Cape Town’s journey towards greater sustainability

Known around the globe as a place of beauty, Cape Town has exceptional diversity in a small geographic area, making it both vulnerable to the impact of tourism, but also perfectly positioned to use responsible tourism to ensure a more sustainable destination that balances the fragile environment with meaningful people centred experiences that drive real economic benefit for the city and its people.

The sheer economic value of Cape Town’s natural heritage is driven largely by its importance to tourism.

With a significant park such as Table Mountain National Park, recognised as one of the World’s New 7 Wonders of Nature (the only one in a City), running through the centre of the city, natural biodiversity is a birth-right of all Capetonians and a marvel that is appreciated and admired by visitors.

As a tourism destination, Cape Town is truly blessed. Millions of visitors come every year seeking a variety of experiences. The city has a diverse and balanced tourism offering and is a top global destination for nature, culture & heritage, urban vibe, education, business and incentive travel.

But Cape Town is not just a passive platform for tourists. We are a growing city of 3.8 million residents grappling with the structural and institutional legacy of our colonial and apartheid past, widening gaps between the rich and the poor and adapting to climate change and other challenges of the future. The beauty and hospitality enjoyed by so many visitors is not matched in the daily lives of many locals. Our remarkable environment is under tremendous pressure. And the potential represented by every Capetonian is not close to being realized, certainly not on an equitable basis across socio-economic and racial groupings.

As the local authority, the City of Cape Town looks to all the economic sectors to help address these challenges. The aim of tourism in Cape Town is not just to sell tourism, but also to make a difference in people’s lives and ensure that travel is contributing to that. The beauty and the accolades mean very little if they come at the expense of our environment or our residents and their prospects for the future.

The City of Cape Town is taking a Responsible Tourism approach to managing the destination so that what benefits residents will also benefit visitors; what is good for the tourism industry must also be good for local communities. The goal is a virtuous cycle, using the growth of tourism as an engine for improving the quality of life for all residents, and leveraging investments for local residents to support tourism. Responsible Tourism provides a structured way for us to achieve this goal.

Responsible Tourism is after all about making “better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit”: in that order. It is about using tourism rather than being used by it. It is about identifying the locally significant issues and acting to deal with them.

Back in 2002 the first International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations was held in Cape Town, with the ratified Cape Town Declaration becoming the world’s definition for Responsible Tourism.

Since then the City of Cape Town has been seeking ways to make this aspiration a reality, and to more closely link the quality of life and the health of our environment to the exceptional performance of Cape Town as a tourism destination.

Also in 2009, the City of Cape Town signed a Responsible Tourism Charter with lall the leading tourism and hospitality associations in Cape Town. This Charter commits each signatory to work actively on the priority issues for Responsible Tourism and report on progress.

Cape Town has been recognised internationally by the tourism sector as a destination that is a leader in adopting and practicing Responsible Tourism, by being the first city to win the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards in 2009.

Councillor, Grant Pascoe, Mayoral Committee Member for Tourism, Events and Marketing at the City of Cape Town says; “The City of Cape Town is driving responsible tourism with the support of industry players like Cape Town Tourism. We are committed to integrating Responsible Tourism practises into the majority of tourism products in Cape Town. The Responsible Tourism Pilot Project is an example of how the responsible tourism principles have been adopted on wide scale by the industry.”

The City of Cape Town launched an Responsible Tourism Pilot Project in 2011 with the aim to develop a tool for indicating and monitoring the  progress of tourism organisations and businesses in the destination. The priority areas of consideration are the underlying triple bottom-line principles (social, economic and environmental) across the seven indicator categories:

• Conservation of water resources
• Energy efficiency
• Integrated waste management
• Preferential procurement
• Enterprise development
• Skills development
• Social development

The approach of the Responsible Tourism Pilot was to select a small number of tourism enterprises, and assist them at a practical level to set up, collect and monitor indicator information. This collaborative process commenced with the signing of an Enterprise Responsible Tourism Charter for Cape Town, which included all pilot team members.

Three examples of success in the Pilot Project have been:

Big Business – The V & A Waterfront

Cape Town’s iconic V&A Waterfront, South Africa’s most visited and recognised tourist destinations is the first of its kind in Africa to be independently audited and certified for its environmental compliance.

The V&A Waterfront’s commitment and implementation of significant energy efficiency interventions have been recognised by three recent accolades: - the Energy Efficiency Award for Commercial Buildings, the recent eta Eskom Award for energy efficiency win and the Heritage Gold Environmental Certification.

The V&A’s energy efficiency initiatives have resulted in an annual saving on electricity of 11 261 449kWh or R5.6 million, while reducing their demand on the grid by 10.53%, illustrating that being responsible makes real business sense.

The V&A currently recycles around 40% of its waste or 120 tonnes a month which translates into savings of over R876 000 per year, and the company has recycled more than 4000 tons of waste since it started recycling in October 2009.  The V&A Management is aware of the considerable burden of waste management to the City of Cape Town and that landfill sites are already overloaded.

Small business: Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) and AWOL Tours

BEN offers township tours with a difference - rather than touring in an air-conditioned bus tourists travel by bike, guided by local guides from the community, increasing their interaction with the local community. This socially responsible Bicycle Tour in Masiphumelele is a new take on township tours, providing guests with the opportunity to meet and interact with the local community from a bicycle seat. In addition, AWOL Tours, in conjunction with BEN, assists members of the local community to start their own businesses and provides a transport solution to the community.

Transport: The Green Cab

The Green Cab, South Africa’s first carbon-neutral transport service is based in Cape Town. The company’s fleet of taxis has been modified to run on a blend of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and biodiesel.  In comparison with petrol, LPG renders 75% less carbon monoxide; 85% less hydrocarbon; 40% less oxide and nitrogen; and about 10% less carbon dioxide. Biodiesel can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 50%.The Green Cab is launching a Green Pass project comprising a daily shuttle service from Cape Town centre to Cape Point. 

We’ve already made tremendous strides but Cape Town has a long way to go towards true sustainability. We are striving to turn pockets of responsible tourism excellence into a way of life, to integrate the principles of Responsible Tourism into all tourism products and experiences. We still have a lot of work to do before we are truly living by the principles of responsible tourism and helping all visitors enjoy our destination as responsible travellers. There is a long road ahead to travel, but we know that it not just rewarding economically, but good for the environment and more meaningful for visitors and communities alike.

Mariette Du Toit-Helmbold, Cape Town Tourism CEO
ITB 2013

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