South Sardinia is the first Mediterranean destination to complete the Global Sustainable Tourism Council's (GSTC) Early Adopters Program to test its new Criteria and Indicators for Destinations. The assessment was one of the first initiatives of Visit South Sardinia, a new DMO formed by five forward-thinking municipalities: Cagliari, Domus de Maria, Muravera, Pula, and Villasimius.
The Early Adopters Program is overseen by GSTC's Destination Working Group and managed by NGO partner Sustainable Travel International (STI). The Destination Criteria complement the existing GSTC Criteria for Hotels and Tour Operators, which is the worldwide sustainability standard for tourism businesses. "The GSTC destination criteria are becoming a cornerstone for sustainability guidance worldwide, as guiding actions that protect and conserve unique natural and cultural features, such as those found in South Sardinia" noted Dr. Kelly Bricker, Chair of the GSTC. "As an early adopter, South Sardinia is demonstrating global leadership and commitment to sustainability," Bricker added.
Located 250km west of the Italian mainland and 200km North of Tunisia, Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean. It is characterized by rocky coastline separated by sandy and rocky beaches and watched over by a network of historic fortified towers, many of which have been restored.
The Mayor of Cagliari, Massimo Zedda noted at the opening workshop, "We have protected rather than exploited our Phoenician history, our water and our flamingos. We are proud to be the first GSTC Adopter in the Mediterranean."
Assisted by Prof. Patrizia Modica and a team of researchers at the University of Cagliari, South Sardinia helped to facilitate a high level of teamwork and cooperation during the destination's GSTC Assessment. The Mayor of Domus De Maria, Dr. Concetta Spada said at the closing workshop, "We were not organized or working together before. Being assessed together has helped us to collaborate to protect and enhance our precious points". The Mayor of Pula, Dr. Walter Cabasino, added, "It did not feel like I was undergoing a test but that I was part of a team to improve the destination." The Mayor of Muravera, Marco Fanni, Commented that the assessment "brought an objective outside point of view that helped the region reflect on what was important."
During a 10-day span, a sustainable destination specialist from STI met with key stakeholders in South Sardinia to discuss tourism planning and management, economic development, community involvement and heritage protection, and environmental conservation. Three focus group meetings were held to discuss these areas. In addition, two community meetings were held to review the opportunities and challenges of tourism development in the destination. The evaluation also included a comprehensive review of the legislative and policy framework relevant to the GSTC Destination Criteria.
The report identified a number of good practices, areas where the destination exceeds international standards, and areas where the destination can improve based on the GSTC Destination Criteria. The most noticeable good practices revealed in the STI assessment included a good sense of management from the DMO keeping plans and regulations accessible via government websites, prompt licensing regulations and consistent monitoring incorporated in their routine duties. Moreover, they implemented various programs to ensure local produce, local consumption, recognition and promotion of its people and assets embracing their heritage and idiosyncrasy.
At the concluding workshop, hosted by the University of Cagliari, a representative of the many private sector groups involved in the assessment, Martino di Martino, said "In only a few days a lot has been achieved. We are grateful for this opportunity and committed to the process." Mayor of Villasimius, Salvatore Sanna, challenged the group to act on GSTC recommendations and address the areas needing improvement in order to advance the sustainability journey of South Sardinia: "If we act on these recommendations, South Sardinia will take a leap forward. We need a clear vision for the Gulf of Angels and we need to tell the story with a single voice."
Additional Early Adopter destinations will be announced in the coming weeks. Once feedback has been collected from the Early Adopter destinations and synthesized, the GSTC will develop and distribute a final version of the Criteria and Indicators for Destinations. The final version is expected in November 2013.
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