Who will certify the certifiers?

Today I am updating a classic Planeta.com feature: The Challenge of Tourism Certification:

Viewed as a process instead of a product, tourism succeeds when it fosters mutually beneficial relationships among locals and visitorsUnderstanding tourism certification is a bit tricky and when it comes to defining what constitutes ecotourism, sustainable tourism, conscious travel or responsible travel, there is little consensus.

When it comes to developing global accreditation schemes, there’s a growing demand to ‘stop the steamroller.’ Indigenous peoples, tour operators and others say that many programs do not deserve support.

Who will certify the certifiers?

The catalyst for this update (and related pages on the wiki) is the following conversation online Facebook:

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Gopinath Parayil This debate could for ever continue. The comment says, “Destinations now speak the same language of sustainability using GST Criteria.” Isn’t that a bit scary? How can my social reality in one place speak the same language of sustainability elsewhere? Am not really getting this.
Come to GSTC’s September Meeting on Sustainable Tourismus4.campaign-archive2.comThe Global Sustainable Tourism Council Invites All Tourism Industry Stakeholders To Attend its Annual Meeting Sept. 25-28

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Ron Mader Hopefully the GSTC ‘open meeting’ will be open online and we can raise these questions with them in real-time.

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Heidi van der Watt ‎Ron Mader and Gopinath Parayil, maybe you could post your comments directly on GSTC page rather than divert to Responsible Tourism Networking where it is less likely to be seen and not contributing to open conversation . I’m also bringing this to the attention of fellow GSTC board members and staff – Martha HoneyRichard G. EdwardsErika Harms

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Ron Mader Thanks, Heidi. To post on the GSTC page, does one has to ‘like’ it because I don’t. I tried posting on their blog last year but they took months to respond.

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Heidi van der Watt Ron, as far as I know you can simply leave a comment…

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Ron Mader Posted! https://www.facebook.com/GlobalSustainableTourismCounci

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Richard G. Edwards There is no definition that the only way a meeting can be open is to have live streaming. Everyone in the whole world is invited to attend.

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Ron Mader It’s time to set minimum standards for meetings. That said, if you want to hold your meeting without livestreaming or interacting with colleagues on Twitter, you’re welcome to do so. That said, you will be criticized for lack of transparency and willingness to engage in a constructive manner.

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Richard G. Edwards I have 2300 Twitter followers and I’ll be tweeting. GSTCouncil has 1100 and it’s manned by Uncornered Market who has 30K. Bruce Poon Tip will be speaking and he has 15K or so, I believe. It’s always good to do a little homework before criticizing.

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Ron Mader Tweeting is a step forward but it’s not the same as having a way for those not in the room to see and hear what’s going on AND have a voice in the conversation. Gopi asked a very good question at the top of this thread. It would be good to see it discussed in your ‘open’ meeting.

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Karen Simmonds I tried live streaming at an event earlier in the year with advice from Ron. For those on a limited or non existing budget for this sort of thing www.justin.tv was a good start.

Richard G. EdwardsLive streaming can be a way to increase participation and the GSTC has been having the discussion about feasibility, given the venues. Twitter is another tool that works to engage those not at the conference to some extent and it will be used whether we were supporting that effort or not. However, after attending nearly every major tourism conference with at least a sustainability track in the world at one time or another in the last few years, I know personally live streaming not the norm and not always practical. So to base an opinion on whether a open forum is open or not on whether it has live streaming is ridiculous.

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Richard G. Edwards To address Gopi’s comment – Have you read the Criteria around the social aspects of sustainable tourism? Your question was taken seriously by hundreds of professionals in the development of the Criteria.

external image 273431_559121834_1289758528_q.jpgRon Mader Live streaming has not been the norm, but I have greater trust in Karen’s work. Are we here to maintain the ‘business as usual’ approach or strive to make things better? If the GSTC meeting does not have livestreaming, then expect serious criticism. Ridiculous? I think not. To borrow your phrase, you might want to do some ‘homework.’ Or you can be a laggard and not push the envelope. You can be hypocritical, insisting on ‘minimum standards’ for destinations and businesses but not events that have a global impact.

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Richard G. Edwards You’re mixing your arguments, Ron. You’re saying the forum is not open, because it might not have live streaming. That’s the ridiculous part. Period. You say it would push the envelope if we had it. It would be one way. We haven’t had any demand for it, though, except from you and now Heidi and Gopi have mentioned it.

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Ron MaderOh, Richard. How I disagree with you!

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Raj GyawaliI disagree that there is no demand… most of the time, because live streaming is not the standard at these conferences, people like me who would like to participate but cannot be all around the world all the time, miss out. Would love to participate and be on the cutting edge of sustainable tourism….. One more thing that live streaming will do is allow for recordings to be available…. Listening in on twitter is not the same as hearing someone… the passion, the conviction, the believability goes up when you see and hear someone!

