by Larry Waight
Two weeks ago the 28th Annual General Meeting of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) was held in Belize City. The BTIA is the largest tourism association in Belize and is the voice of tourism related concerns. “Tourism Business and Sustainable Development” was the theme of the general meeting. After the meeting was over Larry Waight of the Huffington Post met with Mike Green who is a sustainable tourism consultant and independent “Green Globe” auditor to talk about sustainable tourism and the rise of green certification in Belize. The following is part of their conversation.
Mike Green has worked in the tourism industry in Belize for the past 23 years, in both resort management and tour operations and now as a sustainable tourism consultant and certification auditor. Sustainable tourism in its purest sense is an industry which attempts to make a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate income, employment, and the conservation of local ecosystems. It is responsible tourism that is both ecologically and culturally sensitive. Thus, Sustainable tourism activities have minimal impact on the environment and culture of the host community.
Mr. Green was asked how satisfied he was about the progress of sustainable tourism in Belize? Belize has come a long way over the past 20 years yet we still have a long way to go. We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources as well as phenomenal cultural and natural attractions. My concerns lie with whether or not our governmental agencies actually recognize these facts and the monumental importance of sustainably utilizing our resources for current benefit yet still conserving them for the enrichment of future generations.
From your perspective how is sustainability perceived by the tourism industry in Belize? I would venture to say that here in Belize it is more perceived as “survival.” A large percentage of our tourism businesses are small “Mom & Pop” operations who struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet. This in turn makes it difficult for them to invest in long term sustainability programs even though these same programs could result in substantial savings over time and help to insure their financial survival. This is exactly why our industry leaders and government agencies must act with honest and sincere aforethought today.
How satisfied are you with the content, level and quality of tourism education in Belize? I must say that I feel that it is improving immensely. Tourism being our largest industry and largest employer will require more and more qualified employees. The industry is producing golden opportunities for our youth as well as enormous benefits to all of the support industries and suppliers.
What makes Belize tourism industry vulnerable to environmental changes? Belize is a subtropical country with rather low lying topography. Climate change as the result of global warming has been scientifically predicted to result in the rise of the oceanic water levels. Just a matter of a few inches rise will have devastating effect on our coastline which facilitates a large portion of our tourism industry. Maybe you should think of buying land around Belmopan for future beachfront development!
Industry stakeholders must become involved with the formation of realistic long term plans to address impacts of economic, environmental and social changes in the tourism industry of Belize. We must all look forward while insisting that our political leaders and governmental agencies act responsibly today with true science based methodology aimed at the long term protection and conservation of our natural resources and our industry and thusly the wellbeing of our nation.
One of the most critical elements of becoming an environmentally friendly hotel is the adoption of a new third-party verified culture that extends throughout the hotel organization, and between the hotel and its guest, local community, and even its vendors. We call this an Environmental Management System (EMS) and refer to the management of an organization’s environmental programs in a comprehensive, systematic, planned and documented manner. It includes the organizational structure, planning and resources for developing, implementing and maintaining policy for environmental protection. Hotels that effectively incorporate an EMS into their organization reap many benefits. On average, certified hotels achieve 11 percent savings in operational costs, experience a 38 percent improvement in employee retention, and a three percent increase in their overall property value.
There is an enormous demand for third-party verified sustainability within the travel industry. Patrons seeking assurances they are supporting an operation that protects the environment represent a growing sector in the tourism marketplace.
A third-party verified EMS enhances the hotel’s image and opens opportunities to attract environmentally conscious consumers. Furthermore, an EMS is becoming a requirement for many business relationships as more companies demand that their suppliers and clients meet their standards. A viable EMS can also be used as a one-stop document sent to wholesalers, travel agents and interested persons that might have queries about your systems, procedures or claims to be a “green” business.
Green Globe is the accepted standard for sustainability certification worldwide providing services in 94 countries while covering all sectors of the hospitality, travel and tourism industry as well as all components of sustainability including environmental, social responsibility and economic viability. Green Globe Certification is ISO compliant (FAA, FDA) with 41 criteria and 337 continuously updated indicators that are all verified by independent third-party auditors.
Reprinted from the Huffington Post MG News, Huff Post Green, The Blog, posted February 23, 2015.
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