Chris Koney column: Sustainable development through tourism: the German approach
On Monday 31st July 2017, I joined a group of persons with diverse backgrounds – marketers, communicators, policy makers, players within the tourism industry and activists of sustainable development to begin a week long fact-finding tour of Germany under the theme ‘Environmental protection and green tourism in Germany’.
The day started with a short tour of the famous Scandic Hotel in Berlin, a known sustainability leader in the hotel sector across the world.
It was followed by a presentation on the hotel’s sustainability efforts over the years by the hotel manager. This was preceded with an introductory lecture and discussion on the dynamics of sustainable tourism in Germany led by German tourism consultant, Hendrik Wintjen.
From the presentation and discussion that followed, it became more obvious and agreed among the participants that the country has the potential to achieve sustainable development with tourism as a tool.
For effective action, using the vehicle of tourism require placing more premium on niche tourism in all approaches to hugely reflect in its marketing and all other aspects. This is expected to be an effective break from the traditional and mass tourism practiced commonly practiced around the world.
This position was re-echoed later in the day when the team visited the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) for a presentation on the German Strategy for Sustainable Development and discussion.
The session was moderated by Dr. Stefanie Pfahl, the Head of Division for Cooperation with civil society, associations, tourism and sports. It’s amazing what Germany has achieved in this sector and one will be wondering their journey to “tourism greatness” and how certain aspects of their model will be replicated.
Implementation of Sustainable Tourism
In recent years, special attention has been given to the implementation stage regarding sustainability principles in the field of tourism, because this requires co-operation and combining the resources of many different stakeholders.
In the German Alps, the view is that sustainability requires the use of resources, most importantly the natural resources very carefully and it is important to demonstrate the evaluation and protection of the nature and communicate this knowledge about natureto protect the natural resources. It is believed that one wins the acceptance of the guests, but also of the population based on the power of knowledge.
The numerous challenges of the implementation stage of sustainable tourism prevent us from calling any destination definitively sustainable. One of the reasons for this is the inherently fragmented nature of the tourism industry, which is why in many countries there is a need for government to assist not only with setting the policy, but also with implementing the tourism policy.
However, according to some practitioners, a pressurized political context as well as attitudes and values of the politicians in some countries can significantly alter implementation of sustainable development policies, compared to the original plans. It is the politics that needs to think sustainably, and therefore put the priority on the soft tourism. Being only in the second row of this mechanism, and therefore can only really react, the politics act and the population react on the decisions.
Government’s task is directly related to implementation, which includes promoting cooperation and coordination, enacting legislation, education and training. One thing is sure, however, that the implementation of sustainability principles requires a thorough understanding of climate change, global warming, air pollution and water pollution, depletion of ozone, deforestation, biodiversity loss as well as global poverty.
This is why diverse case studies of successful implementation of sustainability are needed to highlight the most important issues involved, warn about mistakes made which lead to disastrous consequences, and help with identifying change agents for facilitating and enforcing this change.
In this sense, in the German Alps there are views that indicators of sustainable tourism are very hard to implement and therefore it is sufficient if we raise consciousness of the people, praise the best practice examples and do a good public relations for that cause. It is because the process of assigning measures and comparisons in order to put in use the indicators seem too ambitious.
In order to be effective, implementation of every tourism plan needs to have follow-up and evaluation through mechanisms for continuing feedback. In that sense, they must be evaluated against the triple bottom line, as well as community participation and visitor satisfaction, because otherwise they can easily fail to be implemented if implementation is not monitored and evaluated.
There is a very broad policy deployed in the Bavarian Alps, from water, to mountain forests and to air pollution control. It is actually a whole program where one has to say they are very happy that they developed carefully and gently with their regional development program through the Bavarian national development program-LEP and that they didn’t have to concrete the whole parts of land that would then represent senseless, mono structured places.
The tourism policy is also very open to new ideas, as are the indicators, and in that regard, there could be no indicators that are organized and controlled for, but when there is a market research next year, there will be the introduction of this measure to see which indicators can be regularly controlled. The very process of monitoring can sometimes be very hard if the strategy is written vaguely, with no clear targets.
Ongoing assessment and feedback on decision-making can be a rich source of new ideas and is an essential part of the collective learning process. This is why it is recognized as one of the basic principles of sustainable development.
These feedback loops are important for not staying on the fixed course, but rather being able to learn, change and consequently adapt. First of all, feedback supports the evolutionary process of development of the sustainability indicators by discontinuing the usage of rarely used/communicated indicators and fostering the creation of new ones where needed.
Secondly, social feedback is crucial for pro-sustainable consumption behavior change, not to become an exception from everyday life.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) identified the process of providing feedback to the destination stakeholders in a clear form as one of the most important steps in involving the local community in tourism development. This is why many people stress on the importance of working with an important part of the local community, in order to preserve the cultural landscape in a traditional way.