Destination Greater Victoria has been given the Responsible Tourism Institute’s biosphere certification in recognition of its commitment to environmental sustainability, cultural diversity, equity and social responsibility.
The certification marks the first time in North America an urban destination has been feted by the European-based RTI, an independent body established in 1995 to promote sustainable development actions and programs in tourism destinations and companies.
Destination Greater Victoria chief executive Paul Nursey said the tourism industry needs to operate in a way that respects the environment as well as the social and cultural fabric of the area.
While biosphere certification will provide long-term economic benefits to Greater Victoria, it also provides a platform and action plan to continue improving sustainability practices and “maximizing the positive contributions we make every day as community partners,” he said.
Destination Greater Victoria said the RTI certification shows the organization and industry are on the right track, as the certification is highly sought after due to its credibility and recognition worldwide.
Globally, only 45 destinations and their marketing organizations have earned biosphere certification.
In B.C., the number includes Northern B.C. Tourism Association, Kootenay Rockies Tourism Association, Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association, Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and Tourism Vancouver Island.
Tomás de Azcárate Bang, president of the RTI, said tourism is the world’s largest industry from an economic point of view and is among industries with the greatest impact on the planet. “Sustainability and tourism will be one in the future, which calls for decisive action,” he said.
Nursey said the designation could translate into business for the city.
According to the RTI, 60 per cent of travellers are willing to pay more for sustainable experiences and 79 per cent of travellers consider sustainability when selecting transport.
Destination Canada says 71 per cent of travellers plan to try to travel more sustainably within the next year.
Trina White, general manager of the Parkside Hotel, said sustainability is “at the forefront” for meeting and event planners “who are looking for stronger initiatives than typical recycling programs, diving deeper into who our partnerships and certifications are with.
“Our focus has been on sustainability from day one and we encourage other businesses to do the same.”
Bill Lewis, general manger of the Magnolia Hotel and chair of the Hotel Association of Victoria, said the certification is an important milestone.
“Through biosphere certification, local hotels are distinguishing themselves to an international audience that shares their values and attracting more travellers and meetings to support Greater Victoria’s vital visitor economy,” he said in a statement.
Greater Victoria’s certification was based on an assessment of Destination Greater Victoria and the region in relation to the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals, and an audit of how sustainability practices can continue to be fostered, implemented, monitored and improved among the membership.
Currently, 12 members of Destination Greater Victoria are participating in the biosphere program. The marketing organization intends to have as many as 60 businesses certified by the end of 2023.