WWF criticises ecotourism certificates

The World Wide Fund for Nature in the UK has strongly criticised ecotourism certification schemes for failing to guarantee high standards of environmental practice, and for being misleading to consumers.

An independent report commissioned by WWF, Tourism Certification: An analysis of Green Globe 21 and other tourism certification programmes, has found that certification schemes promote confusion rather than clarity. The wildlife charity picks out Green Globe 21, as the certification programme with the greatest international reach, for particular criticism.

According to WWF, Green Globe 21 allows its logo to be used as soon as a company commits to undertaking the certification programme, with a subtly different logo awarded when certification is achieved. The scheme also allows participants to set their own standards. In addition, Green Globe 21 has undergone a number of metamorphoses, says the report, adding to the confusion, and allows its logo to remain in use by over 500 companies, when only around 60 meet its current requirements.

“Green Globe 21-certified companies appear better to consumers, but may be much worse than uncertified ones,” said Justin Woolford, WWF’s Tourism Policy Officer. “The scheme is misleading, lacks credibility and is not really an indication of good performance at all.”

The report recognises that some certification schemes are credible and genuinely address both social and environmental concerns. However, with over 100 schemes around the world, each with their own logos, it is difficult for the tourist to distinguish exactly what is being certified, says WWF. This confusion has lead to a lack of demand for certified holidays.

“WWF wants certification schemes such as Green Globe 21 to play a key role in shaping the future of tourism in major destinations such as the Mediterranean, which are under pressure from an increasing number of visitors,” said Peter de Brine, Tourism Co-ordinator at WWF’s Mediterranean Office. “But there is a long way to go before this scheme and others have the credibility or the recognition, among both companies and tourists, to make the difference.”

In order to improve certification of ecotourism, WWF is calling for:

  • all certification schemes to collaborate in setting up an umbrella accreditation body to oversee the creation of universal standards and to increase credibility and comparability amongst schemes;
  • the awarding of logos only to companies meeting or exceeding specific performance criteria;
  • certification for sustainable environmental, social and economic performance.

“We’re a small group of people with limited funds trying to do what we believe in,” Geoffery Lipman, Deputy Chairman of Green Globe 21, pointed out to edie. When rational people read the report, says Lipman, they will see that the system has a great many strengths as well as the weaknesses. Green Globe’s vision is to evolve, through looking at systems that work elsewhere around the world, explained Lipman. Green Globe has consistently put in place a clear logo that people around the world can look at and understand, he said.

Lipman also points out that each place around the world requires a completely different set of approaches, though there are certain standards that must be achieved. Travel companies must not use child labour, and must oppose prostitution. A percentage of their employees must be from the local population, and minimum wage requirements must be observed. It is essential that profits are not merely siphoned out of a country. “How you do that varies with countries – every country has slight differences,” said Lipman.

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