In the Institute Factory of Sustainable Tourism GoodPlace we have joined forces with Talent Basket, a virtual workplace, providing global workforce solutions to businesses and professionals. We took part in their online training programme, during which we collaborated with talented students from around the world.
Students involved in the project were given an opportunity to expand their knowledge about sustainable tourism and improve their writing skills under our mentorship and guidance from TB’s project lead. We wanted to inspire the students to explore the importance of sustainable tourism development and join us in our pursue of a better tomorrow. We strongly believe it is our social responsibility to help nurture young talents.
Each student was tasked to produce an article on their preferred topic, related to sustainable tourism. Almas from the Maldives, one of the three student authors, decided to compare sustainable tourism development approaches in three different countries – the Maldives, Bhutan and Slovenia.
‘Sustainable tourism’ – where the focus of any destination, organization, or business is to minimize negative impacts of tourism to the environment and local communities while ensuring possible future growth for the communities’ economy and social standards.
This trendsetting approach to tourism has become a lifestyle choice for many travellers today and it is expected to be a norm in the near future. In order to cater to this specific need, many countries have taken it as a challenge to amend their systems and establish new policies to make their tourism destinations more sustainable, with long-lasting positive impacts or benefits to the environment and host communities.
With this in mind, we must understand that there is a need to have a wide range of sustainability models suitable for varied destination types rather than a “one-size-fits-all” perspective. In a series of three short articles, we will introduce three destinations that have been praised for developing their tourism sectors in a sustainable manner. Each of them, however, uses a very different approach to being sustainable.
In the first article, we will be sharing sustainable practices in the Maldives, which will be followed by the case study of the Kingdom of Bhutan. The series of articles will be completed with a review of sustainable tourism development in Slovenia. The idea is to show contrast in actions taken by respective countries as well as different stakeholders being involved in the process, helping us to better understand the diverse drives and approaches to sustainable tourism development in different destinations.
Maldives, a small island nation made up of 1,200 islands scattered across the Indian Ocean. To travellers, the country is known for its white sandy beaches and crystal blue waters, while tourism industry professionals also know Maldives for its unique ‘one island – one resort’ tourism model.
The ‘one island – one resort’ model was implemented to ensure sustainable growth by limiting the establishment of one resort on an island. Each resort is managed by one management group hence helping the local government to better manage each island’s everyday activities and limit the number of guests arriving to the islands.This model has shown to be successful to control and avoid possible negative impacts caused by over-crowding of tourists.
Source: Photo by Shaah Shahid on Unsplash
Similar to other archipelagos, Maldives is a nation at risk of adverse global warming effects. This is one of many reasons why developing sustainable tourism is a necessary move for the government and private stakeholders. National policies and regulations, such as the ‘one island – one resort’ model, were developed to emphasize the importance of sustainable tourism, while each resort management group initiates sustainable efforts within their premises.
Source: Soneva Fushi resort
Resort management groups in Maldives work towards sustainability through innovative efforts carried out at different levels depending on individual resort types, ratings and capabilities. One of the most common and highly-practiced sustainable efforts across these resorts is the use of solar energy as the main energy source. This is also due the lack of space and resources on the islands that on average only measure between 1-2 km2 and reach 1.5 meters above sea level. Many resorts therefore use solar panels to power their facilities. Kudadoo Maldives Private Island is a perfect example of a fully solar-powered resort.
With the announced nation-wide phase-out of single-use plastics by 2023, resorts such as Soneva Fushi are leading the movement by creating their own desalination plant to filter and produce bottled water for their staff and guests. The resort is a part of the Soneva brand that is known for innovative sustainable practices and intertwining luxury with sustainability. They work closely with communities from nearby islands to obtain local resources which in turn helps to sustain local economies. Today, Soneva Fushi is a 100 % carbon neutral resort with the help of Soneva Foundation that offsets the carbon emission from their resort activities. One of their carbon offset programs includes planting over 500,000 trees in Thailand over a period of 8 years, mitigating approximately 255,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Besides that, the resort has their own in-house garden to reduce the amount of imported goods, lowering its carbon footprint.
Source: Photo by Mohamed Hayyaan on Unsplash
Rising sea levels and other negative consequences of climate change are expected to have a huge impact on the country with its highest point going up to only 2.4 meters. The need to protect the islands and their inhabitants paved the way for the Maldivian government to initiate a Green Tax in 2015. Today, each tourist visiting the Maldives has to pay a Green Tax of USD6 per day for their stay in a resort and USD3 per day for a stay in a guesthouse. This tax funds government’s research and facilities to seek better alternatives to manage waste and protect the environment.
