STEP 1 to obtain Sustainable Tourism Certification

Tourists visiting the Valdivian Rainforest in southern Chile. 
© Marcela Torres

by Marcela Torres

We have very exciting news this week! Why? Because we have just begun the process to obtain Sustainable Travel International’s (STI) STEP 1 certification for tour operators.

You may say: “So, what’s the big deal?”  Well, to begin with, let’s agree on the fact that all tourism can have positive or negative economic, environmental and social impacts. In order to mitigate, and hopefully avoid, negative impacts caused by our activities on the destinations and local communities we work with, through our operations we strive to: 
  • Minimize our impact on the environment during our visits.
  • Generate incomes for local communities by visiting locally owned attractions and hiring local guides.
  • Take economic, environmental and cultural factors into account when considering new destinations.
  • Encourage our clients to act responsibly and respect the local community, its culture and traditions
Therefore, it’s important for us as a responsible tourism operator to have an independent certification of our standards to achieve these goals. However, there are no eco-certification schemes currently in place in Chile. In addition to that, we decided that if we were going to go through this lengthy process it should lead us to obtain an internationally recognized eco-label so that nobody could accuse us of “green washing”.

We chose STI’s Sustainable Tourism Education Program (STEP), because it is a suite of online tools that help businesses and destinations of all sizes manage their impacts based on a comprehensive set of sustainability criteria and indicators, including components such as education and training programs, a self-assessment framework for measuring and benchmarking, and an independently-verified eco-certification process.

We also liked STEP because it is the only global eco-certification program in the travel and tourism industry managed by a non-profit organization and it is recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), and quickly becoming the gold standard for the industry.

I must confess, when we first saw the long questionnaire we need to fill out we were a bit overwhelmed. But to be honest, the STEP platform is very friendly and the process is great because it allows businesses to successfully integrate sustainable practices into their operations by taking an incremental long-term approach, ramping up their initiatives as time and resources allow. STEP helps facilitate this process through its three primary components or "steps."

Step 1 is the completion of a comprehensive online self-assessment tool that helps businesses begin to identify and measure key impacts, as well as become more informed about how to implement industry best practices. Companies can then go on to Step 2 and apply for the Bronze (Baseline) certification by submitting the Required Policies and Documentation for review by an STI-Accredited Assessor. Upon approval, applicants may proceed to Step 3, which consists of a third-party on-site assessment, performed by a local STI-Accredited Assessor who will verify adherence with STEP criteria and recommend Silver (Intermediate), Gold (Advanced) or Platinum (Industry Leader) certifications.

Well, we’re just starting with STEP 1 and will probably learn a lot from this experience, which I’ll be sharing with you on this blog as we move along. The important thing is that we have begun this crucial process, even if it’s by taking baby steps for now. Hopefully, we will soon be the first Chilean company certified by Sustainable Travel International. That would be an honor!


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