Interview with Randy Durband, CEO of GSTC

Sustainable tourism has moved from discussions to actions
/ New Delhi
As the Global Sustainable Tourism Conference begins in Antalya in Turkiye, Randy Durband CEO of GSTC tells India Outbound how sustainability has moved from being a mere topic of discussion to an issue of implementation.
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Randy Durband

Randy Durband

What is the focus of GSTC 2023?

The Global Sustainable Tourism Conference (GSTC) 2023 will be held from May 9-12 in Antalya in Türkiye. The Conference will bring together international and domestic tourism stakeholders involved in the development and promotion of sustainable travel and tourism, including the public sector, hotels, tour operators, corporates, OTAs, academia, development agencies, NGOs, consultants, and more. Superb thought-leading speakers will share their insights on issues like ‘Sustainability in Resorts’, ‘Port Destinations’, ‘Sustainable Rural Tourism’, ‘Digitisation Solutions’, ‘Sustainable MICE’, and ‘Destination Stewardship’.

To what extent has sustainability moved from mere talk to action?

We have witnessed a heartening shift in recent years as sustainability has increasingly turned from mere discussions to tangible actions within the tourism industry. This positive change has made a notable impact on the sector thanks to the implementation of sustainable tourism policies and practices by governments, local authorities, and private organisations worldwide. It is also due to greater awareness among tourists and businesses regarding the environmental, social, and economic impacts of their activities and the adoption of the GSTC Criteria aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by many tourism stakeholders, hotels, tour operators and destinations.

However, challenges remain in ensuring that sustainable practices are adopted and maintained across the entire tourism industry. It is essential to continue monitoring and evaluating progress and to prioritise collaboration among each other to fully succeed globally together as an industry.

What kind of participation do you expect at GSTC 2023?

GSTC Sustainable Tourism Conference in Sevilla was the largest in terms of attendees, with over 350 participants from 60 countries

Last year, the GSTC Sustainable Tourism Conference in Sevilla was the largest in terms of attendees, with over 350 participants from 60 countries. Due to Covid-19, there was a 2-year gap in which we were unable to see each other face to face, so there was great expectation and a build-up. This year we expect high engagement as well from the entire industry. Our Global Conference is a reference for sustainable tourism worldwide.

Which regions are best placed in sustainable tourism? Which are the laggards?

I get this question a lot. Note that I have a genuine smile on my face! I wouldn’t generalise about regions of the world because each region is faced with a large range of challenges and of degree of progress. Developed economies have some advantages in terms of better waste management, water management, education, access to technologies, and so forth. However, I would not give many of them high grades because they should have been leveraging those advantages to much greater degrees over the decades that we have seen strong environmental and social challenges.

Less developed economies are actually stronger in some areas. For example, they have more locally-sourced and organic food than more advanced economies with highly industrialised agricultural sectors. Frankly, I think everyone has been laggard. The world is in trouble with climate change, plastics in our food chain entering our bodies, loss of biodiversity. We need to all pitch in to find truly impactful solutions that fit our own context and do our part to improve.

Do you see airlines adopting sustainability fast enough?

We don’t work directly on aviation at GSTC, but I think it is fair to say that the aviation industry has been increasingly aware of the need to adopt sustainable practices due to environmental concerns and public pressure. However, the pace of change has been relatively slow, and there are several factors including technological challenges. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and electric or hydrogen-powered aircraft require further advancements, testing, and investment. The fact that there is an Alliance for Zero-Emission Aviation is a big step. The European aeronautics industry, together with other European players in the aviation sector, has taken a strong commitment to ensure that air transport in Europe meets Europe 2050 climate’s objectives.

This includes the development of zero-emission aircraft based on novel propulsion technologies like electric or hydrogen. The Alliance’s objective is in line with the Toulouse Declaration on future sustainability and decarbonisation of aviation of 2022, which calls for sectoral roadmaps and joint efforts towards sustainability and decarbonisation of aviation worldwide.

The other issue is regulatory framework. Governments and international regulatory bodies play a crucial role in encouraging sustainability within the aviation industry. Policies, incentives and worldwide regulations can and will help accelerate the adoption of sustainable practices.

How is the hospitality industry faring in this?

I would say fairly well, having into account that throughout 2020 and a large portion of 2021, the hospitality industry encountered substantial obstacles as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many hotels, restaurants, and tourism-related businesses experienced decreased demand, temporary closures, or permanent shutdowns. International travel restrictions and social distancing measures further impacted the industry as well.

However, with the global rollout of vaccines and the gradual lifting of restrictions, the hospitality industry was on a path to recovery by late 2021. In some regions, domestic tourism was seeing a resurgence, with people opting for “staycations” or travelling within their own countries.

To adjust to the evolving environment, the hospitality industry has been focusing on implementing health and safety protocols, leveraging technology for contactless services and catering to shifting consumer preferences. This includes an increased emphasis on outdoor and nature-based experiences, as well as flexible booking and cancellation policies.

How does GSTC help in promoting sustainable tourism?

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) establishes and manages global standards for sustainable travel and tourism, known as the GSTC criteria. There are two sets. One is destination criteria for public policy-makers and destination managers, and the other is industry criteria for hotels and tour operators.

They are the result of a worldwide effort to develop a common language about sustainability in tourism. They are arranged in four pillars viz sustainable management, socio economic impacts, cultural impacts and environmental impacts. Since tourism destinations each have their own culture, environment, customs, and laws, the criteria are designed to be adapted to local conditions and supplemented by additional criteria for the specific location and activity.

The GSTC criteria form the foundation accreditation for certification bodies that certify hotels, accommodations, tour operators, transport providers and destinations as having sustainable policies and practices in place. GSTC does not directly certify any products or services, but provides an accreditation programme through its partner organisation, Assurance Services International (ASI) to accredit certification bodies.

On April 5, we announced the development of new criteria. With support from the Singapore Tourism Board, we are developing a new criteria for MICE and for attractions. The GSTC MICE Criteria and GSTC Attraction Criteria will serve as the global sustainability standards for both industries.

We also deliver training classes for a wide range of tourism industry professionals.

How do you benchmark performance of private sector?

Benchmarks for private-sector tourism stakeholders can vary depending on the specific goals and objectives of the stakeholders. From my perspective, there are two key performance indicators that can give you a big hint about how things are going. One is customer satisfaction that can be measured through surveys and feedback from customers, as well as online reviews and ratings. The other is employee satisfaction as they should be the first ambassadors of your brand, and it can be measured through anonymous employee surveys every couple of months.

Of course, benchmarking the performance of private-sector tourism stakeholders requires a combination of quantitative and qualitative metrics to provide a comprehensive evaluation but those two KPIs can give insightful and powerful knowledge.

What is your main challenge today? Which areas are easiest to turn sustainable & which toughest?

I would say the lack of awareness is our biggest challenge. Many tourists and industry stakeholders are still not fully aware of the concept of sustainable tourism or its importance. From GSTC we want to change that with our training programme which is available for any destination, hotel business, tour operators, or professionals of the travel and tourism industry eager to learn more and make a difference.


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