With combined efforts of public and private sectors, Maldives is on a path towards a sustainable tourism sector. Local sustainability leaders believe these initiatives will help to slow down the adverse effects of climate change and sustain the beauty of Maldives for future generations.
The Kingdom of Bhutan is known for rich cultural heritage, biodiversity and Gross National Happiness. The sustainable tourism initiatives implemented by Bhutanese government are highly commended by many within the travel industry. With its tourism model built on sustainability and their primary value of Gross National Happiness, the country became a champion in creating a balanced environment for both tourists and local communities. It must, however, be stated that Bhutan is a modern-day monarchy, where the government is in control of all activities. This made it easier to implement a centralized management system in their tourism industry.
Photo by Daniel Grandfield on Unsplash
The government of Bhutan has a strong ‘High Value, Low Impact’ policy. The focus is on retaining revenue generated from visitors and maximizing foreign exchange earnings, while ensuring minimal to no damage to the environment and cultural heritage of the country. This has led to creation of many job opportunities for the locals and benefited locally owned businesses. The policies established by the Bhutanese government also became a useful case study for a unique controlled tourism destination.
Source: Photo by Gaurav Bagdi on Unsplash
One of the tactics being used by the government is promoting Bhutan as a high-end tourist destination. The country imposed a daily minimum spend of USD250 for every foreign visitor. The minimum spend includes a sustainable development fee of USD65, visa charges, hotel accommodation, meals, transportation, camping equipment, and tour guiding services. This policy enabled Bhutanese government to finance public education and health-care for local residents, as well as some infrastructure projects.
In 2018, Green Destination Foundation awarded the Kingdom of Bhutan with the ‘Earth Award’. The Foundation commended Bhutan for its efforts in culture and nature preservation through their ‘Green Bhutan’ project, initiating a culture of planting trees among the Bhutanese people. Tree planting in Bhutan is even recorded as a Guinness World Record. In 2015, a team of 100 locals set a new world record by planting 49,672 trees in one hour. Bhutan has also initiated a project named ‘Clean Bhutan’, as part of which they cleaned historical sites and advocated for a change in behaviour towards waste management.
Source: Photo by Aaron Santelices on Unsplash
Apart from encouraging environmental protection, Bhutan made it compulsory for all tour operators and tour guides to be licensed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. The Council also categorizes all hotels. This helps the government to enforce sustainable tourism policies on all tourism service providers and emphasize on the value of Gross National Happiness as a higher priority compared to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The Kingdom of Bhutan’s sustainable tourism development model is one of its kind. It showcases how destinations can strike a balance between tourism development and preservation of its local communities, cultural heritage, and natural environment. With government’s continuing efforts, the Kingdom is expected to become known as a luxury tourism destination in the near future. Nevertheless, such developments were surely more easily carried out in a controlled environment of a modern monarchy.
Slovenia is known for its unspoiled greenery – extensive forests, clear rivers and diverse landscapes, as well as their efforts of sustaining this pristine natural environment. Slovenia is, in fact, widely recognized as a ‘Green Country’. Although living in harmony with nature is deeply rooted in Slovenian culture, sustainable tourism accomplishments can mainly be attributed to a national certification program or a Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism, which operates under the brand of Slovenia Green.
Source: Slovenian Tourist Board media library
The Scheme was developed and started operating in 2015, when the first pilot destinations and tourism businesses joined the program. The network of sustainable destinations and tourism businesses has since expanded across the entire country and includes as many as 53 destinations, 46 accommodations, 4 parks, 2 travel agencies, and 1 tourist attraction. Soon, sustainability-oriented restaurants and beaches will also be able to join the “green club”. The Scheme works as a quality certification used to indicate the fulfilment of a wide range of requirements related to sustainable tourism. Destinations are assessed according to the global criteria of the Green Destinations Standard, which is recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. Depending on their level of fulfilment in listed criteria, destinations are awarded with bronze, silver, gold or platinum certificate.
The Scheme is a tool for assessing and improving the sustainability endeavours of destinations and businesses. Moreover, participating members are provided with additional exposure by the Slovenian Tourist Board. The Institute Factory of Sustainable Tourism GoodPlace is accredited by the Slovenian Tourist Board as the Slovenia Green project partner and is responsible for the development and implementation of the Scheme.
Source: Slovenian Tourist Board media library
Slovenia has received several awards along its green journey with its most recent addition being the ‘Best of Europe’, awarded by the Green Destinations at their 2020 Sustainable Destinations Awards. According to the Green Destinations Foundation, Slovenia was recognized for its continuing efforts on de-seasonalization and de-centralization of tourist flows. The country with a population of just over 2 million is trying to avoid negative impacts caused by over-tourism.
