GSTR: A new way to see sustainable destinations

We interviewed Albert Salman, developer of the Global Sustainable Tourist Review (GSTR):

Clearly sustainable tourism is not just about ‘sustainability’. After all, a destination couldn’t be really sustainable without tourists, and tourists won’t come unless they like what they see would they? Although experts can report and grade a destination – it’s tourists that actually make the difference between commercial failure and success.

A new sustainable destination tool aims to fill the gap between what experts think and what tourists want and help destinations create bridges between their sustainable initiatives and the needs and requirements of their visitors.

The GSTR has been created to see sustainable destinations through the eyes of potential visitors.

Says Albert Salman, the report’s creator: “Destinations can develop wonderful sustainability policies, but they are irrelevant until they bear fruit. So I decided to look at destinations through the eyes of visitors. In addition to evaluating the local policy effort - I tried to make sustainability ‘visible’.

His problem with many existing sustainable tourism certifications was that he realised that any destination would be able to adopt a sustainable tourism policy and become certified as an official ‘sustainable destination’. Even destinations that had already lost their natural and cultural heritage and their local identity and biodiversity could be sustainable in theory.

Fearing that tourists would not be impressed at all with such a certified destination and that it would undermine the credibility of tourism sustainability overall, Albert decided that something had to be done.

“I considered that a successful sustainability policy would lead to less litter, less pollution, less loss of identity, culture and nature; but also to less human rights violations and less social exploitation. These are relevant issues for tourists and create a harmonious local society where tourists can feel comfortable and happy.”

So he took a sabbatical from work, and with a group of students created the Global Sustainable Tourism Review – an independent non-commercial, open source document that rates more than 1,000 destinations.

And rather than just assessing policies that tourists never see, the review rates the results of the sustainability policies that tourists can and do see and experience in practice.  A large survey was initially used to understand what tourists would expect in a “sustainable destination” and then the initial GSTR was created, assessing destinations through visitors’ eyes and based on:

· Data from local, regional and national authorities: ca. 50%.

· Data collected from Google Earth, Google Maps and Statistical databases: ca. 40%.

· Visitor reviews and Expert assessments: ca. 10%.

And there you have it – a review based on sustainable tourism through visitor’s eyes. In fact sustainable tourism from principle to practice!

And the next step? Albert is hoping that the travel industry will take up the report and he is looking for interested participants to take the project to its next open-source stage.

Further information at: www.greendestinations.info

Foto: Wideangel view of the natural bridge on Aruba, Sustainable Travel International

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