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Notes from an Atlantic Archipelago

In early December, I found myself heading to an island with more cows than people, on a flight containing more sustainable tourism experts than tourists…

Touching down in the warm and green surroundings of Terceira, one of nine islands in the Azores archipelago, it was a far cry from the wintry weather most of us had left behind. The buzz was palpable amongst fellow travellers who had journeyed from around 40 countries to attend the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Annual Conference.

AzoresGSTC acts as the international accreditation body for sustainable tourism certification and its annual meeting has quickly become the ‘go to’ event to rub shoulders with those passionate about the impact of the industry.

As well as the beautiful, volcanic scenery and the wonderful Azorean hospitality shown by our local hosts, the highlight for me was the interesting conversation – we are a but a small movement within the multi-billion dollar global industry, but our message is starting to take hold, and there is increasing recognition that tourism must adapt to survive in a rapidly-changing world.

What is needed, now more than ever, are new measures of success in order to ensure the future viability of destinations.

In her closing address, regenerative tourism proponent Anna Pollock warned that traditional measures such as GDP are flawed in that they do not distinguish between economic activity that is good for you, or ‘unhealthy’. Many other contributors  shared examples of destinations moving away from a blunt, ‘more is more’ approach to KPIs towards more nuanced measures including resident satisfaction.

This is the main subject of the Travel Foundation’s most recent research report, Destinations at Risk – The Invisible Burden of Tourism (developed in conjunction with Cornell University’s Centre for Sustainable Global Enterprise and Epler Wood International) which was presented as part of a panel discussion at the event.Invisible burden

It is this trend, of putting the destination first, that we see as the defining issue of the next decade – indeed, the willingness to embrace the rapid evolution towards destination-centric planning and measurement will no doubt be the difference between the winners and also-rans of the future.

Kicking off the New Year we are hopeful, confident and positive that our movement’s time has finally come. We love travel, yet we recognise clearly its faults. If we are to support the industry through its next inevitable and much-needed transition towards a truly value-led sector, it is incumbent on us to be collaborative, innovative and creative and, importantly, to keep on keeping on!

For more information about the GSTC visit: https://www.gstcouncil.org

To download a copy of the Invisible Burden report visit: www.invisibleburden.org

To talk about how we could collaborate drop me an email: partnerships@thetravelfoundation.org.uk

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