GSTC Conference in Aysen, Chile

Santiago, Chile (22 January 2018): The Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s conference marked a high point for Chile last year, featuring a series of enlightening sessions that covered issues relating to management, marketing, and awareness of responsible tourism.

Set amidst mountains, fjords, lakes, woodland, rivers, and the sea, Aysén Region’s capital city of Coyhaique played host to the annual Global Sustainable Tourism Conference, GSTC Aysén 2017, the world's foremost sustainability event.

More than 250 delegates from 29 countries attended, including government officials, industry leaders, specialists, and businesspeople, all coming together from September 6 to 9 to take part in presentations on the latest findings and experiences from around the world.

As it does every year, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) invited its members, leaders, and key guests to the event, which set out to provide attendees with a vision of the future to guide them responsibly towards the values of sustainability in tourism. This year’s conference centred on the topic of sustainable destinations, placing Chile at the heart of sustainable tourism worldwide.

Marcela Cabezas Keller, head of Chile's National Tourism Service describes such events as constituting a "great opportunity to share fundamental lessons learned, experience, and goals, to refresh knowledge, and rekindle discussion, including international trends in markets that have advanced furthest in sustainable development for tourism."

Indeed, Cabezas believes that GSTC Aysén 2017 was an ideal opportunity to form networks between different markets, both within the country and internationally. “This is a key factor in achieving lasting results: the closer the relations, the better we will be positioned to avoid the loss of knowledge,” she explained.

Sello S, the benchmark for sustainability in Chile’s tourism industry

GSTC chairman Luigi Cabrini’s speech included very good news for Chile: his international body has recognized the National Tourism Service’s sustainability certification standard, Sello S, for tourism operators and travel agencies. The GSTC had previously recognized Sello S for tourism accommodation companies in 2014.

The Sustainable Tourism Distinction, or Sello S, was launched four years ago, and since then the system has been gathering knowledge both from its own operations and from the market in general. Marcela Cabezas states that over this period the initiative has reached a number of conclusions, including the point that “tackling sustainability is a marathon, not a sprint. Every stage of the process must be handled with awareness and responsibility. That is the only way to reap the benefits in the future. Next comes the importance of responsibly reporting the efforts taken towards sustainability. Thirdly, we have learned the importance – at least during the certification’s first few years, while building up to a critical mass – of the program offering incentives and benefits.” As a fourth lesson learned, the official stressed “the importance of communicating a message that resonates with the mission of the institution that is promoting certification. And finally, a sustainability certification is not solely to be used to identify the companies that are doing well; it can also be used to provide guidance to those that are interested in improving their tourism products and services.”

Challenges for 2018

2017 was a great year for sustainability in Chile. The GSTC world conference in Coyhaique, the recognition of the Sello S certification, substantial improvements in the benefits associated with our certifications – which include free technical training sessions and major discounts at international tourism industry events – bolstered a significant rise in the number of tourism services certified. Indeed, by the end of the year, the program had expanded to include 121 companies, against a backdrop of the United Nations naming 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Thus, many of the challenges that Chile faces for 2018 are about consolidating the country as a world-class destination that is making consistent efforts to enhance sustainability, particularly considering that the country has won a number of international awards: Huilo Huilo, Chiloé and Cape Horn were the three Chilean destinations listed in the Green Destinations Top 100 Sustainable Destinations; Lonely Planet picked the country as the place not to miss in 2018; the World Tourism Organization selected the Find your Chile series as the year’s best video; and for the third year running the country was picked as South America’s Best Adventure Tourism Destination, the perfect setup for being once again named the planet’s best adventure tourism destination in the so-call Oscars of tourism.

This year, the National Tourism Service will get more involved in cuisine, promoting sustainability in restaurants with the Sabores de Chile program (Flavors of Chile), as well as offering new benefits for certified business.

Plans for 2018 also include a national event on providing sustainable tourism products and services, with the goal of encouraging interaction between stakeholders in the tourism value chain, such as travel agencies, tour operators, accommodation providers, vineyards, and restaurants. 

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