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Sustainable Tourism Asia: Traveling into tomorrow’s tourism: Insights from three of Asia’s experts

by Tess Zinnes  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | 14 November 2018


Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

South and Southeast Asia have been the world’s fastest growing sub-regions in terms of visitor arrivals in the last decade. Within this context, issues like overtourism are emerging as a negative externality that plague Asian hot spots. With (part of) Asia’s increasing economic dependency on tourism for GDP, governments and businesses are looking for ways to overcome these challenges to ensure the industry’s longevity.

Sustainable Tourism Asia will serve as a platform for leading companies in the hospitality and tourism sectors, as well as government officials and non-profits, to address these issues and catalyze action-oriented opportunities. On 29th November cross-sector leaders will gather to share best practices and learnings at Marina Bay Sands Singapore. A curated mix of sessions will include:

  • Today’s global consumer: How to meet increasing consumer/travellers’– expectations for responsible practices by the industry.
  • Sustainable tourism and development: Aligning social and economic strategies to promote shared value.
  • Tourism trends and policies: Tourism regulations impacting the private sector in Asia.

Several workshops will also provide participants with practical tools, including a certification FAQ workshop run by Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

Here is what three of the forum speakers had to share about the on-the-ground challenges of driving tourism and hospitality sustainably in Asia and the industry’s future.

Global Sustainable Tourism Council: The road to recognition in a sea of certified confusion

Without hesitation, Randy Durband, GSTC’s CEO, points to waste management coupled with a lack of what “sustainable” means as the main sustainable tourism challenges in the region. According to a 2017 Ocean Conservancy report, five Asian countries (Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, China and Vietnam) are disposing more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined. The latter statistic, however, falls in the context of a world where almost half of the waste is generated by OECD countries that historically have exported their waste to Asia – particularly plastics to China. GSTC tackles these challenges as a non-profit by establishing and managing global sustainable standards, known as the GSTC Criteria. These standards offer consistency of approach and metrics for both industry and public policy makers. “Survey anyone in tourism and ask, ‘What is sustainable tourism?’, and you get as many answers as people you ask” he explains. Unlike self-assessments which can be vulnerable to internal biases, GSTC is a neutral, credible third-party with ties to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the United Nations Foundation. More than 200 standards exist that vary in application (performance-based versus process-based), region, complexity and price. The multitude of standards and certification schemes can lead to confusion in deciding which approach to take and this leads to inaction. GSTC seeks to harmonize and provide neutral guidance to use systems and tools. The GSTC Hotel Criteria, for example, are based on four areas: 1) effective sustainability planning, 2) maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community, 3) enhancing cultural heritage, and 4) reducing negative impacts to the environment. To galvanize action, Randy will be leading a workshop at the November forum to highlight why hotels are seeking GSTC accreditation and what to expect throughout the application process.

Hilton Singapore and Sodexo: Today’s global dining consumer

Food is a way to explore and experience a country while on holiday. According to Executive Chef at Hilton Singapore, Kazi Hassan, customers are increasingly ordering responsibly sourced menu options at Hilton Singapore. Many companies like Hilton Singapore want to do the right thing, but two challenges remain in the Asia context:

  1. The lack of availability of responsibly sourced products, like sustainable seafood and cage-free eggs, vary from country to country.
  2. The level of demand for sustainably sourced products varies depending on a consumer’s level of awareness and their ability to pay a premium.


Photo by Clem Onojeghuo from Pexels

Roshith Rajan, Sodexo’s Director Corporate Responsibility Asia Pacific, affirms these two challenges from the food services and hospitality industry’s perspective. He emphatically adds that “…consumers are increasingly demanding from businesses that food be provided in the right way – …for example ethically with no forced labor, better animal welfare standards, sustainably grown and raised products, and eliminating food waste.” (Note: emphasis added). From Sodexo’s standpoint, the company has always been guided by its mission and values to provide a responsible service creating a better tomorrow for everyone – the customer, the employees, suppliers, society and the environment. Sodexo sees these commitments supporting greater brand value and supporting business growth because today, corporate responsibility is a differentiator. Ideally corporate responsibility should be a given, but we are living in a world where it is not. “The real question,” Roshith rhetorically poses, “is do you want to be a part of the change or remain behind?”

The tourism and hospitality industry can influence consumers and raise awareness around sustainable food choices. Hilton Singapore, for example, educates their waiters to promote sustainable menu selections to customers. Waiters are also briefed to answer questions like what the guidelines are for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fish. Hilton Singapore was Asia’s first hotel to achieve MSC certification, as well as Aquaculture Stewardship Council chain of custody certification, and they use such conversations as one touch point to guide customers in making the right decisions. Further down the supply chain, Hilton Singapore also locally sources ingredients to support their community’s producers and economy. Kazi echoes a sentiment also shared by Roshith and Randy, “We need to make people aware…it’s all about awareness. A lot of people just don’t know and they can’t act on this knowledge. Through Sustainable Tourism Asia we want to create a chain reaction to change the culture and bring awareness so that we can all do the right thing.”

We look forward to hearing more from these speakers, gaining practical tools from the workshops and welcoming you all on the 29th of November at Marina Bay Sands Singapore. 

This article is part of a series of CSR Asia articles titled, “Sustainable Tourism Asia: Solutions for Tourism + Hospitality”. Other articles from this series include: