Tourists want reassurance. For this reason, hotels are star graded, beaches are awarded Blue Flag status, and clean and safe trails are Green Flag accredited. By Professor Leon Hugo.
Ten years ago, adventure tourists had no means of assessing an advertised trail’s quality standard, risk potential or difficulty in terms of fitness level required. Now they do!
The Green Flag Trails accreditation system (implemented through Hiking Southern Africa) is not a grading system that promotes one trail as being superior to another. It’s a scientifically based, accurate third-party assessment that allows tourists to make informed decisions, knowing that they will get what is being promised, and will be assured of a good trail experience.
Green Flag assessments take the following aspects into consideration:
- Service and facilities: Car park, stiles, bridges, access road, sanitary facilities.
- Safety: At huts and along the trail and an assessment of how risk is managed.
- Accommodation: Classification of accommodation types (Luxury, Comfortable, Basic or Rustic)
- Environment type: Pristine, Rural, or Semi-urban. Environmental responsibility: Conservational status.
- Difficulty rating: Objectively calculated in terms of energy required.
- Technical classification: Walk, scramble, or climb.
Why Quality Trails Matter
1. Benefits to trail users
By hiking, paddling, riding or climbing Green Flag Trails, trail users are assured that they will have a satisfying experience as they will find the trail character and facilities exactly as advertised, safe and well managed.
Personal and community enhancing values include:
- Appreciation of nature and cultural heritage.
- Value-for-money by making an informed choice based on trustworthy information.
- Improved health and wellness.
- Improved social values with families and friends.
- A well-managed, safe, and relaxed experience.
2. Benefits to trail managers and owners
Assurance that in cases where their clients lodge legal claims for compensation for injuries sustained, they will be regarded favourably as having provided a responsible recreational product to the public – assessed by an outside professional body. Note that this does not imply full indemnity against all mishaps.
With the Green Flag logo as a quality assurance mark, owners are adding credibility to their trail and making trail users aware that they have their enjoyment of a quality trail experience at heart. This approach will expand the trails market by ensuring satisfied trail users, which in turn results in sustainable income and support for the trail.
With the assurance that a trail is safe and under responsible management, trail users will not feel apprehensive to visit foreign environments and countries.
Through its unique audit procedure, Green Flag accreditation identifies, acknowledges and rewards those trails that demonstrate and practice responsible management, in contrast to trails which negate the enjoyable experience and safety of hikers and responsible environmental stewardship.
Green Flag Trails provides the necessary guidelines to trail managers for maintenance and monitoring procedures of their trails so as to help conserve the natural heritage where trails pass through.
3. Benefits to the environment
Green Flag Trails ensure the effective use of land. Large tracks of land on privately owned farms and government land lies idle as it is regarded as “unproductive ground”. These areas are often excellently suited for hiking: mountain slopes, deep valleys, indigenous forests, floodplains, riverine stretches, even marshy land. Hiking is a non-consumptive utilisation of resources and provides an extra, low-investment, income to land owners.
The concept of eco-efficiency is a recent extension of the sustainability concept– multiple-use of resources without degrading any of them – thus adding value. Responsible hiking trails are ideally suited for this approach.
Green Flag monitors the extent of exotic and invasive plant species, pollution, erosion and all other environmental problems.
4. Benefits to economy and eco-tourism
- As a capacity building service for government officials and private individuals, the Green Flag Trail system delivers a service to the tourism industry by assessing and providing feedback on the quality of the services rendered by trail owners/managers as to the:
- Marketing and management of their trails.
- Safety through a risk assessment study.
- Degree of environmental responsibility.
- The monetary value of hiking trails (or canoe trails, horse-riding trails or kloofing routes) to the tourism sector of the economy, including the outdoor equipment industry (financial benefits).
- Job creation through training.
- Green Flag Trails runs annual training courses in trail development, which includes planning, building and auditing of trails.
How to gain Green Flag Trails accreditation
There are three steps to the audit application process:
- Preliminary Self-Audit.
- Full-fledged Green Flag Certified Audit.
- Re-audit (2nd audit).
Step-by-step details can be viewed online: www.greenflagtrails.org/application-process/
Which trails are Green Flag accredited?
There are currently (as at March 2016) 40 hiking trails in South Africa that have Green Flag Trail status, with at least another 40 pending accreditation. Countries such as Peru, Nepal, Swaziland, St Helena, Namibia and Mozambique all have Green Flag trails.
The Green Flag Trails system was developed at the University of Pretoria (under the leadership of Prof Leon Hugo). It is underwritten by the non-profit organisation, Hiking Southern Africa (HOSA) and is being implemented by all large trail provision agencies in South Africa: SANParks, KZN-Ezemvelo, Cape Nature and SAFCOL (Komatiland Forests and Cape Pine: MTO) as well as major urban municipalities such as Johannesburg and Pretoria (Tshwane) and many private landowners.
Internationally, the most well-known trails that have received Green Flag status include the Inca trail in Peru; the High Peak trail on the island of St Helena; and the Otter trail in South Africa. An eight-day section of the Anapurna trail in the Himalayas is in the process of being certified. Nepal has formally started a programme of auditing their Great Himalaya trekking trails in 2016.
An alphabetical list of all accredited Green Flag Trails (Day Walks and Multi-day Trails) can be viewed at:
About the author: Professor Leon Hugo is the Chairman: Quality Control committee at HOSA (Hiking Organization of SA). Cell: +27 (0)82 578 3023 / Office: (0)28 388 0036 Email: [email protected] www.greenflagtrails.org / www.hosavosa.co.za