Martin Balaš provides an insight into the process of becoming the first TourCert certified sustainable destination in Latin America
Martin, you specialize in advising destinations on sustainability and certification. What are the particularities of such a system?
The path to become a “sustainable destination” is a unique process for the continuous and sustainable orientation of a tourist destination. All three aspects of sustainability – economic, ecological and social – are reviewed and evaluated.
We have designed our system to ensure that our destinations are strategically sustainable through intensive exchange with the stakeholders. It is important to us that all parties are involved and in particular that the partner companies engage in the process. Decisive parameters are the quality of products and services, customer focus, careful use of resources, accessibility and offers in the field of sustainable mobility. A sustainable destination is a joint effort that relies on the partnership-based cooperation of all institutions and companies involved.
In Germany, 14 destinations have already been certified. Meanwhile there is also the first TourCert certified destination in Latin America, right?
Exactly, the certification of destinations has already been established in Germany. In the beginning TourCert developed it together with the Ministry of Justice and for Europe Baden-Württemberg in a pilot project – like an organic seal for travel destinations. The “Sustainable Destination”, or green N, is the first certification in German-speaking countries that considers the destination as a whole and takes all touristic providers of a destination on board.
As part of the project TourCert Latina and with the financial support of the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), we adapted the certification system for destinations to the Latin American context in 2017. Criteria have been extended that are of great relevance for the context there, for example with regard to environmental aspects, safety aspects and working conditions. In April 2017, for example, we launched a very exciting process in Cuenca (Ecuador) and successfully concluded it in November of the same year. The city of Cuenca is now the first TourCert certified destination in Latin America.
Seven months is quite a short time for such a process, isn’t it? How did this work in Cuenca?
Cuenca is a city of 600,000 inhabitants, about the size of Stuttgart. The old town, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is of great relevance for tourism. So we concentrated all measures on the old town or a radius of five kilometres and identified all tourist providers there. Within these approximately 400 companies, a categorization was carried out. Together with local partners, we have rated 150 of them highly relevant, including museums, cafes, accommodation, craft shops and restaurants.
These 150 tourism related companies were invited to participate in the destination process. To do this, they had to carry out an inventory at their respective locations. This was about aspects such as safety, the environment and working conditions. An action plan was drawn up to identify weaknesses. The companies then had around three months to improve these deficiencies and correct errors. After a review of the improvements, these companies were finally able to achieve the status of “partner company”.
Have all 150 companies participated in this measure?
120 have participated and subsequently 87 have achieved the status of “partner company”. This is a great result. Of the 150 tourism providers originally identified as relevant, over 58% companies remained. This is a wonderful success. After all, tourist providers naturally play a very important role in the destination.
What was crucial for this success?
Strategic alliances were the key to success. The coordinating body for the entire process was the Fundación Municipal para Cuenca as DMO (Destination Management Organisation). The management had appointed a sustainability manager and delegated approximately 80% of his duties over the seven months to coordinate and shape the process.
Two consultants from our office TourCert Ecuador accompanied the process on site, and the branch of the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) in Cuenca also provided a lot of support. A cooperation agreement was concluded with the local university, whereby they took inventory checks at the partner companies and their tourism students were trained accordingly to do so.
Only with this cooperation set-up was it possible to successfully complete the certification of the destination Cuenca in such a short time with such a broad level of participation. We are very pleased that Cuenca is part of our TourCert Community. There’s even a movie about it.
And what happens now? What other destinations are in the process?
In Germany, we will of course continue to work and have a few interested cities and regions that have recognized the relevance of sustainability. Tourism is an important economic factor, employer and at the same time image carrier for them. In Latin America we are also represented in Costa Rica, where two destinations are involved in the certification process. In addition, some destinations in Peru and Ecuador are to start soon.
Great, thanks a lot for the insights, we are looking forward to new great sustainable destinations!