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27 Mar, 2006

Fair-Trade Group Wins Tourism Award

BERLIN: A South African NGO that pushes the cause of ‘fair trade’ in tourism has been given a major German tourism award with an accompanying call for its principles and practises to be “exported” and globalised.

The Institute for Tourism and Development (Studienkreis für Tourismus und Entwicklung) conferred its annual “To Do!” award on the Pretoria-based Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA) in recognition of its efforts to “overcome poverty through participatory tourism development, to encourage, strengthen and preserve cultural identity, and to contribute to the development of a more equitable society in post-apartheid South Africa.”

The FTTSA [www.fairtourismsa.org.za] certifies tourism businesses that offer fair wages and working conditions, practise fairness in operations, purchasing and distribution of benefits, adopt ethical business practices and show clear respect for human rights, culture and environment.

Initiated in 2001 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), FTTSA is not yet another eco-label but reflects the principles of the ‘traditional’ Fair Trade movement that has so far focussed on agricultural products like coffee, bananas, sugar and rice.

So far, only 17 organisations and companies have been certified, largely due to the stringent whetting process. They include high-priced private luxury lodges as well as community-based projects.

A less stringent process could easily have seen the certification being extended to “more than 100 enterprises,” says Studienkreis assessor Klaus Betz.

One of the certified companies, Imvubu Nature Tours was set up by a local group of blacks who under the apartheid regime were barred from entering the Rondevlei Nature Reserve right on their doorstep. Today, Imvubu Nature Tours offers guided tours, boat trips, fishing and stays at the bush camp to South Africans on very low incomes who cannot afford the various tourist offers provided to foreign visitors.

The certification scheme itself does not generate enough funding to sustain the FTTSA which relies on financial support as well as material, logistic support, tourism know-how, and consultancy services from international donor agencies, South African consultancies, law firms, tourism risk management specialists, as well as microfinance specialists.

The staff are multicultural and multinational.

As Studienkreis itself whets its own award-winners, Mr Betz visited South Africa in November 2005, personally visiting six of the 17 FTTSA-certified enterprises from northern and southern South Africa to provide a representative sample of companies from both sides of the economic divide.

He said in his report that FTTSA’s “exemplary” work “has no precedent in tourism practised worldwide.” An award will help drive business to the certified enterprises, encourage more to apply for the award and also encourage similar schemes to be set up worldwide, he said.

At the same time, it will also promote South Africa’s “Black Economic Empowerment” programme, a policy designed to “bring about significant increases in the number of black people that manage, own and control the country’s economy, as well as significant decreases in income inequalities”, by the year 2014.

Started in sectors such as financial services, media, forestry and paper industry, oil and energy, agriculture and fisheries, since May 2005 the tourism industry also has its “Tourism BEE Charter and Scorecard”, which specifies how tourism establishments should be structured by 2014 — in terms of black ownership, management representation, opportunities for further training and capacity building of staff, and employment equity (proportion of men and women, of ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’).

Said Mr Betz, “The BEE Act (www.southafrica.info/doingbusiness/trends/empowerment/bee.htm) is thus one of the prime movers for change in South African society. Without this programme, it would probably have been difficult to found an organisation like FTTSA.”

He noted that anybody travelling in South Africa today will discover a country that still has not overcome its recent history. Even though it is twelve years since apartheid ended, there are in the subconscious still enough of the old thought structures to act as a brake on change in the new South Africa, especially in the economy.

Within these continuing enormous differences in material well-being that reflect a one-country-but-two-worlds scenario, “there are many innovative and creative impulses signalling that a more equitable society can arise in South Africa, and how,” Mr Betz said.

He said FTTSA (can) “contribute to the reconciliation process in the new South Africa….. Its goal is to reshape the old structures in tourism, without condemning them, in such a way that a dynamism can arise that is needed for a society acting fairly and with social responsibility.”

More importantly, says Mr Betz, “FTTSA’s approach may prove to be ‘exportable’, provided such practices can be adapted to suit the specifics of other countries and cultures,” and if they can generate the political will to adopt the necessary regulatory instruments.

It would create for an opportunity that would bring together political and tourism decision makers from South Africa with their counterparts from other countries with a view to discussing diverse practical examples worldwide and their relevance for the ways forward to a more equitable, socially responsible tourism.

“South Africa is a tourism destination that lacks parallels in the world. Should the country succeed in overcoming the horrible consequences of apartheid and in leaving behind the social and economic dissimilarities, which are caused by this, it will surely be one of the most-sought-after holiday destinations our world has to offer.”

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