"...there is so much focus at the moment on the environmental aspects of sustainability, whereby the rest seems to be forgotten"
Jeppe Klockareson has worked with sustainable tourism development for almost 15 years and has a background as CEO at Basecamp Explorer Sweden and as Product Manager at STA Travel Nordic. Since 2010, he runs Fair Travel, a responsible travel consultancy in Stockholm, offering expertise in sustainable tourism development to customers worldwide, through advisory, audits, consulting, lectures, training, project work and sales and marketing support. Mr Klockareson has been a member of the board of the Swedish Nature and Ecotourism Association since 2014 and acts as the Swedish representative for The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). Fair Travel is also GSTC's official training partner in the Nordic region.
Ecoclub: In your experience as a leading Sustainable Tourism Consultant, how easy is it to convince a seasoned tourism business owner that first - they need to green their act, and, second, that they need a Consultant to do so? What traits should they look for when choosing one?
Jeppe Klockareson: Times are certainly changing at the moment where sustainability aspects are becoming more of a certainty and expectation compared to just a year ago. Given the recent awareness in sustainability aspects, coming from the mass media coverage, consumers have become more aware and more demanding, thus resulting in a need for tourism businesses to change. Therefore, it is not so much an issue of convincing them, but more an aspect of making them understand the full concept of sustainability. The challenge that I see now is that there is so much focus at the moment on the environmental aspects of sustainability, whereby the rest seems to be forgotten. This is where I see the challenge, to be able to make them understand that they need to embrace the full aspect of sustainability. It goes beyond just offsetting your carbon emissions and turning to train travel. Once it is understood that they might not have all the knowledge themselves, that’s also where they see the need for advisory and knowledge coming from an external consultant. The traits to look for are experience and above else, creating sustainability instead of just talking about it. I see knowledge in the GSTC criteria and how to apply them as a trait.
Ecoclub: There is an increasing number of sustainable tourism workshops these days, as sustainable tourism has become mainstream and with lifelong vocational learning and training becoming the norm in an era of job insecurity. What should a tourism practitioner look for when choosing such a training package to avoid wasting time and money?
Jeppe Klockareson: A very good question and it touches on a current subject. Simply put, you should look for a training package that teaches you both theory and application of sustainable tourism development. We need to move on from just talking on sustainability and teaching it, by also teaching on how to apply it and involve the practitioner in doing it.
Ecoclub: Do you mean that courses should also include placements with tourism companies or that trainers should get involved in applying the changes to the student's company?
Jeppe Klockareson: What I mean is that these courses often cover what sustainable tourism is and not so much how it is done. It needs to be more practical, letting the participants practice on how to apply it. This can be through placements or it can be done with assignments, training them on how to apply it in practice. It can of course also be, which is even better, by practice in applying it on their own companies.
Ecoclub: You call your business on Twitter a ‘distinctive Swedish travel consultancy’. The entire world knows the distinctive Swedish (Nordic) model of social democracy and of the comprehensive welfare state and, of course, the innovative IKEA model. Is there something equally distinctive about Swedish Tourism? What are Sweden’s key achievements and shortcomings in terms of sustainable tourism?
Jeppe Klockareson: There’s certainly a resemblance and I would define it with simplicity and sticking to what we know and have. There’s traditionally very little ego in Sweden and we wish to be part of a team. We like to keep it simple, at least in our own eyes. Whether that’s a fact, when it comes to creating tourism, is a different topic. We’re a bit self-righteous, which I believe to be a challenge when it comes to our tourism development. Tourism, and especially a nature/culture-based tourism has a high potential in Sweden, where I believe, in essence, that we wish to be unique and simple, by not copying what others have done. In reality though, this self-righteousness in combination with being a relatively young tourism destination means that we tend to look at others for the wrong reasons. Yes, we have lots to learn from more mature and experienced destinations, to avoid making the same mistakes but also to learn more on how we can further enhance the overall experience for the international visitors coming here. We’ve been very successful in creating tourism related services and experiences for Swedish travellers. We should look at tourism with international perspectives and not so much with Swedish eyes, which I believe is the case today. I believe Sweden and its tourism has still a long road ahead when it comes to sustainability in tourism as it is not as distinctive yet. Yes, there are certainly some individual achievements on an international level, but compared to the international stage, we are still a bit behind. We probably have one of the most prolific legislations in place for a solid sustainable tourism, but we lack the funding to get there, which is our main shortcoming and challenge.
