Rolling hills, castles, churches, potatoes, shamrocks and leprechauns – that’s what Ireland means to me! Since 2004, Ireland has also stood for a practical ecotourism standard. Developed by the organization, Ecotourism Ireland, and in association with Failte Ireland, Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the (Ireland) Environmental Protection Agency, the National Standards Authority of Ireland and the (Ireland) National Parks & Wildlife Service, the eco-label aims to expand the concept of environmental sustainability and stewardship through extensive training and accreditation procedures.
The Ecotourism Ireland eco-label is awarded to tourism businesses that do not manage or operate accommodations, but want to promote nature conservation, local heritage and local communities. The EU Flower voluntary eco-label is for accommodations.
Unlike other eco-certification schemes, Ecotourism Ireland is one of the very few that offer business strategy, planning and marketing services as well as certification accreditation training and assessment. It is also one of the first eco-labels in Europe to be formally Recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
The key components of Ecotourism Irelands’ criteria for certification, which are up for review again in January 2014, are:
- Environmentally sustainable practices for energy use, transportation, materials, water, land use, and health
- Natural area focus
- Interpretation and education
- Contributing to conservation
- Benefiting local communities
- Visitor satisfaction
- Responsible marketing and communication
- Cultural awareness and respect
Much like the Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTT) eco-label, each tourism business’ product or service must be certified separately. Hence, companies are not certified, just the individual hiking tour, archeology tour, etc. is accredited.
The process begins with a business application which assesses the business’ preparedness for certification. This includes a desk review of the company’s business plan including its formal ecotourism and environmental impact policies. If approved, the tourism business pays a membership fee and then prepares for an on-site inspection of the product/service. If awarded a gold (85-100% of available points), silver (65-84% of available points), or bronze (less than 65% of available points) label, the certification remains in effect for two years, after which a re-assessment takes place.