Sustainable Tourism

The Covid-19 pandemic is just one of the dreadful and deadly results of the climate emergency we are in. Medical professionals have issued a joint international warning about the dangers to public health if we do not change our ways : “The risks posed by climate change could dwarf those of any single disease. ” World’s Top Health Professionals Message to Politicians

As Scotland gets ready to welcome the thousands of attendees flying in to attend the global climate summit COP26 in Glasgow it is worth looking at how other island communities are attempting to develop a sustainable tourism industry.

The Azores is an archipelago situated in the North Atlantic Ocean. It comprises 9 islands and is officially an autonomous region of Portugal. It has a population of 242, 796 (2019 census).

The Azores is the first archipelago in the world to achieve international certification of sustainable destination by an entity accredited by the Global Council for Sustainable Tourism.

For 20 years the Azores has been developing a sustainable tourism plan which involves:

  • Nature conservation and biodiversity protection
  • Energy production and management
  • Management and inspection of noise, air quality, waste and water
  • Environmental promotion and education actions
  • Valuing native products, Azorean heritage and culture

In addition to that – Almost 25% of the territory of the Archipelago is classified as a Protected Area, managed by the Natural Parks on each island.

The Azores includes two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Central Zone of the Town of Angra do Heroismo  and the Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture.


The pandemic meant that the Azores introduced public health measures.

General behavior guidelines were enacted, in which all people must adopt the following rules:

  • Social distancing;
  • Frequent hand washing;
  • Mandatory use of mask;
  • Respiratory etiquette.

There are three options for entry to the Azores, and devices are available for passengers’ screening at the airports to read the respective QR codes:

  • With EU digital COVID certificate of vaccination or recovery: no need to fill out the MySafeAzores questionnaire or other validation other than the certificate, and passengers can enter the Azores without restrictions;
  • With EU digital COVID test certificate, or with a laboratory test result: passengers must fill in the MySafeAzores questionnaire and submit the laboratory test result or the test certificate within 72 hours before the start of their trip, whose code generated by the MySafeAzores platform will be validated at the arrival in the Azores.
    Passengers aged 12 and under, although exempt from test and its submission upon arrival in the Azores, must also fill out the MySafeAzores form;
  • Without certificate and test result: passengers will perform a test upon arrival, and their data and test result are entered into the platform by the teams present at the airport. (Information from SATA Azores Airlines)

17,826 people have died in Portugal from Covid (pop 10.28million). As a comparison there have been 134,000 deaths in the UK (pop 66.65million) and in Scotland 8,210 (pop 5.45million) . The situation in the Azores itself is difficult to establish but as you can understand its tourism sector was hit extremely hard by the pandemic.

The Azores feels confident that the Silver Certified Earth Check Accreditation will ensure that its tourism sector will be able to recover from the economic consequences of the pandemic.

Towards Sustainable Tourism

A survey conducted by travel company showed that today’s travellers are looking for visits which are not going to add to the climate crisis.

  • 83% of global travellers think sustainable travel is vital, with 61% saying the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future
  • Almost half (49%) still believe that in 2021, there aren’t enough sustainable travel options available, with 53% admitting they get annoyed if somewhere they are staying stops them from being sustainable, for example by not providing recycling facilities
  • While 3 out of 4 accommodation providers say they have implemented at least some kind of sustainability practices at their property, only one-third actively communicate about their efforts proactively to potential guests
  • To help boost the visibility of more sustainable stay options, is now showing third-party sustainability certifications and details on a range of 30+ impactful practices in place at hundreds of thousands of properties around the world

“Over the six years we’ve been conducting this research, it’s been inspiring to see awareness of the importance of sustainable travel consistently grow, both with our customers and now with our partners, too,” said Marianne Gybels, Director of Sustainability for

“The good intentions are there on all sides, but there is still a lot of work to be done to make sustainable travel an easy choice for everyone. The more sustainable practices we can help our partners to identify and implement, the more we can experiment with how best to highlight this information to customers and ultimately make sustainability a transparent and easily identifiable part of their travel decision-making process.

“A small change like eliminating single-use plastics or switching to energy-efficient LED light bulbs might seem insignificant in isolation, but multiplied by millions of travellers and properties around the world, these small steps all start to add up to a much bigger potential positive impact.” is currently displaying over 30 certifications officially approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), Green Tourism and the EU Ecolabel, as well as multiple hotel chain sustainability programs.

The company is sourcing this information directly from the certification bodies and displaying it on the property pages of partners who hold one of these established third-party certifications. is also encouraging its accommodation partners to update their sustainability information, which includes 32 impactful practices across five key categories: waste, energy and greenhouse gases, water, supporting local communities and protecting nature.

From this global roll-out, hundreds of thousands of properties have already started to share at least some of their sustainability information with, which can be viewed on the ‘Sustainability initiatives’ banner on each of their property pages. While it’s still early days, this is an important first step in providing more sustainability information in a transparent way to consumers, ultimately making it easier for them to start making more sustainable travel choices. (Global News)

The survey also looked at shopping choices. Supporting small local shops is a vital part of a sustainable tourism sector. Here’s what the survey showed for people who shopped at small local independent stores during their trips.

The survey was conducted in March 2021 with 29,349 respondents across 30 countries and territories taking part online. So as with all surveys it is wise to be mindful of participation but even at that it does produce interesting trends in how both travellers and accommodation providers regard sustainable tourism.

Orkney is currently conducting a survey on developing the World Heritage Site, The Heart of Neolithic Orkney, you can find details about the Orkney Gateway project and its options here: Developing Orkney’s World Heritage Site: Share Your Views

As an archipelago with a fraction of the population size of the Azores, Orkney needs to find a solution between the desires of the Orkney Gateway project to develop ‘Slow Tourism’ and the huge increase in Cruise Ship Visits planned.

Photo Credit Peter Shearer

For those interested in the survey:

Fiona Grahame

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