Chile to host international sustainable tourism conference

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Photo: Javier VierasPhoto: Javier Vieras
By Cristobal Perez
Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in Chilean Patagonia, is host to the annual conference of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), which will take place from today until Saturday, September 9.
The event will focus mainly on management, marketing and certification of “sustainable destinations.”  Organized by Chile’s National Tourism Service (SERNATUR) and GSTC, more than 250 individuals from the tourism industry are expected to attend, among them leading researchers, experts, and representatives of various tour operators, hotels, non-governmental organizations and development agencies from some 20 countries. As well, representatives from the Mapuche and Yagan indigenous peoples will also participate.
The GSTC is an independent, non-profit organization that aims to generate global sustainability standards for the tourism industry, and in particular build consensus on the minimum sustainability criteria used by sustainable certification companies. The overall aim is to reduce the negative impacts of tourism and maximize its benefits both for economies and for the conservation of natural resources.
Jorge Moller, director of the Chilean environmental group Regenera, and member of the international board of GSTC, stresses the importance of the conference being held in Chile, as it "brings knowledge from the rest of the world and case studies.” Moreover, he argues that "Chile now must be more strategic and plan more. And I think this meeting is going to help with awareness. The energy has to be put into promotion, but also in planning."
But the development of sustainable tourism does not depend only on those who offer the services, the tourist is another relevant actor. Visitors increasingly travel more responsibly, preferring and supporting experiences that have to do with sustainability. "Today, consumers tend to lean toward a more transformational approach to tourism, a type of travel that stresses values and a process that integrates the local community," says Moller.
Sustainable tourism is now a growing market that brings with it certain benefits if a business achieves certification of sustainability. Manuel José Perrot, national director of sustainability for SERNATUR, emphasizes that "certification carries with it worldwide recognition, and allows access to certain benefits like a privileged place when doing promotion, free technical courses, discounts in international fairs, and opportunities to have new experiences, share best practices, connect to networks and form alliances. He adds: "It's a business opportunity in the short-term, but it’s also a necessity to continue operating, if you look at from the long perspective.”
The conference will have the eyes of the global sustainability community trained on Chile this week. The Lake Llanquihue area and Juan Fernandez Islands are a few of the Chilean destinations that currently have made a strong commitment to sustainability, but the country has much work to do to bring sustainable tourism to other attractive places in this long, thin and spectacularly diverse corner of South America.
Today, the biggest concern of the GSTC is governance. Says Moller the organization seeks to install “in different countries and localities the idea that public-private governance is what can really leverage sustainable tourism." To that end, Moller emphasizes that its important for all sectors to get involved, from academia to the press to governments and entrepreneurs in order to generate credible governance where agreements are made that make destinations more sustainable.