Tourism is sustainable when it puts at the center the needs of the local communities and the environment. This is not something to aspire to but that should already be implemented in order to assure the future of travel.
Etifor, a spin-off of the University of Padova and B Corp, Ms Bosco supports destinations and organizations in the application of the sustainable tourism principles defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). She was involved in the development of the sustainable management system of three GSTC certified destinations in Italy: APT Valsugana e Lagorai (certified in 2019), Consorzio di Promozione Turistica del Tarvisiano, di Sella Nevea e del Passo Pramollo (2021) and the City of Siena (2023). Together with Diego Gallo, she is Etifor referent for the GSTC Italy Working Group, a recently established network of Italian GSTC members, aiming at the spread of GSTC in the national context. Other fields of work include participatory processes for destination management and tourism product development, slow tourism design and promotion. Ms Bosco recently spoke at the GSTC2023 Sustainable Tourism Conference in Antalya, Türkiye (9-12 May, 2023), an event Ecoclub.com had the great pleasure of supporting as Media Partners. You may watch a recording of her presentation here.Federica Bosco holds a MSc in Tourism Economics and Management from Bologna University, Italy. Her research interests include destination management, sustainable tourism, certification, slow tourism and climate-positive tourism. She’s motivated by the mission to make tourism a positive driver of change for communities and the environment. As Project Officer for the Tourism Programme of
Antonis Petropoulos - Ecoclub.com: What attracted you to this career and what is your personal interpretation of tourism sustainability based on your experience in the field?
Federica Bosco: My interest in tourism started because I was proud of my homeland and I was pushed by the desire to share its beauties and its heritage to others. I became aware of the need for effective management in order to make a territory hospitable, therefore I decided to deepen these concepts during my studies. Nowadays, sustainability is an essential part of management, not only in tourism, and even though we are used to associate this term with a positive meaning, we should acknowledge that it is simply the basics. Tourism is sustainable when it puts at the center the needs of the local communities and the environment. This is not something to aspire to but that should already be implemented in order to assure the future of travel.
Antonis Petropoulos - Ecoclub.com: Indeed, everyone talks about sustainability these days, with national tourism organizations editing their marketing copy to include the magic word in every other sentence. But it seems not everyone has the same thing on their minds: some really mean sustainable growth, adding eco-friendly options on top of existing ones, others mean trying to make all existing tourism green without further growth, and some point at overtourism and ask for degrowth - probably the less popular option for an industry fixated on ever-growing arrival numbers. Where do you stand on this issue?
Federica Bosco: Sustainability cannot be just about marketing, otherwise it should be called greenwashing! It is important to communicate the organizations’ efforts in minimizing their negative impacts and maximize their positive ones, while engaging stakeholders in the process. However, there must be clear commitments and actions taken by destinations and organizations to achieve the global goals that the scientific community has asked us to pursue, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are the key performance indicators (KPIs) that should be taken into account, not only arrivals and overnight stays.
Antonis Petropoulos - Ecoclub.com: If there must be limits to tourism growth, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, who should decide what these limits are for a destination and who is best positioned to act as the destination steward? A Destination Management Organization (DMO), an elected Mayor, the tourism sector, the local citizens, the regional government, a national agency?
Federica Bosco: I don’t think there is just an entity to be appointed, but there must be commitments on different levels. Tourism is managed according to several layers and in order to pursue sustainability all layers should work well and interact with each other, keeping in mind that the interests to be taken into account are the ones of the local community and the environment. The DMOs, which should represent both the public and private stakeholders of a destination, are the closest to the territory and therefore must be able to act quickly on its needs. Regional and National Tourism Organizations (RTOs & NTOs) on the other hand should provide local organizations with long term strategies, financial resources and tools to reach these objectives.
Antonis Petropoulos - Ecoclub.com: Based on your experience with the development of the sustainable management system of three GSTC-certified destinations in Italy, what are the most difficult challenges?
Federica Bosco: I was lucky to work together with amazing partners who really strived to put sustainability standards into practice. I would say that the main struggles come from the gathering of data for monitoring, especially when they are not common tourism data. There is so much need to open the silos in territories and create a data ecosystem with different sources. The path drawn by the UNWTO International Network Of Sustainable Tourism Observatories initiative is in this sense a benchmark. The bright side is that stakeholders that are not really used to collaborating start to share knowledge, with an indirect positive effect on the governance of destinations. Another major challenge faced by our partners is the engagement of local operators, residents and visitors. That is why we support them with a dedicated team of facilitators who are able to pick the right tools in order to reach the objective, be it Focus Groups, Open Space Technology, World Café, Pro Action Café, Delphi Method, Surveys and others.
