Tourism – the next big thing in Fairtrade?

By: Jennifer Seif, FTTSA Executive Director

Sustainable consumption and production is a cornerstone of the Rio+20 process and related efforts to promote a more equitable and greener global economy. Successes achieved in a wide range of sectors – particularly agriculture, forestry and marine products, textiles and other forms of manufacturing – are based on a range of policy instruments including voluntary standards, corporate social responsibility (CSR) tools, sustainable/ethical supply chain management practices and sustainability labels. Some instruments are targeted at the private sector (B2B) while others aim to encourage more informed decision-making by consumers when purchasing goods and services.

Efforts to stimulate sustainable consumption and production in tourism follow similar trajectories. Despite notable success stories at both firm and destination levels, the net impact of tourism initiatives remains limited. Less than one per cent of all beds in Europe carry any type of sustainability label (Goodwin, H. (2007) “Advances in Responsible Tourism” ICRT Occasional Paper No. 8, Leeds Metropolitan University, [accessed on 26 April 2012]) and the percentage of international arrivals that can be categorised as “responsible travel” is much less (TripAdvisor (2009) “TripAdvisor Releases Travel Trends for 2009”, [accessed on 17 May 2012]). The value-action gap in sustainable tourism (the difference between what travellers aspire to and how they actually spend their money) is not yet well understood empirically, and more detailed market segmentation and consumer insight is needed. Moreover, competition between hundreds of sustainable tourism certification schemes and voluntary codes of conduct risks industry fatigue, consumer confusion and ultimately dilution of market and development impact.

 Harriet Lamb, Director of the very successful UK Fairtrade Foundation, opened World 2011 Responsible Tourism Day in London, and challenged the travel and tourism industry to seek inspiration from Fairtrade. In 2011, Fairtrade Foundation recorded annual sales in the range of £1,32 billion, while globally Fairtrade sales measured €4.36 billion in 2010, up by 28% on the previous year. Year on year growth of Fairtrade sales demonstrate strong resilience even if difficult economic times.  Impressively, the international Fairtrade mark is recognized by 96% of British, 90% of Swiss, 75% of Dutch and 69% of German consumers (Globescan (2011) “Shopping Choices Can Make a Positive Difference to Farmers and Workers in development Countries: Global Poll”, [accessed on 26 April 2012]).

 At World Travel Market, Lamb spoke passionately about the power of Fairtrade to transform the ordinary act of doing the household shopping into extraordinary benefits for producers in the Global South. These benefits are manifest in fairer trading conditions, long-term trading partnerships and the creation of new resources for sustainable development through the Fairtrade premium, a portion of the price paid to producers that is reserved for Fairtrade beneficiaries (workers and communities) to invest in education, community health and social infrastructure. Although Fairtrade faces various challenges, particularly increasing market penetration to extend benefits to higher numbers of producers and workers, Fairtrade International estimates that global sales of Fairtrade products currently contribute to improved livelihoods for some 1.2 billion people in developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia (Fairtrade International (2011) “Monitoring the scope and benefits of fairtrade” third edition, 2011 [accessed on 21 May 2012]).

During 2006-2009, Fairtrade International conducted feasibility research into tourism that demonstrated strong potential demand for Fairtrade travel. That tens of millions of loyal consumers of Fairtrade products reside in Europe and North America is food for thought for developing countries that depend strongly on these markets for international tourism arrivals. The fact that citizens residing in emerging markets like South Africa are gaining easier access to Fairtrade products also creates opportunities to grow domestic and regional tourism more equitably and sustainably.

Tapping demand will require a new approach to tourism certification that targets packaged as well as independent arrivals and is based on cooperation amongst national certificates in developing countries, and between national and international certification programmes.

Since 2003, Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA) has operated a national certification programme based on the principles and modalities of Fairtrade. Having taken part in the Fairtrade tourism feasibility study, FTTSA set about developing a system to monitor, assess and certify the full tourism value chain. Pilot-testing during 2009-2010 has resulted in the establishment of a new mechanism to bring Fair Trade tourism products to market: the concept of a “Fair Trade holiday”, which assembles certified products into a single offering. Holidays are certified by FTTSA based on a trade standard that ensures fair pricing, pre-payment, transparency and commitment to sustainable trade.

Growth in the supply of Fair Trade holidays will be based on mutual recognition and dual certification strategies with international certification systems and sister schemes in southern Africa and on new certification modalities borrowed from other sectors, in particular group certification and combined product certification, which will make Fair Trade Tourism accessible and affordable to product owners. Certification will be out-sourced to an ISO65 accredited certification body, which is aligned with global best practice and will enable FTTSA to more actively support businesses to become and remain certified, without conflict of interest.

Growth in demand will be driven through partnerships with tourism advocacy organisations and Fairtrade organisations in source markets and through joint marketing agreements with tourist boards like South African Tourism. Sales of Fair Trade holidays can be measured, and tour operators make a mandatory contribution per arrival to a special fund that supports job creation, skills development and decent work in destinations. There are currently 13 holidays for sale in Europe and to date development contributions and certification costs incurred by tour operators are not being passed on to consumers, meaning Fair Trade holidays are not, by definition, more expensive than their conventional counterparts.

Fair Trade adds value to the tourism experience, which by definition brings the consumer to the producer and often places tourists in proximity to the realities of rural and urban poverty. Fair Trade holidays premised on equitable and respectful exchange between hosts and visitors can thus help to drive demand for sustainable consumption “back home.”

Making Fair Trade Tourism part of the value proposition will enable South Africa and neighboring countries to attract new tourist arrivals by appealing to the growing ranks of sustainability-savvy consumers living in our major source markets. These are precisely the types of tourists we want to see more of: people who care about the quality of life of ordinary people and the impacts of travel within destinations.

By measuring uptake of Fair Trade holidays FTTSA hopes to demonstrate the business case for Fair Trade tourism so that one day, in the not too distant future, tourism will become part of the international Fairtrade system and consumer loyalty to the Fairtrade mark can be leveraged to help drive sustainable tourism development in Africa and beyond.

The scaling up of Fair Trade holidays to southern Africa is supported by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and other donors over the next four years. The financial model developed by FTTSA projects that a regional Fair Trade Tourism system will be 40% self financing within four years increasing to 70% by year ten.

While Fairtrade is good for tourism to think with, FTTSA also believes that tourism can generate many lessons for Fairtrade. That Fair Trade Tourism is led from southern Africa by local organisations seeking high levels of coordination is historically and politically significant both for the Fairtrade movement and for sustainable tourism more generally. Any future marriage between Fairtrade and tourism must be based on a cooperative approach to tourism certification that respects international good practice while speaking to the needs and expectations of local destination stakeholders.


About Fair Trade Tourism

Fair Trade tourism ensures good wages and working conditions for staff, a fair share of the tourism bucks to local communities and respect for human rights, culture and the environment. In other words: tourism that is good for people and the environment. How it works: Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA) certifies tourism businesses (like hotels, activities and attractions) against a set of standards linked to global Fair Trade criteria. Those that qualify get to carry the FTTSA logo. So every time you stay at a hotel, or go on a tour, that carries the FTTSA logo you will not only have a great experience – you will also be doing a good thing for South Africa and South Africans at the same time. That’s what we call a win-win situation! What kind of places are Fair Trade? Any kind of tourism business can become FTTSA-certified: from backpackers to 5-star lodges; township tours and whale watching cruises to adrenalin-filled activities and botanical gardens. In addition to being fab holiday places and activities, they all do a whole lot of amazing things for people and the environment. You can read all about this on our website ( Doing something good has never felt this great!
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