25 September 2011 by Julienne du Toit

How Green is Your Holiday?

An important thing happened recently on a ferry cruising the Knysna lagoon.

The Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk launched the new SA National Minimum Standard on Responsible Tourism (SANMSRT) at this splendid venue in early September, marking something of a new era.

Since 1996, South Africa has more or less consistently been one of the top Responsible Tourism destinations in the world. And while a number of certification labels have arisen (the first and most notable being Fair Trade in Tourism and Heritage), different priorities arose.

Some put a greater emphasis on local purchases and community upliftment. Others used sustainable materials like bamboo and natural forms of insulation, plus organic cottons sheets.

How to gauge the possible positive impact? Impossible.

Hence the minimum standard. From around mid-year 2012, all Responsible Tourism certification bodies will have to cover a defined series of bases - social, ethical finances and environmental.

It gives South Africa’s tourism establishments more competitive and gives it greater integrity in a growing but rather confused market.

(It also emphasises that it’s no longer enough just to advise guests that they should hang their towels up to spare water to wash them every day. )

Jennifer Seif from Fair Trade in Tourism said that working together on the criteria (later formalised by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has been a salutary experience for all the certification bodies concerned.

“From distrust and seeing each other as competitors, we’ve now made good contacts, and have a far greater understanding of our respective niches.”

She also said: “Very few countries have published national standards of this calibre, and I am sure that other destinations will look to South Africa for knowledge and leadership in this field.

“South Africa has helped pioneer Responsible Tourism on the worldwide stage - our job now is to mainstream it.”

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