The vital importance of sustainable tourism was highlighted at the GSTC2023 Global Sustainable Tourism Conference that took place on May 9-12 in the Turkish Mediterranean resort town of Antalya and which brought together 350 delegates from 51 countries, along with hundreds of viewers that watched the live broadcasting of the conference that was held at the Nirvana Cosmopolitan Hotel.
According to a press statement, participants included international and regional tourism stakeholders involved in developing and promoting sustainable tourism, including the public sector, hotels, tour operators, academia, development agencies, NGOs, consultants, and more. International participants came from Europe, North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania.
The statement adds that this year’s conference focused on various themes like destination stewardship, hotel sustainability, sustainable tours, experiences and attractions and sustainable MICE.
“This year we witness a strong recovery of international and domestic tourism, after the dramatic drop of over 70 pc during 2020 and 2021, when millions of jobs were lost, thousands of enterprises went bankrupt, and destinations struggled to survive. Many of these destinations are now returning almost to normality, as people are eager to travel again, after lockdowns and travel restrictions. But we are still facing economic and geopolitical challenges, such as the war in Ukraine, a high inflation, and soaring costs of all components related to travel and tourism. In this uncertain context, international tourism, globally, is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2024 at the earliest,” said Luigi Cabrini, Chair, GSTC in his opening remarks at the conference.
He also added how the GSTC Criteria has helped the industry achieve higher levels of sustainability.“Time has shown that GSTC filled a gap by making available a framework that can serve both the private and the public sector to achieve higher levels of sustainability. The GSTC membership today includes tourism authorities of over 25 countries, together with leaders of the private sectors, NGOs, universities, destinations and many others. We welcome this variety as a strength for GSTC, where the tourism sector is represented in its multiple facets and interests,’’ he told the conference.
Turkiye sets global benchmarks
In his remarks, Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy expressed his pleasure at hosting the most competent experts and opinion leaders of sustainable tourism in Türkiye. Ersoy said the GSTC 2023 Global Sustainable Tourism Conference would become a valuable information and idea exchange platform, creating significant gains for sustainable tourism worldwide. He also noted that beyond acting as a pioneer by becoming the first country in the world to sign an agreement with GSTC for a national sustainability program at the governmental level, it had already become a global leader in sustainable tourism practices.
Ersoy added that Türkiye already has more than 1300 accommodation facilities with sustainability certificates or verifications in Türkiye’s Sustainable Tourism Programme. Nearly 200 accommodation facilities have fully met the GSTC Criteria, he told the gathering.
Speakers from across the world shared insights and discussed a wide range of topics like ‘Port Destinations and Sustainability’, ‘Sustainable Coastal Destinations’, ‘Sustainable Rural Tourism’, ‘Hotel Digitalisation Solutions’, ‘Sustainability in Resorts’, ‘Culture and Nature Experiences’ and ‘Sustainable Attractions’.
During the Conference, a special panel discussion by the World Economic Forum addressed how sustainable tourism is a driver for resilient economies and societies. Also, several workshops were carried out for the development of the GSTC MICE Criteria and GSTC Attraction Criteria, and a Data Set workshop as well.
The organisers say that recordings of the conference’s sessions can be found on the GSTC Facebook page and on its website.
The statement adds that prior to the conference, a GSTC Sustainable Tourism course took place, with 29 industry professionals from 12 different countries. Using the GSTC Industry Criteria and GSTC Destination Criteria as the foundation, the training class covered various topics relevant to the industry and the sustainability challenges and opportunities that the world is facing today.
The organisers say that the GSTC2023 Global Conference started with a welcome reception at Perge Ancient City with live music and food and ended with a farewell cocktail dinner and show at Nirvana Cosmopolitan Cosmo’s Theatre. After the 2-day conference, participants joined a complimentary tour of Antalya the next day visiting Kaleiçi, Antalya’s Old Town, and a guided tour at the Antalya Museum. The tour provided an opportunity to explore the area’s rich cultural heritage and stunning architecture, its city’ past and present.
At the closing ceremony, the dates and venues of the next GSTC Conferences were announced, namely GSTC2024Sweden from April 23-26, 2024 in Sweden and GSTC2024Singapore in Singapore from November 13-16, 2024.
The statement adds that as with previous GSTC Conferences, the carbon footprint of the event and the travel of all attendees was calculated and offset. Control Union sponsored the measurement, calculation, and reporting. Bureau Veritas sponsored the verification of this measurement. After the carbon footprint measurement and verification process, the carbon amount resulting from the measurement will be offset by TGA, says the statement.
Local products and flavours were preferred during coffee breaks and dinners, special menus with reduced meat dishes and tasty vegan and vegetarian options were prepared, and products were completely provided by local suppliers.
The organisers add that with the cooperation agreement signed with GSTC at the beginning of 2022, Türkiye determined the road map the country will follow in sustainable tourism and accelerated its global sustainability practices. With this three-year protocol, the National Sustainable Tourism Programme was established to restructure the tourism industry of Türkiye, which is the first country to agree with the government on sustainable tourism.
With the programme, which includes destinations and tour operators, especially accommodation facilities, a sustainable transformation is aimed at the tourism industry in Türkiye. The programme’s first phase, carried out gradually, will be completed this year, the second phase in 2025 and the third phase in 2030, and all international standards will be met.
Accommodation facilities must obtain a Sustainable Tourism Certificate within the scope of the Sustainable Tourism Programme, which is based on the GSTC Industry Criteria developed for accommodation facilities in the first place. Accommodation facilities subject to independent evaluation are given a certificate. As of May 2, the number of enterprises that met the necessary criteria and received the 1st stage verification was 1,188, the number of the 3rd stage certificate was 197. In 2030, within the programme’s scope, it is planned that around 24,000 accommodation facilities in Türkiye will have a sustainability certificate and move to sustainable tourism.