The Middle East can learn valuable lessons from South Africa to help avoid mass tourism pitfalls en route to economic growth as a responsible tourism destination, an industry expert says.
Jennifer Seif, Executive Director of Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), says high resource consumption, and competition over natural resources, are common challenges to the Middle East’s and South Africa’s tourism industries.
An equally important issue for both in the development of sustainable tourism is the need to find workable models for community-based tourism and effective partnerships between the public, private and civil society sectors, she adds.
Seif will spotlight lessons learnt in South Africa when she addresses the second World Green Tourism conference at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) from December 5-7.
The FTTSA, a non-profit organisation, has pioneered the world’s first tourism Fair Trade labeling initiative to give consumers environmentally and socially responsible travel options. FTTSA certifies tourist accommodation, activities and attractions in South Africa against a standard comprised of labour, socio-economic, management and environmental criteria.
The fair trade label attracts ethically minded travellers who choose tourism providers that deliver travel experiences shown to be good for people and the planet.
The organisation has begun certifying packaged travel to South Africa, and hopes the model can be adopted internationally, including the Middle East.
At World Green Tourism Seif will outline to regional hospitality leaders, tour operators, government and NGO representatives how the initiative can benefit long-term tourism competitiveness and sustainability, contributing positively to the ‘triple bottom line’- economically, environmentally, and socio-culturally.
“South Africa can learn from best practice in the Middle East, and vice versa,” said Seif. “South Africa’s successful hosting of the FIFA 2010 World Cup may provide inspiration to Qatar 2022 and to the hosting of other future mega events in both the Middle East and Africa. I will present Fair Trade Travel as a tool for destination management and marketing and show how Fair Trade labelling can contribute to tourism competitiveness at both firm and destination level.”
Like the Middle East, South Africa wants to boost its share of the global tourism market, which in 2008 stood at just 1.3 per cent. International tourism arrivals in the republic have more than trebled since the advent of democracy, reaching 8.1 million in 2010 compared to 3 million in 1992, in the process creating over one million jobs and overtaking gold exports for foreign currency earnings.
Tourism’s contribution to South Africa’s GDP of US$354 billion rose from 2.7 per cent to 7.9 per cent in 2009-2010. According to the country’s draft National Tourism Sector Strategy 2011, South Africa aims to be ranked in the world’s top 20 destinations by 2020 with 15 million arrivals.
“But tourism growth carries costs, especially rapid growth,” says Seif. “Travel and tourism stresses the environment and can create social and other problems that damage destinations and communities, to the detriment of the poor.
“Research by advocacy organisations in Europe and elsewhere shows that labor standards in tourism are amongst the worst in the world, and that human rights challenges are on the rise linked to competition over natural resources like land, water and energy.
“If these undersides of the industry are not reformed, and if the people whose land, labor, culture and natural resources are used for tourism activities do not benefit meaningfully from the sector, then sustainable development objectives will not be achieved.”
Organised by Streamline Marketing Group, World Green Tourism, the first commercial conference and exhibition specifically for the sustainable tourism sector, is hosted by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) and the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.
Among the other high profile conference speakers is H.H. Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Nuaimi, the Environment Advisor for Ajman Government, most commonly referred to as ‘The Green Sheikh’.