March SPOTLIGHT on Sustainable Tourism

Image Courtesy: Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawai’i

According to the Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaiʻi, Sustainable Tourism is defined by the United Nations World Tourism Organization as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” The Hawaii Tourism Authority defines it as “a way to maximize social and economic benefits to Hawaii’s communities and businesses while respecting, nourishing, preserving and enhancing Hawaii’s natural, cultural and human assets.”

The Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaiʻi (STAH) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect Hawaii’s unique culture and environment through responsible travel education and outreach targeting visitors, businesses, and the community. Their most visible program is the Sustainable Tour Operator program, the only third-party ecotour certification in the entire United States. They currently have 40 certified tour operators spread across Kauai, Oahu, Big Island, and Maui.

It is a three step process to become certified through STAH:

Complete an extensive self evaluation checklist. The checklist evaluates tour operators on the following 6 categories: Environmental Impact, Staff Management, Interpretation/Education of natural and cultural resources, Customer and Employee Management, Marketing, and Community Engagement. Since the checklist focuses on “sustainable” tour operators, they evaluate the whole company based on these categories. It is very comprehensive and holistic.

Checklist review by STAH – they make sure that the checklist is complete and request any additional information like pictures, etc.

Operator participates in an in-person evaluation. An evaluator will join the operator on a tour and also evaluate the operators retail store, baseyard, offices, or any other areas associated with the operations. Once certified, the operator completes an annual recertification phone call and Pono Traveler (“secret shopper”) evaluation on their tour.

For a list of certified operators, click HERE.

To learn more about becoming certified, or for sustainable tourism resources, visit the STAH website HERE.