What is sustainability certification for tourism businesses?

Tourism businesses are facing increasing pressures to conduct their activity in a sustainable way to reduce their impact on the planet and contribution to climate change or biodiversity loss.

A sustainability certification for tourism businesses can help provide structure and guidance with clearly defined steps to take to achieve these sustainability goals. The certification will usually cover all aspects of business activities, in different themes. For example, the Green Tourism certification covers the following themes:

  • Management
  • Marketing and Communication
  • Social Responsibility and Equality
  • Energy Savings
  • Water Issues
  • Purchasing
  • Waste Minimisation
  • Travel and Transport
  • Nature and Culture
  • Innovation

Most sustainability certifications’ processes are the same. First, businesses are required to self-report on each of the criteria for each of the themes. The reporting usually takes place online.

Then the self-reporting is checked, and an audit is planned. The audits can take place online or on-site. On-site audits are usually preferred to ensure credibility and adherence to the highest standards of certification. However, with the pandemic, online audits have become much more common. Audits must be conducted by a third-party auditor to maintain credibility of the certification process.

Following the audits, the results are usually reviewed by a certification committee and the business is then awarded and sent an audit/award report with their results for each of the criteria. Some certification bodies may include comments, feedback, or recommendations by the auditor in the final report.

What are the benefits of sustainability certification for tourism businesses?

81% of travellers confirm that sustainable travel is important to them, with 50% claiming that recent news related to climate change have influenced them to make more sustainable travel choice.” – Booking.com, 2022.

Visitors’ awareness of sustainable practices in the tourism sector is increasing. According to Booking.com’s latest research, 38% of global travellers indicated that they look for information on the sustainability practices of an accommodation provider before booking. Moreover, 78% of them claim that they want to stay at least once in a sustainable accommodation in the next 12 months. A sustainability certification is an effective way to communicate sustainability practices while avoiding green washing.

Processes to make sustainable practices, and sustainability certification more visible for visitors, and easier to find, are improving. Google search engine will feature more information on eco-certification for accommodation. Booking.com has also launched a Sustainable Travel Badge, that will be given to all eco-certified accommodation on their website. When selecting a certification body, make sure that their certification is recognised by these entities, so you can benefit from this increased visibility.

How to choose a certification body for tourism businesses?

When selecting an eco-certification certain factors are essential to consider: 

  • Cost: the scheme should be affordable, especially for Small and Medium-size Enterprises (SMEs).
  • Transparency: the results should be transparent and provided to the businesses, or, even better, made public. 
  • Independent audit: the audit should be conducted by a third-party auditor.
  • Market recognition: customers should recognise the scheme and understand what the results mean.
  • Marketing benefits: your business should be promoted on the certification body’s website or other partner website to increase visibility and market reach. Make sure the certification body is recognised by Google and Booking.com to benefit from the visibility mentioned in the previous section.

What are the most popular eco-certification bodies for tourism businesses in the UK?

  • For all types of businesses except for tour operators:

Green Tourism is the largest certification scheme in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1997, they have worked with more than 2,500 tourism businesses across 22 countries. However, 2,300 of these members are based in the United Kingdoms awarded bronze, silver or gold awards depending on results of audits. This scheme is endorsed by Visit Scotland, Visit England and Visit Wales.

Green Key has been operating for 20 years and is particularly popular in Europe. With more than 3,200 members across 65 countries, they currently have 32 members in the UK. This scheme is also endorsed by Visit England, as well as recognised by UNWTO and UN environment. There aren’t different levels of awards in this scheme, all members receive the Green Key Eco Label Certified status.

  • For tour operators

Travelife for Tour operators is one of the most popular eco-certifications available for tour operators. Tour operators can play a big role in the transition of the sector towards sustainability, encouraging their supply chains to work more responsibly. There are 3 levels of membership in the Travelife certification: (1) Travelife Engaged, (2) Travelife Partner and (3) Travelife Certified.  

Still not sure which to choose?

Check whether your local council is endorsing any schemes or has launched a local scheme for your destination. You may also want to check which schemes your local competitors are using.




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