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World Tourism Day 2013: Conserving Water

by Marcela Torres

On September 27 we celebrate the 2013 World Tourism Day (WTD) under the theme “Tourism and Water: Protecting our Common Future”, which the World Tourism Organization (WTO) has chosen to underscore tourism´s responsibility and commitment in ensuring a sustainable water future.

Water availability and quality play a key role in the quality of life of humans. And tourism also depends on this resource in many ways, be it for consumption of visitors or as part of the attractions offered to travelers.

Although tourism has a minor share in world water consumption, compared to other industries such as agriculture and mining, it nevertheless contributes to the problem. For example, the hotel sector requires water for cooking, laundering, human consumption (drinks, showers, etc.), filling pools and irrigating gardens or golf courses, among other uses.

According to the WTO, since more than one thousand million people travel each year worldwide, tourism can be an important channel for raising awareness and changing behaviors, helping reduce issues of availability and quality of water resources and offering effective solutions aimed at achieving greater sustainability for water in the future.

Some related outstanding initiatives have already been set up by the tourism sector. For example, the British non-governmental organization Tourism Concern has a campaign on water equity in tourism, which promotes principles among governments, industry and society at large. The Just a Drop foundation relies on donations from tourism companies to fund clean water projects throughout the world.

People who have not yet taken any water-saving measures may start by taking baby steps. It is not necessary to do everything at once.

Here are some good tips:
  • Reduce unnecessary water consumption in cleaning and cooking
  • Check pipes and fittings to avoid leaks which cause loss of water
  • Use water-saving technology
  • Use recycled water from showers, washing machines and toilets or rain water to irrigate gardens
  • Invite your hosts to contribute to reducing water consumption through information materials

Happy World Tourism Day!


World Tourism Day: Sustainable Energy

by Marcela Torres

Today marks the celebration of the 2012 World Tourism Day (WTD) under the theme “Tourism & Sustainable Energy: Powering Sustainable Development”, with the aim of highlighting tourism’s role in a brighter energy future; a future in which the world’s entire population has access to modern, efficient and affordable energy services.

Through this blog, we have highlighted several initiative or issues related to energy sustainability in tourism. One outstanding example is the construction of the first sustainable Visitor Center in a protected area in Chile, in the Soncor Sector (Chaxa Lagoon) of the Los Flamencos National Reserve in the Atacama Salt Flat. The project included the architectural design and construction of the Visitor Center, incorporating techniques such as reuse of grey water and electricity generation through solar panels and wind mills.

We have also analyzed the international trend of travelers preferring “green hotels”, highlighting the opening in Santiago of Chile’s first green hotel which, among other things, using solar panels to provide electricity for its rooms and promotes recycling among its staff and guests.

In terms of transportation, we have covered topics such as the use of biofuels by airlines, regarding the implications of increasing costs of fuel and energy in the future. We have also talked about green transfers, thanks to an article republished from The Travel World blog which describes the experience of Green Path Transfers as a global provider of eco-friendly airport and intercity transfers.

Finally, we’ve provided useful tips for tourists to reduce their carbon footprint while traveling, through measures such as saving unnecessary energy expenditure when they’re not at home, avoiding disposable batteries and choosing day flights which use less fuel and emit fewer amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

We celebrate this World Tourism Day inviting everyone to contribute to a greater sustainability in the industry!


International Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC) 2012

Celebration of Cultures Party, ESTC 2012

by Marcela Torres

Last week I had the opportunity of participating for the first time in the International Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference, held in Monterey, California and organized by the International Ecotourism Society (TIES).

It was a great honor for me to be able to deliver, precisely on the day of Chile’s Independence, a presentation on the experience of contributing to developing ecotourism at the Chaxa Lagoon, in Los Flamencos National Reserve in the Atacama Salt Flat. The project, which we developed for CONAF Antofagasta and the Lickan-Antay Indigenous Community of Toconao with the Torres Asociados Limitada consultancy firm, consisted of building the first sustainable Visitor Center in a protected area in Chile and implementing a set of bilingual materials to interpret the natural and cultural values of the area.

The interest of attendees in learning about this experience gave me great satisfaction because it was that project which made me realize that I wanted to dedicate my life to ecotourism and motivated me, first, to study a masters in the topic and, later on, to set up my own inbound responsible tourism company –Southern Cone Journeys- with my sister, Paula.

The International Ecotourism Society has been promoting ecotourism for over a decade and working to ensure that tourism activity generates benefits for both the host communities and the environment of the destinations where it operates. This version of the Conference was attended by representatives from such diverse countries as Argentina, Botswana, Canada, Ecuador, Guyana, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya and the United States, to name a few. All of us analyzed issues such as how to fund sustainability initiatives, development and empowerment of local communities, the role of ecotourism in promoting the conservation of endangered species and the unique opportunity of the travel industry to contribute to eradicate poverty.