A great example of dedication to sustainable development can be seen in the capital of Slovenia, the City of Ljubljana. This city is known for having the largest car-free zone in the European Union. 12 hectares of the city centre are closed for motorized traffic, while the city is equipped with environment-friendly public buses and numerous cycling paths. This encourages visitors to join cycling tours around the city and enables them to discover nearby attractions in a unique way.
Source: Slovenian Tourist Board media library
Ljubljana prioritizes locally produced food in their hotels and restaurants. It encourages it with the ‘Green Supply Chains’ project, which also enables locals to earn direct income from tourism businesses. In addition, visitation during low season is promoted with culinary events such as November Gourmet Ljubljana and Slovenian Wine Festival.
Slovenia continues championing the title of being the world’s first country to be declared a green destination with a strong national policy and various local projects. The small country boasts tight cooperation between stakeholders from the public and private sectors. The most recognized sustainable tourism project is definitely the national Green Scheme, where the partnership between the Slovenian Tourist Board, Green Destination Foundation and the Institute Factory of Sustainable Tourism GoodPlace sets an example to the entire world.
Before we conclude, let’s look into all three case studies and compare different approaches taken by these destinations. Maldives is a country where sustainable efforts are mainly carried out by private stakeholders, while governments of the other two countries are more involved in the process, especially in Bhutan. However, the Maldivian government did direct sustainable development by introducing the ‘one resort – one island’ model and imposing the National Green Tax for visitors in order to fund their sustainable tourism efforts.
As for Bhutan, the nation’s priority is achieving high Gross National Happiness. Their sustainable efforts are systematic and centralized, managed directly by the government. They brand themselves as a high-end destination to ensure a sustainable balance between development and preservation. This is carried out through their ‘High value, Low impact’ model, as well as their minimum daily spend requirement for foreign visitors.
The last case study in our series was Slovenia. When it comes to collaboration in the field of sustainable tourism, the country is a role model. The Slovenian Tourism Board partnered with the Institute Factory of Sustainable Tourism GoodPlace to provide a national tool for assessing and improving sustainability performance of destinations and tourism businesses. GoodPlace is known for their expertise in the development of sustainable tourism schemes, while also offering other services such as sustainability assessment, strategic planning, education and training, product development, marketing, sustainable solution development, and more.
Ljubljana is one of the destinations certified with a gold Slovenia Green label. The capital city of Slovenia can clearly demonstrate how the nation is advancing towards their sustainability goals. The city has the largest car-free zone in the European Union, encouraging locals and visitors alike to cycle and walk instead of driving.
More and more countries are implementing green practices into their tourism models to ensure long-lasting benefits for their local communities, economy, and the environment. We believe the analysed case studies of three very distinct countries help us to better understand that there is no one way or right method to develop sustainable tourism. Rather, each destination has to find its own path towards sustainability.
It is exciting to see that today’s tourism stakeholders across the globe recognize sustainability as an essential sector component rather than a business opportunity. Let sustainability start from you. Be a part of a change towards a better tomorrow.
I come from the Maldives and currently I am doing my Bachelors in International Tourism Management with a focus in Travel and Recreational Events Management in Taylor’s University, Malaysia. My home country depends heavily on tourism industry. The majority of locals work directly or indirectly within the industry. Every citizen plays a key role as we share our beautiful beaches and clear blue waters with people from around the world. While the Maldives have been a popular tourist destination for over 40 years, the negative effects of tourism are heavily showing today. So, to ensure a better future for generations to come, it is important to work towards a more sustainable approach to tourism. This will help us to benefit from the tourism industry, while sustaining our beautiful environment and local communities. Studying different sustainable practices around the world encouraged me to see my small island nation from another perspective. It made me understand better how the Maldives can become more successful through sustainability.
I’m a Malaysia-based Talent Captain or project lead on the project of collaboration between GoodPlace and Talent Basket. I am undergoing my final year of the Bachelors in International Tourism Management programme in Taylor's University, Malaysia. Apart from being actively involved in Talent Basket’s internship projects, I am also the chairperson of PATA Malaysia Taylor's Student Chapter since August 2019. I strongly believe that event management and tourism are inseparable. This project gave me a great ‘outside classroom’ opportunity to learn about sustainable tourism from leading industry professionals. With great appreciation, I would like to thank Talent Basket and GoodPlace for giving me this opportunity to enhance my knowledge and soft skills throughout the journey.