Tourism Sustainability Council set up to manage accreditation on the continent

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Representatives of nine sustainable tourism certification schemes in Africa and other people working on sustainable tourism issues met in Johannesburg in January to consult with representatives of the newly formed Tourism Sustainability Council (TSC).

The meeting was facilitated by the Sustainable Tourism Network Southern Africa (STNSA), of which Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA) is the secretariat. FTTSA in a non-profit organisation that promotes sustainability in tourism through awareness raising, capacity building, research and advocacy, certification and marketing.

The new council was formed in September 2009 and offers support and tools to the international tourism industry to ensure that tourism helps, rather than damages, local communities and the environment.

The TSC has proposed an international accreditation system for sustainable tourism certification programmes. The focus of the recent meeting was to elicit input from African certification programmes that will be among the future users of the accreditation system.

Delegates expressed support for the TSC accreditation system, although a number of questions were also raised.

- Many certification organisations were concerned that compliance with an international accreditation programme could potentially undermine the authority of strong national accreditation processes of counties such as South Africa and Brazil.

- Although the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC), on which the TSC accreditation standards will in part be based, are internationally recognised standards, these criteria need to be further clarified and also have to be flexible to fit the African context.

- Accreditation fees should be affordable and announced far in advance to enable certification organisations to build these fees into annual budgets and fee structures.

- The possibilities that the TSC will in future offer membership directly to the tourism private sector could inadvertently undermine local certification programmes.

The meeting also enabled African certification organisations to network and exchange information with each other, in the interests of a more integrated approach to sustainable tourism on the continent.

FTTSA executive director Jennifer Seif says, "It would have been impossible only a few years ago for African stakeholders to participate with such strong agreement in this type of meeting. Networking has created strong trust and collegiality between the various certification organisations on offer in Africa, and the Sustainable Tourism Network Southern Africa is prepared to take on the role of focal point for future consultation with the TSC."

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