In preparation for the GSTC2023 Sustainable Tourism Conference – Interview with Randy Durband

Interview with Randy Durband, the CEO of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council about the current travel trends and preparations for the GSTC annual conference in Turkey.

This article is part of the interview series with speakers of the GSTC2023 Sustainable Tourism Conference in Antalya, Türkiye, taking place in May 2023.

Anula: For those, who don’t know the GSTC well, please explain what the role of your organization is and what services it offers.

Randy: The Global Sustainable Tourism Council® (GSTC) establishes and manages global standards for sustainable travel and tourism, known as the GSTC Criteria. 

The GSTC Criteria serve as the global standards for sustainability in travel and tourism. The Criteria are used for education and awareness-raising, policymaking for businesses and government agencies and other organization types, measurement, and evaluation, and as a basis for certification. They are the result of a worldwide effort to develop a common language about sustainability in tourism. They are arranged in four pillars:

  • Sustainable management
  • Socioeconomic impacts
  • Cultural impacts
  • Environmental impacts (including consumption of resources, reducing pollution, and conserving biodiversity and landscapes)

The GSTC Criteria serve as a roadmap for destinations and businesses to achieve sustainability goals, and they are designed to be adaptable to various sectors within the tourism industry. 

There are two sets:  GSTC Destination Criteria for public policy-makers and destination managers, and GSTC Industry Criteria for hotels and tour operators.

The GSTC Criteria form the foundation Accreditation for Certification Bodies that certify hotels/accommodations, tour operators/transport providers, and destinations as having sustainable policies and practices in place. GSTC does not directly certify any products or services; but provides an accreditation program through its partner ASI/Assurance Services International to accredit Certification Bodies.

The 5th of April we announced the development of new Criteria, with support from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), we are developing a new Criteria for MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) and Attractions. The GSTC MICE Criteria and GSTC Attraction Criteria will serve as the global sustainability standards for both industries.

Anula: What are the top tourism trends in 2023, and how does the GSTC respond to them?

Randy: Sustainable tourism is gaining momentum as more travelers, businesses, and governments recognize its importance. As the industry continues to evolve, I think we can expect to see the following trends shaping the near future of sustainable tourism:

  • Greater emphasis on local experiences:  As travelers seek more authentic and immersive experiences, there will be an increased focus on local culture, cuisine, and traditions. This will help create a deeper connection between travelers and the places they visit while supporting local economies.
  • Development of sustainable infrastructure: Governments and businesses will invest in developing sustainable infrastructure, such as renewable energy sources, efficient waste management systems, and green transportation options, to reduce the environmental impact of tourism. These elements are currently being addressed by the service and product providers such as hotels and land transportation.
  • And last, but not least, the Increased adoption of the GSTC Criteria: I am sure more and more businesses and destinations will adopt the GSTC Criteria to accomplish their sustainability goals, leading to greater industry-wide collaboration and coordination in addressing sustainability challenges.

In conclusion, sustainable tourism is not just an option, but a necessity for the future of the industry.  Everyone at GSTC works hard to fulfil our mission: ​To be an agent of change in the world of sustainable travel and tourism by fostering the increased knowledge, understanding, adoption and demand for sustainable tourism practices.

Anula: GSTC is present all around the world, and you are particularly active in Asia and in Europe. How are these continents different when it comes to sustainability and tourism management? The common opinion is that Europe (when it comes to consumer trends and government regulations) is the most advanced when it comes to sustainable tourism. Would you agree with that?

Randy: GSTC indeed has a strong presence in both Asia and Europe. While there are similarities in the efforts to promote sustainable tourism in both continents, there are also key differences that can be attributed to varying cultural, socio-economic, and political factors. 

For example, European countries, especially those within the European Union, have implemented numerous sustainable tourism practices. The EU has been a pioneer in introducing directives and guidelines related to environmental protection, carbon emissions, and waste management as well as a Circular Economy Plan for a cleaner more competitive Europe.

Even though Asia finds itself at the heart of the climate change challenge—if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are not urgently reduced, the effects of climate change will become increasingly severe, McKinsey research shows that colossal sustainable finance—an average of USD$3.1 trillion per year till 2050—is required for the region to achieve its net-zero emissions target. The encouraging aspect is that a rich variety of ideas and expertise on sustainability can be found throughout Asia, covering both public and private sectors, and extending to various sectors and industries. And as more consumers globally demand sustainable tourism options, and governments worldwide continue to implement supportive policies, it is expected that both continents, Europe and Asia, will continue to make progress in promoting sustainable tourism practices.

Anula: GSTC is about to host its annual Global conference. Please tell us what’s the main purpose of the conference, who it is for, and what participants can expect from it.

Randy: The #GSTC2023 Global Sustainable Tourism Conference will be held during May 9th-12th in Antalya, Türkiye. Antalya is a city on the southern Turkish Riviera, located in the Mediterranean region of Türkiye. Note that Antalya has not been affected by the devastating and heart-breaking earthquakes in eastern Türkiye (which is 823km away).

The Conference will bring together international and domestic tourism stakeholders involved in the development and promotion of sustainable travel & tourism; including public sector, hotels, tour operators, corporates, OTAs, academia, development agencies, NGOs, consultants, and more.

Superb thought-leading speakers will share their insights on topics like ‘Sustainability in Resorts’, ‘Port Destinations’, ‘Sustainable Rural Tourism’, ‘Digitization Solutions’, ‘Sustainable MICE’, and ‘Destination Stewardship’.

Anula: The conference is hosted in Turkey, and I know that the GSTC works closely with the local government. What’s the status of sustainable tourism in Turkey, and how is this cooperation going so far?

Randy: The Türkiye Sustainable Tourism Program is the first of its kind, shifting from encouraging voluntary sustainability standards to regulating mandatory sustainable tourism standards. 

Under the leadership of the Republic of Türkiye’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, The Türkiye Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA) has developed the first national program at the governmental level with the cooperation of GSTC and academic support of Cappadocia University, starting with accommodations, based on the GSTC Criteria and GSTC Assurance program. The Turkish tourism industry began restructuring from 2022 throughout 2030, when all international standards will be met. 

This is a huge step for its tourism industry, and we think it’s a great example of commitment and concrete actions that are now reality. It has the potential to serve as a model for other NTOs and regions to implement nationwide certification.

Anula: Which topic (session) of the upcoming conference you are personally most excited about, and why?

Randy: Our entire program is so promising! You can check it out here. I personally can’t choose just one. 

I firmly believe that the MICE Criteria Consultation Workshop and the Attraction Criteria Consultation Workshop will be a highly productive and engaging opportunity for collaboration and dialogue. I am eagerly anticipating both events and am confident that they will yield insightful and valuable outcomes. 

I also think that our upcoming Port Destinations session is going to be an incredibly stimulating and informative event, especially considering the distinguished line-up of high-profile speakers who will be participating. We have the privilege of hearing from Figen Ayan, who serves as both President of MedCruise and Chief Port Officer at Galataport İstanbul, Jelka Tepšić, the Deputy Mayor of the City of Dubrovnik, Kevin Fsadni, Director of Product Development at the Malta Tourism Authority, Minas Papadakis, the CEO of the Port Authority of Heraklion, and Martyn Griffiths, the Director of Public Affairs at the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Europe. With such an admirable group of individuals, I have no doubt that this session will be one of great importance and value.

As previously stated, I must reiterate that the entire GSTC2023 program, from the very first day to its culmination, is truly remarkable. It is my sincere recommendation that all individuals reading this interview take the time to check the details of this extraordinary event, which can be accessed through this link: 

Thank you!

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