Last week saw the annual general meeting of the Sustainable Tourism Certification Alliance of Africa - an organisation committed to the development and promotion of sustainable tourism systems across Africa. It took place to coincide with World Travel Market Africa (WTM Africa) in Cape Town, and was aimed to keep the need for sustainable tourism on the agenda of many developing and established destinations on the continent.
And while there remains a high commitment to realising the objectives of the Alliance, the elephant in the room continues to be the inability of our Department of Tourism to activate the National Responsible Tourism Programme - a national standard that has been ready for implementation for over five years. A lack of commitment at ministerial level - coupled with poor strategy at departmental level, is leaving this country - and the region itself, exposed to serious challenges into the future.
Responsible tourism should be the foundation of any destination's tourism strategy because without this, the impacts and consequences of poor management and unbridled environmental, social and cultural damage will ultimately lead to the collapse of tourism itself. Perhaps we need to look to a developing destination like Uganda, where the authorities are seriously cosnidering making accreditation to a responsible tourism standard compulsory before businesses can apply for grading. Not only does this address their need to identify and register their tourism products after years of destabilisation, but it also creates a sound platform on which to build their credibility and sustainability as a destination.
In South Africa - the leading destination on the continent, grading is awarded to any business that meets the rather outdated and irrelevant standards created by the Grading Council. No consideration is given as to whether the product is operating responsibly - from salaries and wages to working conditions; environmental impacts; fair and relevant marketing and other 'basics', so we have no idea of the extent of irresponsible practice taking place in tourism.
And yet, the Department continues to vacillate over developing a 'basket of benefits' designed to encourage participation in their RT programme. Enough.... link it to grading as a prerequisite, and your problem goes away while you clean your industry of poor practice and unsustainable behavior. The time has passed when we still talk about responsible tourism and everyone needs to implement action that will result in change.
But perhaps that is a step too far for many and this time next year we will again have this discussion.....