We recently got to talk to Saúl Blanco Sosa, NEPCon Sustainable Tourism Services Manager. With 25 years of experience, the ecolabel knows a thing or two about responsible travel and the changes that need to be made in the industry to ensure a sustainable future for all. In the interview, Saúl Blanco Sosa talks to us about the development of the tourism sector since 1994, the main focus of the ecolabel’s certification and the responsible practices he implements in his day-to-day life.
(1) bookdifferent.com com is very proud to team up with NEPCon to offer travelers the most sustainable hotels all over Latin America. Where do you see the benefits in working together with bookdifferent.com?
bookdifferent.com represents a credible and coherent platform to showcase and promote our NEPCon certified accommodations. It is a natural partner since we are likeminded mission driven organisations. What we see in this partnership is the chance to offer our certified accommodations the possibility to connect with the global markets using a platform that puts credibility on top of profit and commitment towards sustainability on top of numbers. For us, a partner like bookdifferent.com is key to ensure that we are using a reliable channel to connect the responsible accommodations offer with the corresponding segment of consumers.
(2) Can you give us a short insight into the work NEPCon does?
NEPCon -Nature, Economy and People Connected- is an international non-profit organisation, working to promote sustainable development on a global scale. We have worked for 25 years in close partnership with NGOs, businesses and governments in developing solutions to major global challenges such as deforestation and climate change through innovative projects, capacity building and offering sustainability services (certifications) in 100+ countries all over the world.
(3) NEPCon has been working towards a more sustainable future for 25 years now. How would you say has the tourism industry and the importance of sustainable practices within the sector changed since 1994?
The last 25 years are definitely a lifetime leap for the tourism sector. I believe that in 1994, the world in general was just waking up to the news that we needed to review our business practices to stop depleting our natural resources. Back then, the tourism sector was not yet feeling the impacts of that, or it was not aware of them. At least not as a sector.
Some visionaries were already talking in 1994 about overcrowding (overtourism) at some destinations, but most did not seem to (truly) worry about this and its impacts. Climate change was not even a topic and community development activities were just another market niche.
Today, the sector is more aware of its impacts and is also clearer about its role beyond the sole traveling activity. This is one of the reasons why we see so many tourism related organizations taking action to protect biodiversity, local cultures and traditions; involve in a meaningful way local community and improve livelihoods, especially of women, youth and other minorities.
Open discussion and actions are worldwide implemented to promote responsible use of resources in general, reduction and responsible management of waste, better use of public space, respect for local cultures, etc. Tourism has become aware of its power to educate and transform through experiences.
Unfortunately, some impacts are already relevant, and some threats are as real as they are unavoidable. Climate change and overtourism are aspects that the sector needs deal with, adapt to its impacts and work towards minimizing or reducing its sources of origin. Not an easy task and definitely not one that will be solved (if possible) soon, however, the good news is that many in the sector are already working keenly on them.
(4) You have a wide network of subsidiaries, staff and consultants all around the world. In what way does that help NEPCon in their work?
Our global network of staff, consultants and partners allow us to strategically reach more than 100 countries in all continents and support local efforts that intend to tackle global challenges. Our regional teams provide local knowledge to adapt global solutions or develop innovative ideas for relevant environmental and social challenges, respecting the local needs and conditions of the landscapes where NEPCon works.
(5) In your accommodation certification service, NEPCon Sustainable Tourism Standard for Accommodations, where do you put your main focus?
Long term commitment to a balanced sustainable approach. We seek to work with accommodations and tour operators worldwide that understand the need for a holistic development plan that cares for the environment, the wellbeing of the people, its culture and traditions. We do not want to work with box checkers only seeking to comply with certification requirements in exchange for a brand. We are looking for those who see sustainable development as the philosophy on which its business will be built and developed over time.
(6) In your opinion, what sustainable practice should every accommodation facility implement?
There is no such thing as “one recipe for all” or “one size fits all” on this. But if I had to choose one, I would say tracking the results of being sustainable to continually improve.
I guess that on a question like this you would be expecting answers like water saving or recycling; maybe avoid single use plastics or the lesser mentioned but also very important implementation of social and labor policies and practices that uphold human rights. However, in my own experience, getting a tourism business to start the journey is not the toughest part, but keeping them engaged is where the actual challenge is. For that, is very relevant for companies to be clear of how much they have done in their sustainability journey and how much they can continue doing. Good monitoring and tracking provides that insight and also offers the sense of achievement that is needed to gain the energy to continue on this process over time.
(7) What is one responsible practice that you incorporate in your day-to-day life?
As a regular personal thing, I got rid of plastic bags and water plastic bottles a long time ago. I´m always carrying reusable bags with me, when traveling, when going to run, whenever, there is a pack on my car, my travel bag, my suitcase with bags I use and reuse for multiple needs. I also carry with me my own water refillable bottle everywhere and collect those to always have one handy and not use plastic bottles.
(8) To conclude: in two sentences, where do you see the tourism industry in Latin America heading in the future?
Bigger community-based tourism (indigenous and rural) and therefore more social involvement is an evident trend in Latin America given its large cultural diversity. Culture and biodiversity combinations on most itineraries is a regular.
Saúl Blanco Sosa, NEPCon Sustainable Tourism Services Manager
Thank you Saúl for this thought-provoking interview. We can definitely say that we learned more than a thing or two! If you’re interested in knowing more about NEPCon, click here.