Sustainable tourism: a new International Standard for accommodation providers

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Por Clare Naden
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Tourism is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economic sectors, with billions of people travelling each year – and numbers are expected to grow by 3.3 % annually until 20301. Tourist accommodation is one of the biggest players, meaning its potential impact on sustainable development is huge. New international guidance for accommodation facilities to help them improve their impact has just been published.

Not only is tourism growing by the day, it is an industry that promotes understanding and peace between countries and cultures, provides millions of jobs and is ideally placed to contribute directly to many of the United Nations’ 17 sustainability goals.

Accommodation facilities are central to any tourism activity and therefore hold immense potential for improving their impact on the environment, promoting social exchange and contributing to local economies in a positive way. But despite the many sustainable tourism programmes in existence worldwide, put forth by travel operators or other organizations with commercial interests, there has never been a truly impartial International Standard dedicated to accommodation. Until now.

ISO 21401, Tourism and related services – Sustainability management system for accommodation establishments – Requirements, specifies the environmental, social and economic requirements for implementing a sustainability management system in tourist accommodation. It addresses issues such as human rights, health and safety for employees and guests, environmental protection, water and energy consumption, waste generation and the development of the local economy.

Manuel Otero, Chair of the ISO technical committee that created the standard, said there are many initiatives in the market that accommodation providers could use to help them improve their environmental practices, but none that integrate the social and economic aspects as well, or are free from commercial interests.

“The fact that there are many schemes for sustainable accommodation from different countries and organizations can make it difficult for such facilities to know what is useful and reliable and how to meet their requirements,” he said.

“This internationally agreed standard provides clarity in a confusing market, applies to all types of accommodation and can serve as a tool to improve sustainable management. It will also help to stimulate the market for more sustainability in both the accommodation sector and the tourism industry as a whole.”

Convenor of the working group involved in the standard’s development, Alexandre Garrido added that those that implement a sustainability management system based on ISO 21401 will be able to attest to their guests and to the whole market that they are sustainable businesses.

“ISO 21401 will benefit accommodation facilities by strengthening their management and improving their reputation, while providing better-quality services to clients and improving relationships with suppliers, employees and the local community.”

ISO 21401 was developed by ISO technical committee ISO/TC 228, Tourism and related services, whose secretariat is held jointly by UNE, ISO’s member for Spain, and INNORPI, ISO’s member for Tunisia. It is available from your national ISO member or through the ISO Store.

Learn more about ISO/TC 228, Tourism and related services, in this short video:

Video: International Standards for sustainable tourism
International Standards for sustainable tourism

1) United Nations World Tourism Organization

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