During the meeting, the International Ecotourism Society also launched the guidelines to regulate “voluntourism” (volunteer tourism), which it developed together with the Planeterra Foundation. The document can be downloaded from the TIES website.

The Celebration of Cultures party, the closing event of the Conference, was the highlight since it allowed attendees to share with the rest some aspects of their culture, such as music and typical outfits, and it emphasized the importance and the great potential of tourism to unite people from so many different countries around a common goal: A better quality of life for all.


Hope for Torres del Paine

Native forests in Torres del Paine National Park.
© HernánTorres

by Marcela Torres

The disastrous fire that razed 17,606 hectares (43,505 acres) of forests in Torresdel Paine National Park between December 2011 and January 2012 inspired many people in Chile and other countries to help.

For example, some fire fighting brigades from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Australia, came to provide assistance in controlling the emergency. Other people, in turn, raised their voices through the social networks demanding greater responsibility in tourism and support for the reforestation of Patagonia. Response was quick and in this entry we highlight two initiatives that bring hope for Torres del Paine National Park.

Rotem Zinger and the “Black to Green” Campaign

Who is Rotem Zinger? The Israeli tourist who caused the last fire in the Park. To avoid extending the trial against him, in February 2012 Zinger settled with the Puerto Natales Court a payment of 10 thousand United States dollars in compensation for the damages resulting from his actions and he will have to work as a volunteer between one and two years for the international non-governmental organization Keren Kayemet LeIsrael –which specializes in reforestation and has an office in Chile- taking over the role of coordinating the campaign “Torres del Paine, from Black to Green”.

The aim is to raise funds to reproduce at least 50,000 plants of native forest species in greenhouses in Puerto Natales that are owned by the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) –government agency that manages protected areas in Chile- in order to use them in the reforestation of the National Park. Zinger is forced to promote the initiative through different media, particularly among the Jewish community in Chile and its website, replicating the campaign carried out in 2011 to reforest Mount Carmel in Israel. In addition, he will need to present progress reports every three months to CONAF.

Although public opinion in Chile did not initially believe he would see this campaign through, something has already been done. On April 22 the initiative was officially launched with a call to the Chilean Jewish community in to continue showing its loyalty to Chile and Israel by supporting this effort to bring back the green to Torres del Paine.

Donations are being received in the following account:
Corporación Keren Kayemet Leisrael FNJ Chile
RUT 65.009.118-3
Banco Corpbanca
Cuenta Corriente Nº 3331692

Let’s Reforest Patagonia

At the beginning of May, a campaign called “Let’s Reforest Patagonia” was launched by several governmental institutions and non-governmental environmental organizations. This original initiative seeks to organize citizens to donate 1 million native trees that will be planted in the Torres del Paine and Laguna San Rafael national parks and in the Lago Carlota and Cerro Castillo national reserves during 2012.

How does this work? For each US $4.00, people making donations will be able to have a tree under their name in Patagonia. A grid is displayed on the website with green trees and burnt trees. To make a donation, a person must click on a burnt tree. Once the transaction has been made, the person receives a certificate with the coordinates of the place where the tree will be planted.

So far, the campaign has obtained funds to reforest more than 67,000,000 trees, according to the website’s counter. Therefore, there’s still time to help restore the beautiful Chilean Patagonia.

Let’s do it! Hope is not lost yet!


Self-Assessment for Sustainable Tourism Certification

Buying locally-sourced products is one way to contribute to sustainability.
© Marcela Torres

by Marcela Torres

As I mentioned in my previous post, when we first saw the long questionnaire we needed to fill out we were a bit overwhelmed, but the STEP platform is very friendly and the exercise was great because it allowed us to clearly identify what we are doing right and what aspects we can still improve on.

What types of elements are assessed? The first set of criteria focuses on the company’s clarity on its business. For example, if it has a documented business plan that includes a mission statement, business goals, product offerings, operational budgets, and management structure. You may ask: “What does this have to do with sustainability?” Actually, a lot, as a company’s capacity to stay in the market is one of the three elements of the triple bottom line, which consists of economic, environmental and social sustainability. The questionnaire also asks if the company has a Sustainability Policy and Action Plan, monitoring its performance and impacts, and demonstrating continual improvement.

The company’s efforts to promote sustainability principles are also evaluated. These include: Communicating to guests a “do-no-harm” code of conduct which relates to responsible travel and socio-cultural sensitivity; interpretation programs that are locally relevant and are delivered accurately by competent, knowledgeable employees; and encouraging a positive interaction between the company’s clients and the local community.