  • ON Gopi’s original topic however! This is one side of the debate I will never support. Sustainability has to be custom, developed for each reality… never one standard… there might be parts of concepts of sustainability and even practice that might be standard, but the vast majority of practice has to be adapted to local realities…
  • I think if these strategists and sustainability philosophers could come out in the real world and practice what they preach, this could be seen easily enough!
  • Also one standard is old age… Today’s reality is adaptability and customisation, if we do not do that… we will end up not maintaining the unique aspects of each reality in a sustainable way, and that will NOT be responsible! How difficult is it to see that?

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Gopinath ParayilIs it fair enough to say that Global Sustainable Tourism Council looks at sustainability from a holistic regional perspective, but is failing to communicate that by using sentences like , “Destinations now speak the same language of sustainability using GST Criteria”.?

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Paul MiedemaYour last comment is more accurate Gopi. We agree that issues of environmental, social and economic justice have a set of common realities around the world right? Like human rights do. But the material conditions on the ground may vary. It is the material conditions that determine our priorities and our actions as sustainable tourism role players. The criteria of the GSTC represent to me this broader overarching paradigm. But to suggest we speak the same language as destinations is taking it a bit too far. Like way to far. If we unpack the GSTC, who sits on its board, its organisational culture etc, it is heavily represented by the North. Luckily people like Heidi and Jennifer have voice there – but it is dominated by a sector, and an agenda aligned to that. So yeah Gopi – its a ridiculous statement.

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Paul Miedema Fair points Mr Ron Mader

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Richard G. EdwardsRaj – there has been no demand expressed directly to us, except Ron giving an opinion that it’s necessary. Personally, I’ve never seen the technology work well, or seen huge uptake on videos posted post-conference in tourism, but that’s only the experience of those of us close to the GSTC. Examples of success would be appreciated.

  • Gopi- there is no attempt to say that destinations are the same. Only that some common language has been developed that hundreds of tourism thinkers AND practitioners have agreed to be relevant. This common language lifts up the need to look at different social realities in different destinations, as we all are keenly aware exist.
  • Paul- Not sure what you unpacked, but the GSTC board actually has several practitioners, like me, who work in private sector dealing with the realities of day-to-day operations, and have been for years.

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Raj Gyawali Richard – I do not personally think that the volume uptake of the videos is important. Players who are interested but unable to attend would be given a chance to participate should these technologies be used thats all. We are all equally in this sphere, and probably equally intellectually and experientially capable to contribute and willing, though some might have more opportunity to participate in intellectual debates with their presences.

  • Actually, examples of success exist. I participated from Nepal in a live streaming from Portland last year (gopi coordinated that along with Ron) and I thought it was very beneficial. Technological hurdles are there. We have done live streaming from Berlin at the RT Inspiring Stories and RT Networking sessions last year (I was there and so was Gopi) and have been doing this (Sometimes very successfully and sometimes with tech hurdles) from the RT networking sessions in London and Berlin before too.
  • On the topic of common language though, no doubt that it is required, but I guess some of us are just concerned that standardisation can be counter productive once it reaches over-standardisation status, specially to an responsible issue like sustainability. And I think we are all well aware how much the industry loves over-standardisation! It already exists!

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Ron MaderRaj, it should be obvious that we are not all equal. The playing field is not level. Those who have promoted a global standard for certification have done everything possible to limit discussion and to exclude criticisms that get in the way of business as usual. The GSTC wants to establish standards for businesses, but not for governments, nor events, nor consultants like Richard. Hashtag: #gstcfail

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Richard G. EdwardsRaj – Homogeneity is a problem. As is the potential for the big voices to dominate the conversation and have policies and requirements that limit opportunities for smaller players. Those are the reasons I got involved. Getting involved was a process I found easy, even though I knew almost no one that had been active to that point. I was with Gap (now G) at that time, and even though the company is very large in our space, its product line depends on smaller players getting fair opportunities, training and fair representation of their sustainability efforts.

  • Ron – as has been the case in your uninformed crusade against the GSTC, your due diligence is lacking on the process, activities and actors. Actually, the destination work is very much involved with local governments. There have been repeated calls for inputs and changes to the Criteria, open to anyone globally – with considerable effort through multiple channels to get the word out about those opportunities. And, personally, my day is dominated by my role as a tour operator owner and marketer, and I don’t consult on sustainable tourism policy.

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Ron MaderThank you, Richard. Years ago when I did my first research on ecotourism certification, I was distressed that the good debates were limited to email conversations. It’s good to discuss this in public. That said, I strongly disagree with you. I have long opposed not only the GSTC but any global certification program that cherry picks who to certify.http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/tour/certification3.htmlWe need a more holistic model and a more open conversation. The opposite of ‘open’ after all is not closed but broken. GSTC’s ‘repeated calls for input’ usually took the form of qualitative surveys with no room to comment. You speak of due diligence. That’s a difficult task when the doors are shut to those who have different views than your own.

The conversation continues on Facebook

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