Ecoclub: Among your many accolades, you are a Board Member of the Swedish Ecotourism Society. What are the key lessons learned by "Nature’s Best Sweden" Label in the past 17 years? What changes, if any, needed to be made for it to become successful?
Jeppe Klockareson: Nature's Best Sweden (NBS) is unique in many ways. It was the first ever quality assurance system for ecotourism in the northern hemisphere and it is also unique in the sense that over the years it has had major investment from the private sector, thus not being reliant on project funding or governmental subsidies to run it. The challenge with any certification scheme is the business model and the challenge to uphold its set standards while maintaining a critical mass of certified businesses in order to make ends meet. Another challenge is of course to deliver and manage what the certified companies expect from the label. From where we started 17 years ago, when NBS was the obvious option to go, to where it is today with competing options in terms of certifications, both nationally and internationally, we need to reinvent ourselves, and our decision was to scale down with fewer criteria but to apply them with the GSTC criteria. Our objective is to have it qualified with the recognised level of GSTC and we hope to have this finalised before too long. It shows forward-thinking and that we wish to embrace the minimum standards in sustainable tourism on an international stage.
Ecoclub: You are also the country representative of GSTC in Sweden. What does this entail in practice and what are your ideas for the future of GSTC in Sweden and beyond? As a speaker in the upcoming GSTC 2019 Global Conference in the Azores, what key outcome or decision would you like to see there?
Jeppe Klockareson: GSTC is getting an ever-growing attention in Swedish tourism whereby I see an increase in interest regards to the organisation, its criteria and methods. Although still a small part, I’m getting requests to attend panels, conferences, conduct training and also to assist in destination audits. Thanks, through the fantastic work done in destinations like Visit Umeå, Destination Järvsö and Hemavan Tärnaby, where fellow speaker at the conference, Dan Jonasson, together with Neil Rogers, has done amazing work and showcased how sustainability can be created with the GSTC methodology. They’ve laid a solid foundation for GSTC which has created a bit of a buzz amongst other regional organizations to also make use of it, with Visit Dalarna being the latest. I hope that Sweden will start to embrace the GSTC criteria and methodology on a national level, to make it part of the national strategy. I also hope that the conference will further bring the Nordic countries together to jointly cooperate to spread sustainable tourism in all its countries with the GSTC criteria as a foundation. And who knows, perhaps we can see a joint Nordic program for sustainable destination development, based on the GSTC methodology.
Ecoclub: There is ongoing criticism, somehow moderated through the advent of online streaming, that most major international mainstream tourism and travel events and fairs remain exclusive and identical affairs in that you get to hear the same jet-setting experts (plus a sprinkling of local officials/politicians) producing the same presentations. Can we make these events more inclusive by involving and inviting - for free - the grassroots, the host communities and giving them the centre stage or would it be just a show, as long as real decision-makers remain the same? Should we focus on creating our own, international sustainable tourism events, designed from scratch as inclusive? Or should we skip international events altogether and meet communities in situ (the whole point of travel)?
