Fair Trade Tourism certifies honest tourism in Southern Africa

Trade for Development Centre
15 June 2017
The Trade for Development Centre – an initiative from the Belgian Development Cooperation - is helping to support sustainable tourism in South Africa.

Since the democracy in South Africa, when Nelson Mandela won the elections as the first black president in 1994, tourism has more than tripled in the country. This growth is expected to continue until 2020, by which time, according to the National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS, 2011) South Africa will be among the world's top twenty most popular tourist destinations.

South Africa has been a pioneer in ecotourism and nature reserve management for many years. Since the 90s there has also been growing realisation that its cultural diversity could be an asset in tourism, and also that the communities connected with tourism, involved with their land, work, culture and natural resources, are entitled to a fair share of its benefits. This has led to the launch of several initiatives related to responsible tourism. Since the turn of the century the country has played even more of a pioneering role.

Certification, a real point of reference

In 2001, the FTTSA was set up as a pilot project by the South African division of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Its aim was to analyse whether the fair trade concept could still be applied to tourism after apartheid. The response was positive and so the FTTSA has continued its activities since 2004 as an independent NGO. Since then this NGO has combined several initiatives in the sector. It is also involved in generating awareness among the general public, lobbying governments and even helped to set up the fair trade network in South Africa.

Logo Fair Trade Tourism

However, the FFTSA's most important project has been to quickly develop an honest certification scheme for products related to tourism. The standards used are based on the sector criteria and consist of an honest wage, decent working conditions, an honest allocation of the income and respect for the unique culture and the environment. Meanwhile, 79 initiatives across the country are now certified: hotels, safari lodges, backpacker lodges and guest houses, as well as organised tours and adventurous activities. All initiatives are clearly displayed on a website: http://www.fairtrade.travel. Since 2013 the organisation's aim has been to extend its activities beyond the country's own borders. That is why its name has been changed to Fair Trade Tourism.

Meanwhile, 79 initiatives across the country are now certified: hotels, safari lodges, backpacker lodges and guest houses, as well as organised tours and adventurous activities


Although FTT positions itself explicitly as a fair trade label, its criteria are also aligned with the standards in the tourist industry itself, such as Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria or the Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct, which aims to combat sexual exploitation of children in tourism.

The most important elements of the FTT label are:

  • An honest wage: everyone working on a tourist activity must receive a fair share of the income proportional to their efforts.
  • Respect: both the host or hostess and the tourist must respect human rights, the culture concerned and the environment. This covers things such as: decent working conditions, the protection of young workers, encouraging equality between men and women and an understanding and tolerance of cultural traditions. The strain on the environment must be limited to an absolute minimum: limiting the use of water and energy, recycling waste and protecting biodiversity.
  • Democracy: everyone facilitating a tourist activity must have the right and the opportunity to participate in the relevant decision-making.
  • Transparency: the prices and accounts must be transparent. Travel agencies maintain long-term relationships with their supplier (food, accommodation, ...), pay deposits and respect strict conditions in the event of a cancellation.
  • Supporting the local economy: food is to be bought locally as much as possible.
  • Special consideration is paid to important topics related to the South African context, namely the education of black workers, the question of ownership (co-management by black people) and awareness of HIV and AIDS.
Tourists enjoying a jeep
© FTT South-Africa

FTT approved

In around 2013 the organisation took various steps towards becoming more professional. With the support of the Trade for Development Centre (TDC) and in conjunction with the South African government, the organisation made a study of the German, Swiss, Swedish and Dutch markets. The idea was to define certain target audiences, allowing FTT-certified organisations and businesses to promote sustainable tourism very specifically on the European market.

To avoid any conflict of interests, a differentiation was made between market development, on the one hand, and certification on the other, similar to Fairtrade International, the organisation behind the Fairtrade label, and FLO-CERT, the inspection body. An external agency (KPMG) is now responsible for certification and audits. FTT is focused on developing the Fair Trade Tourism label into a strong brand and is looking for new opportunities,
both in terms of supply and demand.

Various South African, British, Swiss, German and Dutch travel agencies are already selling honest holidays under the FTT label. However, for travel agencies themselves, certification has not turned out to be the most suitable approach, as the tourist chain is naturally much more complicated than the more common fair trade products (coffee, cocoa, bananas, etc.). That is why, in 2016, it was decided to stop certifying tour operators and award them the status of ‘FTT-approved’ instead.

To be considered as ‘FTT-approved’, the operator must sign the FTT code of conduct and offer fair trade holidays within 12 months of signature. Operators already possessing Travel Life and/or TourCert certification, are automatically considered as FTT-approved, thanks to a mutual recognition agreement.

A tour is considered to be fair trade if at least 50% of the nights are spent in a FTT-certified establishment (or have been signed by a recognised partner programme). FTT-certified activities can also count towards achieving 50%. At the beginning of 2017, 38 South African (inbound) and 21 European tour operators (outbound) FTT were approved, including one Belgian organisation this year.

Various NGOs, such as Tourism Concern (Great Britain), EED–Tourism Watch (Germany), Schyst Resande (Sweden) and Akte (Switzerland) are playing an essential role in spreading the concept. Finally, the South African tourism agency is taking care of promoting the label on the foreign market.


Tourist on a bicycle


Support from the TDC in developing honest tourism

TDC supported a project aimed at improving the profitability, competitiveness and sustainability of small tourist businesses beyond the South African borders. This resulted in a wide selection of tourist products for consumers and operators. Trips featuring a range of FTT-certified products are being offered under the Fair Trade Holiday classification, as an overall brand covering all tourist products on the market in a language that is familiar to the European consumer and one which he can trust: fair trade.

The project was based on four objectives, linked to the FTT strategy:

  • To increase the number of certified ‘tourist products’ in South Africa and the subregion;
  • To support South African tour operators (inbound) in their promotion of innovative tours at foreign travel agencies;
  • To increase the number of foreign tourists participating in tours and products under Fair Trade Tourism;
  • To strengthen the Fair Trade Tourism model, allowing it to be extended all over South Africa and the wider area.

FTT also aims to look beyond the borders and to gradually extend its activities to seven other countries in Southern and Eastern Africa (Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Tanzania).

Honest travel throughout Southern Africa

FTT also aims to look beyond the borders and to gradually extend its activities to seven other countries in Southern and Eastern Africa (Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Tanzania). This will give tourists a greater choice, with tours all over Southern Africa.

FTT has signed mutual recognition agreements with five existing certification programmes for sustainable tourism in Africa (Namibia, Botswana,
Kenya, Tanzania and the Seychelles), which is an important step in extending the Trade Tourism model in the area. FTT has begun certification on products (activities and overnight stays) in countries where no certification programmes are in existence, such as Mozambique and Madagascar: 7 in Mozambique and 8 in Madagascar. The aim is to for this to be extended to the entire African region by participating in the African platform for the certification of sustainable tourism (Sustainable Tourism Certification Alliance).


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About the same theme - Article 7 /9 Honeyguide Tanzania: tourism which supports nature and the population