Pushing the tourism limits

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By Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis
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All tourism activities of whatever motivation – holidays, business travel, conferences, adventure travel and ecotourism – are giving the industry a big boost. Today, tourism is one of the world’s fastest developing sectors, with increasing growth forecasted for the coming years. But how can International Standards bring clarity and contribute to this development? 

Whether you’re looking for a romantic retreat or a fun family getaway, the tourism industry is your oyster. Across the globe, people are beginning to rely on travel. They don’t consider it an optional luxury, but rather an essential part of who they are and who they want to become. It seems that everyone, everywhere, is giving the tourism industry a big boost. 

Here are just a few figures. Last year alone, 1 235 million travellers crossed international borders in one single year. By 2030, this 1.2 billion will become 1.8 billion, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Tourism Highlights (2017 edition).

Yet while its growth is often widely broadcast – international tourism currently accounts for 30 % of the world’s services exports as well as bringing economic benefits to local communities and encouraging greater global connectivity – the role of International Standards is less likely to be discussed. In fact, with international tourism on the increase, International Standards will be more important than ever. Here’s a look at how the booming industry is unravelling.

Friends on a beach, playing in waves.

A global benchmark

So how do International Standards contribute to these travel trends? With many countries lacking regulation and guidance, the role of International Standards shouldn’t be underestimated, says Natalia Ortiz de Zárate Crespo, Secretary of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 228, Tourism and related services. “ISO standards represent the best practices agreed among the tourism industry worldwide,” she explains. “They have become a valuable tool and a useful source of knowledge for tourism service providers.”

Transparency, quality and promotion of tourist activities were the goals behind the creation of ISO/TC 228. The committee – led by Spainʼs national standards institute UNE, ISO member for the country, in collaboration with INNORPI (Tunisia) –finds consensus on the best way to deliver tourist-related services. This has resulted in over 20 standards that help public and private organizations improve their tourist services in such areas as diving, thalassotherapy, protected natural environments, adventure tourism and marinas.

Emerging trends

Like other forms of development, tourism can also cause its share of problems. It is therefore no surprise that the role of tourism is increasingly gaining prominence in the debate over how we can move towards more sustainable patterns of development.  

Especially in recent years, the term “sustainable” has been increasingly paired up with words like “travel” and “tourism” to denote a desired way of operating. Hotels want to be “sustainable”. Tour companies want to be “sustainable”. And travellers are increasingly concerned with only spending their money on “sustainable” ventures. Sustainable tourism is becoming so popular that what we presently call “alternative” will be the “mainstream” in a decade.

In Spain, where tourism generates 11 % of the countryʼs GDP and contributes directly to the creation of one in nine jobs (Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism, 2014), there can be no doubt as to the importance of quality in driving sustainable tourism.

Close-up of a womand and a man's feet in the bath of a SPA

For Miguel Mirones, the President of the Spanish Tourist Quality Institute (ICTE), the industry should be looking at tools that focus on quality of service and infrastructure – an important component of the tourist experience. “Sustainability within the tourist industry can only be achieved when products and services have been developed taking quality into account,” he says.

Mirones suggests that it is also necessary for destination managers (where those tourist products and services are provided) to understand the importance of promoting quality as a basic tool for tourist development. “Only a public sector which is engaged with using quality and a private sector which uses quality as a management tool will be able to achieve an appropriate sustainability level.”

Achieving sustainable tourism

This year, sustainable tourism is taking a leading role. 2017 has been designated as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations. It is an opportunity to look at how tourism is affected by climate change and how emissions from the sector can be curbed, along with finding ways for the industry to better adapt to the inevitable impacts of rising global average temperatures.

But how exactly does tourism contribute? Tourism has the potential to contribute, directly or indirectly, to all of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are set to guide the global development agenda until 2030. In particular, it has been included as targets in Goals 8, 12 and 14 on inclusive and sustainable economic growth, sustainable consumption and production and the sustainable use of oceans and marine resources, respectively. The World Charter for Sustainable Development incorporates 17 SDGs and represents a great opportunity to firmly steer tourism down an inclusive and sustainable path.

At ISO, the subject of sustainability in tourism has also been making headway. One of the most important developments in ISO/TC 228 in recent years has been the need to address sustainability. A new working group on sustainable tourism was created to address the management of sustainability for accommodation establishments. This is one of tourism’s key areas and a potential management model that could be used by other subsectors of the industry.

What’s more, two additional working groups within ISO/TC 228 have taken up sustainability initiatives. The working groups on adventure tourism and diving services are developing standards to raise awareness of tourists and providers alike of the need to take into account the three pillars of sustainability and, in so doing, minimize the negative impacts on tourism destinations.

Natalia Ortiz de Zárate Crespo and Chokri Makhlouf, respectively Secretary and Twinned Secretary of ISO/TC 228, proudly receive the LDE Award for excellence in standards development, in the presence (from left to right) of Dr Bronwyn Evans, ISO Vice-President (finance), Scott Steedman, ISO Vice-President (policy), Sergio Mujica, ISO Secretary-General, Dr Zhang Xiaogang, ISO President, John Walter, ISO President-elect, and Piet-Hein Daverveldt, ISO Vice-President (technical management).

Tomorrow’s tourism

As global tourism reaches unprecedented levels of demand, the need for sustainability will be imperative for the industry to survive as a whole. How? A key priority will be to develop International Standards that truly respond to market needs, are practical, target-oriented and feasible.

ISO/TC 228 does just that. Its documents do not impose unnecessary demands on the tourism industry and always respect its diversity, providing a gentle approach that should gain plenty of traction within the industry. The committee’s Vice-Chair, Mounir Ben Miled, explains: “The implementation of standards and their application on a large scale is expected to ensure a positive impact on the sustainability of its activities at all levels of service delivery.” Thus, he concludes, “the commitment to ISO/TC 228 is crucial not only for the tourism sector, but also for the future of future generations”.

In summing up his hopes for the future, Ben Miled argues the case for sustainability. “Sustainable tourism is a way of managing life to ensure the good governance of planet Earth,” he says. “The adherence of everyone to this philosophy of life management is essential for a better environment and a better quality of life, and an intelligent management of the energies and resources of the earth.”



Excellence in action

The achievements of ISO/TC 228 have been recognized through the Lawrence D. Eicher Award for excellence and superior performance, presented on 20 September 2017 at the 40th ISO General Assembly, held in Berlin, Germany.

Announcing the award winner, ISO President Dr Zhang pointed out that ISO/TC 228 has also been growing – both in numbers and in geographical spread – with representatives from all five continents, including countries with economies in transition.

The ISO President drew attention to the committee’s extensive efforts not only to recruit new members but to integrate them successfully. He cited the example of new members being received with a personalized welcome pack, making them feel informed and at home.

Dr Zhang congratulated the committee on its excellent project management practices that have also ensured their work is efficient and effective. “On behalf of all of ISO, I am pleased to present the award certificate and to offer our congratulations and thanks for the work accomplished efficiently, effectively and harmoniously.”

Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis
Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis

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