Sustainable tourism now a ‘reality’, not just a ‘trend’ says Rainforest Alliance

I was interested to find out more about the Rainforest Alliance at WTM last week. I first heard about the organRainforest Alliance logoisation when I was out in Central America last month – it’s a not-for-profit organisation with three distinct arms, advising and campaigning on sustainable agriculture, forestry and tourism in rainforested areas around the world.

Its work in tourism ranges from training hotel staff on green technology, to helping them attain certificates of sustainability, to educating tourists on how they can minimise their own impact upon the environment while on holiday.

Its sustainable tourism programme began in Ecuador but it’s really been picking up pace, and has recently signed agreements with the  Guatemala tourist board, and CATA, a tourist board for the whole Central American region.

The Alliance’s Federico Salano tells me he’s seen interest in and take-up of sustainable tourism really surge in the last five years. Europeans are particularly ethically-conscious travellers, he adds.

“You simply cannot make business with European companies if you don’t have a sustainable tourism programme now,” he says. “Now it’s a reality more than a trend.”

There are several UK tour operators who currently work with the Rainforest Alliance, with more big names to come onboard soon. Signing an agreement with the Alliance means the operator commits to ensuring that half of the hotels and other businesses it works with have appropriate green certification.

It sounds like a fantastic programme, but I wonder if they could perhaps set the bar even higher. What’s to stop a tour operator dealing with the most gas-guzzling, tree-felling, water-polluting tourism businesses in the Americas for the other 50% of their business?

One thing’s for sure: the system of green accreditation and certification within the tourism industry needs a proper sort out. There are so many confusing acronyms out there – STCNA, CST, STEP and QTC to name a few – that you can’t see the wood for the trees, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Federico tells me that the Rainforest Alliance is teaming up with the UN and several other bodies to launch the Tourism Sustainability Council or TSC in April next year. It will be the ‘certifier for certifications’, “giving order to the myriad certifications and checklists around the world,” he says.

Great news, but I wish they’d come up with a snappier name!

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