Deconstructing the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (CETS)

In general, European vacationers view ecotourism as a way to minimize their carbon footprint entirely by first traveling by train, for example, and then staying in rural areas where they can hike or go camping. To that end, a European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (CETS) was developed in 1995 to “to improve the sustainable development and management of tourism in protected areas, which takes account of the needs of the environment, local residents, local businesses and visitors.”

The CETS certification is open to protected areas as well as tourism operators working in these protected areas. The difference between the CETS and PAN Parks designations is that the CETS can be awarded to protected areas of any size whereas the PAN Parks designation needs to have a minimum size of 20,000 hectares and have a high wilderness ratio.

The European Charter for Sustainable Tourism used the Convention on Biological Diversity standards as the foundation for its criteria including:

  • Encouragement and strengthening of partnerships
  • Collection and assessment of baseline information for the protected area region
  • Establishment of vision and goals in order to maximize the positive benefits of tourism on biodiversity, ecosystems, and regional development while minimizing negative impacts
  • Taking joint actions to implement these overall goals

The Charter ultimately led to the development of the EUROPARC Federation, which includes consulting, training and evaluation committee arms dedicated to helping sustainable tourism providers with the tools, policies, and best practices necessary for land conservation and sustainable development.

The high-level requirements of the European Charter are:

  • Establishment of a permanent forum or equivalent arrangement for partnership between the park authority, local municipalities, conservation, and community organizations and representatives of the tourism business
  • The detailed description of the sustainable tourism strategy for the protected area that should address key issues specified by the Charter and include an action plan for meeting the identified strategic objectives

Award process:

  • The park registers as a candidate park with EUROPARC
  • Protected area or park tourism operator submits an application along with supporting documentation to EUROPARC’s consulting arm
  • The application is verified by a sustainable tourism expert or protected area management expert who conducts an on-site visit, interviews personnel, meets with community stakeholders and writes an assessment report
  • The 5 member Charter evaluation committee, which is appointed by the EUROPARC Federation and meets once per year, determines whether the park or tourism operator fulfills the requirements and grants the CETS certification for 5 years; there is no formal process for reauthorization

Click here for a listing of the 164 protected areas that have been awarded the CETS certification.

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