Antonis Petropoulos - Ecoclub.com: Italy is one of the first countries where the GSTC created a national Working Group. Could this be a pilot/model for other countries and do you see GSTC Italy evolving into a certification company?
Federica Bosco: We started the process of development of the GTSC Italy Working Group with Stefano Ravelli from APT Valsugana one year ago, following the path of FSC Italy. In fact Etifor was one of the promoters of the FSC initiative ten years ago, therefore we were able to learn from the mistakes and achievements of our colleagues. We believe in the strength of GSTC as a global organization, but we also think that adding a local level can help in the achievement of the GSTC mission. We researched existing structures that could allow us to start the discussion and we were pleased to see that India had also pursued this path. Thanks to two national summits and the presence of nine certified destinations we were able to explain the importance of our working group to the GSTC management. I also thank other group members for their commitment: IDM, Consorzio il Tarvisiano, S. Vigilio e S. Martin, Ecoluxury, Viaggi dell’Elefante, Alta Badia, Stefania Zanuso, Territori Sostenibili, Ekita, Hospitality Team Srl Soc. Benefit. I think this could be a model for those countries where there is a clear need to pursue the GSTC standard. Starting a working group requires resources both in time and money, therefore it should be a result of an ongoing process. Our objectives do not foresee the evolution to a certification body, on the contrary we decided to exclude them from the participation for an additional guarantee of impartiality. We will focus our efforts mainly on the promotion of the GSTC standard in Italy and the creation of a network of best practices among operators and certified destinations, through the organization of annual events - the next one will probably be at the end of September, stay tuned!
Antonis Petropoulos - Ecoclub.com: On the one hand it is good for certification bodies to be locally based so that they are aware of local details, nuances and possibilities, on the other it is hard imagining a destination becoming decertified by a local certification body, considering the existence of local political and economic pressures. Do you agree?
Federica Bosco: I think that the knowledge of the local context can absolutely be a plus for certification bodies, especially when speaking about the GSTC certification. Despite the fact that the closeness and the scarcity of certification bodies can increase the risk of reduced impartiality, the control exerted by Assurance Services International (Ed. the assurance service company appointed by GSTC for accreditation of certification bodies) is a strong guarantee. That is why it is important to rely on officially accredited certification bodies.
Antonis Petropoulos - Ecoclub.com: Slow tourism is one of your interests, but It seems it is out of fashion; it was slow (pun intended) to be adopted in our fast-paced economy/lifestyle. Do you see it making a comeback in the post-pandemic era and is it for everyone or for the most affluent, with plenty of free time, such as pensioners, or for digital nomads?
Federica Bosco: If we really want to strive for sustainability and regeneration we must interiorize the slow approach: tourism impacts can’t be improved without a mindset shift. The pandemic period has forced us to stop and see things from another perspective and even if many went back to business as usual, market data in Europe show us that there is an increasing interest for slow tourism. The same data tells us that the target for this type of tourism is quite broad and also includes working and wealthy visitors. While time is of course an important factor, the quality of connection with the local community and environment is the main focus of slow tourism.
Antonis Petropoulos - Ecoclub.com: Have destinations really learned a lesson from the pandemic? What could constitute "not putting all your eggs in one (tourism) basket" for cities or islands living off tourism? How easy is it to diversify away from tourism?
Federica Bosco: In places where tourism has been a primary economic source, taking a step back requires a big effort from the whole system, therefore it’s absolutely not an easy task. However, with the pandemic DMOs started questioning their role, going from organizations for tourism to organizations for the territory and therefore they started to provide services that have a direct benefit on the local population. As an example, S. Vigilio di Marebbe started a program of garbage collection and has hired local artisans to build playgrounds for local children. On a higher level RTOs are starting to have policies in order to limit tourism growth. For example Alto Adige - Südtirol is trying to set a limit of 34m overnight stays per year. I am aware that such a shift requires a long process, however I am confident that in those destinations that have taken a clear position we are going to see a positive change in the next years.
Antonis Petropoulos - Ecoclub.com: Should destination certification in your view be apolitical and stick to quantifiable/measurable environmental parameters, or should it also cover more political issues? Should a destination be certified as sustainable if the government violates Labour & Human Rights, including LGTBIQ+ and Migrant Rights?
Federica Bosco: The theory of sustainability tells us that we can’t just focus on environmental impacts, but we need to take into account also economic, social and cultural issues. Measuring these parameters is challenging, but we have new tools everyday to do so. In addition I believe tourism is political, due to its systemic nature that requires a coordination of different sectors and to the essential human component that makes it the industry of relations. In this framework, respect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be a prerequisite for certification.
Antonis Petropoulos - Ecoclub.com: Thank you very much for your valuable insights and direct replies. We wish you every success in your mission to bring change for communities and the environment through tourism in Italy and beyond.