Jeppe Klockareson: Tourism is all about connections and meetings, thus still very much an analogue industry. Yes, of course we must be part of the digital transformation, but we mustn’t forget that it is a people orientated industry. In that aspect I believe that meeting places are crucial and should still happen. At the same time, things have changed and tourism isn’t what it used to be, whereby we also need to think fresh and new. I fully agree with the statement that you present in your question, that it is very much same old stuff that is being heard around the world with the same people, often men, up on stage. The lack of reinvention is most probably also the cause of many meeting places and expos losing interest, as they just don’t “speak” to their audience any more. Sustainability needs to make it into the mainstream tourism, and it is knocking on the door, but I still believe that we’re a few years off, before we see the breakthrough. Yes, sustainability grows from grassroot level thus these are the stories that need to be told, shared and heard, and tourism must be inclusive, which it hardly is today. I see the case being not only in expos and fairs. Tourism is often controlled from above, telling the companies what they should do, but where instead we should listen to the companies what they’re doing and what they need.
Ecoclub: Do you agree that there is a certain irony or dissonance when sustainable tourism advocates chastise Tourism for its unsustainability, which is largely due to the transport component (aviation), and at the same time promote long-haul sustainable tourism businesses that depend on the same transport component? To reach the greenest, community-owned venture in the middle of the rainforest, travellers with the possible exception of Ms Greta Thunberg, will often need to use non-green transport. What is your opinion?
Jeppe Klockareson: This is a very complex question which is hard to answer in short. Tourism has certainly come under scrutiny thanks to the voice and actions by Greta Thunberg and her peers. I believe that her actions will and have changed tourism and travel forever. Having said that, my opinion is that the media coverage of tourism and travel is very one-sided and isn’t taking everything into account. There’s tourism and there’s tourism. Tourism can be good and tourism can be really bad. But this isn’t being told, and this is what needs to be highlighted. Media is affecting the consumers, asking if their travels and seeing the world perhaps helps ruin it and therefore, they should stay at home. We need to identify the positive environmental, economic and social benefits associated with travel. Media can’t solely get stuck on the environmental impact of long-haul travel, but instead take into account the full aspect of a trip and its impacts. The majority of the carbon footprint associated with tourism is not associated with air travel. Although the amount of air travel and its expected growth is something we must combat.
The result is becoming more and more evident here in Sweden with an increasing number of travellers cancelling their travels because they can’t justify the impact on the environment. Sustainable nature-based tourism raises the value of conservation efforts, for instance. Tourism can incentivise the protection of wildlife and nature, thus keeping our trees and rainforest intact and growing, securing the lungs of the earth. But without the long-haul travel this won’t be possible. Species protection requires sustainable ecosystem management and the protection of wildlife habitat – also a key that tourism can provide IF done correctly. Tourism in general needs to clean up its act and take responsibility, where all sorts of travel must contribute with positive aspects. We don’t need more tourism and we certainly don’t need more “mass tourism”. But we also don’t need more “under tourism” as it can have equally devastating effects. Less is more!
Ecoclub: What has been your favourite sustainable tourism project so far and why?
Jeppe Klockareson: I believe it to be the current project I’m just getting started on and involved in, where the region of Dalarna wants to go sustainable and where they wish to integrate it into their own organisation. We’re making use of the experience from other regions and above all the GSTC Destination method, to actually create sustainability, thus drive a change for the better. It’s not about talking or set plans, but actually to start making a change. The project is just getting started and there’s no information on any website yet, but in essence it plans to do similar stuff to what has been done in the Västerbotten region, by making use of the GSTC destination program, to apply sustainability on both destinations and within companies. You can find out more about the process through this clip about the Västerbotten project. I did not participate in the Västerbotten project, but we’re applying the same method and we have Dan Jonasson who led the Västerbotten project as a Senior Advisor for Dalarna.
Ecoclub: Finally, what key advice would you offer to youngsters who want to become sustainable tourism consultants?
Jeppe Klockareson: Don’t give up and don’t cave in! Aim for practical application of sustainability in tourism. Learn the tools and not just the theory. And don’t waste your time on trying to convince all, but instead work with those that want to change. You can deal with the others later on, when they (and they will) understand the concept and the need.