Tourism is an industry that is solely dependent on marketing, promotion and vying of customers and offering them unique and varied experiences. Global benchmarking and certification standards have been evolved as a tool for total quality management in destinations. These standards are widely used in a number of countries and have become benchmark for assurance of destination quality worldwide. This helps to create a better visitor experience and bring in holistic development.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) has been the apex organization playing the pivotal role in designing global standards, criteria and indicators for destinations and tourism industry worldwide on which many recognized standards and accreditations and certification bodies have been developed. So far, none of the major global general destination certification standards have made their entry into India. Enhancing destination quality through continuous assessment and measurable outcome is of utmost need in the country. The primary motto of Susthira is to enhance destination performance and management in the country through thoughtfully designed certification programs.
‘Susthira’ has developed detailed national level standard, criteria and indicators specific to tourism destinations in India aligning with the latest criteria of Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and United Nations Millennium Sustainable Development Goals (UNMSDG). It will also get the standard recognized by Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), the apex organization in the world for the development and recognition of standards as well as the accreditation and approval of certification bodies. The Indian destinations standard has been based on the twelve aims of an agenda for sustainable tourism forwarded by United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). These aims have also been mentioned by Ministry of Tourism, Government of India in developing sustainable tourism criteria and indicators for accommodation, travel and tour sector for the country.
The Green Destinations Standard (GDS) is a comprehensive assessment and reporting system to evaluate, monitor and improve the quality and the sustainability of all types of destinations. It is a Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) accredited destination certification agency based in Netherlands. Green Destinations is promoted by 250 destinations in eighty countries and is the highest achievable level of certification for tourist destinations in the world. The primary objective of the program is to motivate and train destinations to adopt a sustainability management system as a structural solution towards becoming a more attractive destination. It applies criteria, management guidelines, and indicators through state-of-the-art tools. It applies hundred criteria, management guidelines, and indicators through state-of-the-art tools spread across six main themes of destination management, nature and scenery, environment and climate, culture and tradition, social wellbeing and business and hospitality. The program includes Green destinations and Quality Coast awards for coastal and waterfront destinations ranging from bronze, silver, gold and platinum followed by GSTC certification.
‘Green Destinations’ has already launched its program in Asia and Pacific through its representative organizations in Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. ‘Susthira’ has become the first and presently the only authorized representative organization to operate ‘Green Destinations’ awards and certification program in the Indian Sub-continent.
This Eco certification label named ‘India Green’ will be a national level certification which is a direct outcome of the national level standard, criteria and indicators designed by ‘Susthira’ and will be approved by the Ministry of Tourism and recognized by Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). The certification will be implemented in India as a challenge or contest. ‘India Green’ will also have an additional Ecolabel, with the required criteria and indicators pertaining to environmental categories which have to be addressed fully by the Eco destinations. This Eco certification will have a special focus on carbon neutral and carbon minus sites through a well-structured carbon footprint analysis.
To improve the visitor experience and increase capacity building within the tourism industry, it is necessary to take into consideration the broader aspects of visitor accessibility. Tourism as a leisure activity must be enjoyed by all which includes persons with special needs. India has adapted to accessibility issues the launched ‘Sugamya Bharat Abhiyaan’ under Ministry of Social Justice for making the environment barrier free and accessible for the persons with disabilities. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) standard also has laid out ‘Access for all’ as a mandatory criterion. It has been given due importance by ‘Susthira’ by developing a three-tier classification of destinations for creating access friendly infrastructure for persons with disabilities. It is proposed to operate the program as a regular challenge or contest within the country which will create awareness towards universal accessibility.
Technology has become inseparable in tourism services. The entire travel industry has undergone a digital transformation which is exploiting technologies and supporting capabilities to create a robust new business model. It involves implementation of new technologies as well as integration of existing technologies, processes and services to deliver a better experience to all visitors and stakeholders. ‘Susthira’ has plans to acknowledge the best practices of destinations in implementing technological innovations in visitor management, destination planning, interpretation etc.
There are many global certification brands specific to particular leisure zones and tourist destinations where the destinations have to directly apply for the program. Some of the popular names include ‘Biosphere’ (for destination communities), ‘Earthcheck’ (for sustainable destinations and cities) etc. ‘Susthira’ will in prospective years try to function as the nodal and advisory agency in the country through assigning sector categories; choosing destinations and leisure entities and assisting them in the process of benchmarking and certification.
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