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I-STARS awards 125 tourism businesses over €5,000 to help with transition to sustainability

The EU-co-funded I-STARS project has awarded 125 tourism businesses from Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, and Spain with grants of up to €5,600 each, which will go towards receiving support in their transition to sustainable business practices.

I-STARS stands for Island Sustainable Tourism Action through Resilient SMEs. The I-STARS project is co-funded by the European Commission and is a partnership with 6 organisations from Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain, coordinated by the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce & Industry (CCCI).

Launched through an Open Call in July 2023, the I-STARS project invited enterprises from diverse tourism activities to apply for support aimed at facilitating their transition towards sustainable business practices. The response was overwhelmingly positive, reflecting a growing commitment within the industry to embrace sustainability as a core principle.

The awarded businesses now have the opportunity to utilise the financial support to engage sustainability experts of their choice. This allocation enables them to embark on various initiatives geared towards enhancing sustainability within their operations.

"At a time when environmental concerns are at the forefront of global discussions, sustainable tourism has emerged as a critical component of the tourism industry," explained Demetra Palaonda, the I-STARS project manager at CCCI. "The concept of sustainable tourism revolves around minimizing the negative impact of travel on the environment and local communities, while promoting responsible and ethical practices. The I-STARS project comes in to support tourism businesses from all categories to transition to sustainable business practices through the uptake of sustainability certification schemes, implementation of innovative solutions for sustainable tourism, as well as capacity building activities."

In this respect, she said, the I-STARS project has developed:

"The I-STARS eCourses are open to anyone, inviting individuals from all backgrounds to explore and contribute to the collective effort towards a more sustainable and responsible tourism industry. No previous knowledge or experience is needed to join this learning journey," said Palaonda. "They are based on asynchronous learning, meaning the learners can learn in their own time, space and pace, while at the end of each course after completing the quiz and score they can receive their Certificate of Attendance. They are available in 4 languages: Greek, English, Italian and Spanish."

"Tracking the sustainability performance of a business is a valuable tool for initiating improvements and enhancing its efficiency," Palaonda explained. "Using a monitoring system to measure and compare how a business’s operations impact the Environment, Society, and the Economy over time is essential for promoting sustainability and staying competitive."

The I-STARS Monitoring Tool is a set of online self-assessment questionnaires designed exclusively for the tourism industry focusing on:

  • SME policies and strategies
  • Waste Management
  • Water Management
  • Energy Management
  • Waste Food Management
  • Carbon Management
  • Stakeholder Engagement and Sustainable Development Actions
  • The I-STARS Grants Scheme offering €5,600 to each tourism business financing:
  • Sustainability certifications (EU Ecolabel, EMAS, Travelife, etc.).
  • Undertaking Energy, Waste, Food-waste, Water-use audits; custom-made action plans how to cut down energy costs.
  • Purchase of tools & solutions to improve sustainability performance.
  • Organisation Environmental Footprint Assessment – OEF.
  • Participation in education & training programs on sustainability issues.

All of these actions have direct benefits on the tourism businesses in the form of:

  • Reduced energy and water costs
  • Reduced consumption in food waste & carbon emissions
  • Increased customers by attracting conscious travelers, reaching out to new markets and standing-out from their competitors.

Among the diverse initiatives to be undertaken, some businesses will allocate funds towards obtaining sustainability certifications, a crucial step in validating their commitment to environmentally responsible practices. Certification not only enhances the credibility of businesses but also demonstrates their adherence to international standards of sustainability.

Other recipients of the grants will focus on developing comprehensive sustainability strategies and action plans tailored to their specific operations. By investing in strategic planning, these businesses aim to integrate sustainability into every aspect of their functioning, ensuring long-term viability while minimizing environmental impact.

Moreover, a significant portion of the awarded funds will be dedicated to improving crucial aspects of sustainable tourism, such as food waste management, waste reduction, and energy efficiency. By addressing these key areas, businesses can significantly reduce their ecological footprint while simultaneously enhancing the overall quality of their services.

Asked why she thinks the project is important, Palaonda said: “"Be the change that you wish to see in the world', Mahatma Gandhi. This is exactly how the I-STARS consortium partners envision the project, to become an exemplary project with spill-over multiplying effects for many more tourism enterprises and their stakeholders, across many other business eco-systems, and across different regional-national-EU levels. Ironically enough, it is the covid-19 crisis itself which triggered the status quo and brought about this urgent need to shift from ‘business as usual’ into more responsible strategies that will assist businesses to come out of this crisis stronger and more resilient. All results coming out of this project carry ‘change’ within themselves and as such, their impact is potentially huge. The change can be expressed in one word: SustainAbility, i.e. the ability to sustain: carry on, keep alive, maintain, preserve, by adhering one’s business on the 3 Ps: Profit, People, Planet. At a time when environmental concerns are at the forefront of global discussions, sustainable tourism has emerged as a critical component of the tourism industry. The concept of sustainable tourism revolves around minimizing the negative impact of travel on the environment and local communities, while promoting responsible and ethical practices. Certification schemes play a key role in achieving this goal by providing travellers with a reliable means of identifying accommodations, travel agents and destinations that put sustainability first. Recent surveys, such as the Booking.com platform's survey of 33,228 respondents in 35 countries, highlight the growing importance of certification schemes in sustainable tourism (Booking.com 2023 Sustainable Travel Report).

  • A staggering 76% of respondents expressed a desire to travel more sustainably next year;
  • 65% of respondents said they would feel better off staying at a particular property if it had a sustainability certification or label;
  • 43% of modern travellers would be willing to pay more for travel options with sustainable certification.

Understanding why travellers are increasingly motivated to choose certified sustainable options is essential. Data provided by Booking.com's research shows that travellers don't just pay lip service when it comes to sustainability. Instead, they're genuinely committed to acting more sustainably when they're on a journey. As the Deputy Minister of Tourism Mr. Koumis stated, "The challenge is for all those involved in the tourism industry to understand the need to move all together towards a model of sustainable tourism development, before we are 'punished' by visitors".

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