Destination: ‘Holistic’ Sustainability

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Every time Royal Caribbean christens a new ship, it’s a reminder that the oceans where the company earns its living are living ecosystems that need to be protected.

At the heart of the five-year partnership that Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. entered into with World Wildlife Fund in 2016, the company formalized its ongoing commitment to help protect the seas, the air above, the places RCL visits and the people who live there.

Helping care for and protect those places – destination stewardship – is one of areas in which the company set demanding environmental sustainability goals to meet over the next several years.

“These commitments around destination stewardship by Royal Caribbean are industry leading,” says Jim Sano, WWF vice president for travel, tourism and conservation. “Endorsing the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s (GSTC) framework is a big step forward, as no other large travel company has ever made such a commitment to this extent.”

The GSTC, the leading global sustainable standard-setting body for tourism, is sponsored by the United Nations World Tourism Organization and backed by stakeholders worldwide.

Its standard includes 40 principles and additional indicators that regard sustainability “in a holistic sense, not just from an environmental perspective,” says Kathleen Pessolano, GSTC destinations program director. “Tourism has the ability to positively influence people who live in the destinations where it’s taking place if it’s organized well, but it also can have severe negative impacts if it’s not carefully managed. The GSTC standard provides a roadmap to manage tourism for the maximum benefit of the destination.”

RCL’s destination stewardship goals include supporting GSTC destination assessments of two of its ports of call as well as its own private destinations by the end of 2017 “to identify sustainability and environmental threats and develop corrective action plans in concert with destination managers and local stakeholders.” By 2018, it will set a target for those private destinations to become GSTC Certified.

Beginning in 2016, RCL also committed to supporting WWF ocean tourism and coastal conservation projects in order to advance ongoing conservation efforts and continue to drive sustainability within the tourism industry.

In 2016, RCL contributed $100,000 to complete an educational handbook for travel companies offering tours that include observing sharks and rays. “Almost a quarter of shark and ray species globally are threatened or facing extinction.” says Sano. Responsible tour operators can create powerful financial incentives for local communities to conserve sharks, rays, and their habitat.”

Asked if RCL’s goals and commitments under the 5-year partnership are ambitious and will help drive the industry in a more sustainable direction, Sano says, “Absolutely.”