African environmentalists looking to create a sustainable tourism industry for the 21st century have turned to Scotland for help.
A pilot project has been launched in Zimbabwe to develop minimum standards for eco-friendly businesses to attract visitors using a benchmark developed in Perth.
Green Tourism is already the world’s largest accreditation body for the hospitality industry promoting sustainability. It has more than 2,500 members in the UK and has helped launch green tourism systems in Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, Italy and Ireland.
The travel and leisure sector plays an increasingly important role in the economy of Zimbabwe which accounts for one of the African continent’s finest and largest concentrations of wildlife. By helping businesses cut costs, reduce waste, increase energy efficiency and conserve natural resources it’s hoped the country can build a stronger more competitive tourism sector for the benefit of local communities and help reduce poverty.
The internationally renowned five-star Victoria Falls Hotel, overlooking one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, and the prestigious Victoria Falls Safari Lodge are among the first of 20 hospitality companies to join the pioneering project.
“We want to be pioneers of sustainable tourism in Africa and we believe that with the help of Green Tourism we will be able to come up with the right guidelines to show the world we are serious about conservation, the environment and combatting climate change,” said Sophie Zirabwe, executive director of planning, research and development for the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority.
Zimbabwe chose the Green Tourism programme after looking at a number of schemes around the world.
The chief executive for Environment Africa, Charlene Hewat said: “The Green Tourism initiative for Zimbabwe is practical, straightforward and the potential positive impact on biodiversity, communities and the country as a whole is enormous.”
Zimbabwe currently only has 2 per cent of the tourism market share in Africa while South Africa has 29 per cent and Mauritius 5 per cent.
At a recent wildlife conference in Harare, the minister of tourism, Walter Mzembi, described tourism as providing the quickest prospect for turning Zimbabwe around and creating a £3.3 billion tourism economy by 2020.
Perth-based Green Tourism was the first initiative of its kind to be independently validated by the International Centre for Responsible Tourism on behalf of VisitEngland, VisitWales and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. It is also endorsed by VisitScotland and Failte Ireland.
A study by the independent think-tank TotemTourism into the ethics and expertise of 158 schemes used by businesses around the world to boost sustainability credentials identified Green Tourism as the Best of the Best.