Specific criteria related to environmental sustainability cover aspects such as waste management and recycling activities, reduction of energy and water consumption, efforts to prevent air, water, noise and visual pollution, and conservation actions, among other variables. The social aspects of sustainability measured in the questionnaire include whether or not the company has a fair labor policy, clear guidelines regarding its supply chain purchases to increase the amount of locally-sourced, recycled, fair trade, and/or eco-friendly products, and a policy and plan to ensure its clients and employees are always briefed on socially and culturally appropriate behavior to minimize their negative impacts.

The most interesting feature of the self-assessment is that is fosters an incremental long-term approach, allowing companies to begin with the simpler actions and progressively take on more complex initiatives depending on their available time and resources. To that end, the questionnaire identifies different levels of compliance for each criterion, such as Required/Baseline, Intermediate, Advanced, and Industry Leader.

How did we do? We were pleased to find out that we comply with all of the Baseline requirements for aspects that are applicable to our business and we are at an Intermediate and Advanced level on several fronts, particularly in terms of our business plan, our promotion of sustainability principles and our guidelines regarding supply chain purchases. Indeed, there are still many things we can improve in our operations and we will strive to reach an Industry Leader status in the next couple of years.

In the meantime, we will apply for Step 2 in order to obtain the Bronze (Baseline) certification by submitting the Required Policies and Documentation for review by an STI-Accredited Assessor. Stay tuned for our next post on how we move forward in this process!


Tourism Initiatives to Save the Earth

Turtle hatchling in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

by Marcela Torres

If you’re still not convinced that the tourism industry can actively help save our planet, you’ll be surprised by the initiatives we’re covering in this week’s blog in anticipation to this year’s Earth Day celebration, on April 22nd. From recycling to hands-on conservation projects, tourism companies and not-for-profit organizations across the world are contributing to conserve the environment for future generations. Hopefully, you will be inspired to play a part! 

Just a Drop

Did you know that 1.4 million children die every year from diarrhea because of unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation? That is 4,000 children per day. “I started to think about how I could encourage businesses in the travel and tourism industry to give back to the places in which they operated – thus improving the lives of children and their families,” says Fiona Jeffery, who launched Just a Drop in 1998 at the World Travel Market (WTM), in London.  

Fiona named the charity ‘Just a Drop’ to reinforce that it only takes a small amount of money to help prevent the unnecessary loss of life that occurs many developing countries due to the lack of safe, clean water. Until now, Just a Drop has funded projects in more than 25 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East, providing water and sanitation to marginalized communities.  

To ensure sustainability of the projects, the organization works with beneficiary communities from start to finish, building local capacity and directly linking funders to specific projects in the field, so they can see very clearly the difference their support has made.  

In fact, Fiona is also the Chair of the WTM, where she has promoted the celebration of World Responsible Tourism Day (WRTD) since 2007, stressing the unique opportunity the tourism industry has in helping reduce poverty and conserve natural and cultural resources throughout the planet. “We have the means and the responsibility to help the local communities of the places that we visit,” she states.  

Clean the World

Have you ever wondered what happens with the bits of bar soap you leave behind in hotels when traveling? Well, Shawn Seipler and Paul Till did. They were shocked to find out how many bars of soaps are thrown away and how much they could help prevent millions of deaths caused by hygiene-related illnesses every day. So, they created the Florida-based Clean the World Foundation in 2009.

What do they do? They collect, sort and process discarded soap, shampoo, conditioner and lotion product donations from participating hospitality partners and hygiene products from manufacturers. They recycle these product donations at the facilities in Orlando, Florida, and then deliver these recycled products to domestic homeless shelters and impoverished countries suffering from high death rates due to acute respiratory infection and diarrheal disease. 

Until now, Clean the World has put over 9.5 million soap bars and 200,000 pounds of shampoo and conditioner back into human use, while eliminating over 600 tons of waste. Check out their video to learn more!

Saving Turtles and More

Many tourism businesses are undertaking initiatives to conserve wildlife throughout the world. In Mexico, for example, several eco-resorts have successfully developed marine turtle conservation programs –some of them since the mid-1990s- in which guests, staff and local community volunteers help move turtle eggs to a protected area on the beach and then release hatchlings to find their way to the sea.

And in the State of Queensland, in Australia, tourism companies with permits to operate in public protected areas collaborate with local authorities to monitor the environmental conditions of the places they visit. Among other things, they record visitor numbers, campfire facilities, road kills, number of species and feeding sites and any disturbance they encounter during their trips. This helps park authorities to act quickly in case of any emergency and keep updated information on the sites.

These are just a few examples, among many others carried out in other places. Are you feeling inspired? I bet you are! So, get out there and find out what you can do to save our beautiful planet and leave it even better for the next generations.

Happy Earth Day!