings such as Basic Compliance for an SAE; Greening your Establishment; Waste Management Solutions and Growing your Own Vegetables, which are aimed at SAE operational staff.

Through its networks with suppliers, government, corporates, NGOs and other SMMEs, the STPP is finding reliable and more sustainable sources of products and services for SAEs.  While the programme is pro-actively sourcing funds to cover costs as far as possible, the collaborative approach allows for SAEs to participate at a marginal cost compared to other offerings in the market.  The STPP is also working in association with Nedbank to formulate various financial services offering to assist the SAE market in their going green efforts.

The programme has been nominated for 3 industry awards since its inception in April 2012, and is a finalist in the ESKOM  ETA awareness category.

What are the benefits?

Making it easy to implement sustainable business practices, which in the end reduces an SAEs operational costs significantly. The STPP aims to help individual SAEs to succeed, but more importantly help the SAE sector to come into its own right.

By facilitating all the necessary processes and requirements, which are unique to your establishment and your association’s members, we are able to help you prioritize.  For some establishments basic compliance may be a priority, for others security, and yet for others, recycling and waste management might be on the agenda.

While the programme is not a responsible tourism certification company, it encourages its participants to work towards certification, therefore creating a win-win for the entire industry.

What does the programme require?  

An SAE needs to commit to the programme for at least three years to receive all the benefits the STPP is putting in place, provide the STPP with small amounts of data and finally, help the STPP to help SAEs.

The more SAEs within an area that participate in the programme, the more cost effective implementation becomes, so working through local associations and chambers is more beneficial.

For more information visit:

What is Sustainable Tourism?

There is often confusion about the terms Sustainable and Responsible Tourism. The following excerpt from Wikipedia may help clarify the issue – Editor.

Sustainable tourism is tourism attempting to make as low an impact on the environment and local culture as possible, while helping to generate future employment for local people. The aim of sustainable tourism is to ensure that development brings a positive experience for local people, tourism companies and the tourists themselves.

Responsible tourism is regarded as a behaviour. It is more than a form of tourism as it represents an approach to engaging with tourism, be that as a tourist, a business, locals at a destination or any other tourism stakeholder. It emphasizes that all stakeholders are responsible for the kind of tourism they develop or engage in. Whilst different groups will see responsibility in different ways, the shared understanding is that responsible tourism should entail an improvement in tourism. Tourism should become ‘better’ as a result of the responsible tourism approach.

Global economists forecast continuing international tourism growth, the amount depending on the location. As one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries, this continuous growth will place great stress on remaining biologically diverse habitats and indigenous cultures, which are often used to support mass tourism. Tourists who promote sustainable tourism are sensitive to these dangers and seek to protect tourist destinations, and to protect tourism as an industry. Sustainable tourists can reduce the impact of tourism in many ways:

  • Informing themselves of the culture, politics, and economy of the communities visited;
  • Anticipating and respecting local cultures, expectations and assumptions;
  • Contributing to intercultural understanding and tolerance;
  • Supporting the integrity of local cultures by favouring businesses which conserve cultural heritage and traditional values;
  • Supporting local economies by purchasing local goods and participating with small, local businesses;
  • Conserving resources by seeking out businesses that are environmentally conscious, and by using the least possible amount of non-renewable resources.

Increasingly, destinations and tourism operations are endorsing and following “responsible tourism” as a pathway towards sustainable tourism. Responsible tourism and sustainable tourism have an identical goal, that of sustainable development.

The pillars of responsible tourism are therefore the same as those of sustainable tourism – environmental integrity, social justice and economic development.

The major difference between the two is that, in responsible tourism, individuals, organisations and businesses are asked to take responsibility for their actions and the impacts of their actions. This shift in emphasis has taken place because some stakeholders feel that insufficient progress towards realising sustainable tourism has been made since the Earth Summit in Rio. This is partly because everyone has been expecting others to behave in a sustainable manner. The emphasis on responsibility in responsible tourism means that everyone involved in tourism – government, product owners and operators, transport operators, community services, NGOs and CBOs, tourists, local communities, industry associations – are responsible for achieving the goals of responsible tourism.

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