Fair Trade Tourism (South Africa)

Fair Trade Tourism (South-Africa)

International tourism has more than tripled in South Africa since democracy was installed in 1994. The industry should continue to grow until 2020, when, according to the National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS, 2011), South Africa will be one of the 20 most popular destinations in the world.

For many years already, South Africa has been a pioneer in ecotourism and natural reserves management. Also, since the 1990s, the country has taken full advantage of the tourism potential offered by cultural diversity. There is a growing awareness that the communities, whose land, work, culture and natural wealth play a part in tourism activities, are entitles to their share of the revenue. Thus, many responsible tourism initiatives have emerged.

Since the turn of the century, the country has taken on its pioneering role in this respect more strongly.The first fair (Fair Trade) certification programme for tourism products was launched by the FTTSA (Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa) NGO. Ten years later, this organisation changed its name to Fair Trade Tourism (FTT) to consolidate its ambitious projects.

Certification, a real showcase

In 2001, FTTSA was launched as a pilot project of the South African branch of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It aimed to assess whether the fairness concept could also be applied to tourism in the post-apartheid era. Because the answer to this question was positive, the FTTSA has pursued its operations as an independent NGO since 2004. It has brought together the various initiatives of the sector. It has also carried out awareness-raising activities,lobbied with public authorities and even become one of the founding members of the Fair network in South Africa.

 In addition, very soon the FFTSA’s principal goal was to put in place a fair certification programme for tourism products. The standards adopted in this respect are based on the criteria of the industry and include fair remuneration, decent working conditions, a fair sharing of revenue and respect for cultural traditions and the environment.

 Since then, more than 79 initiatives have been certified throughout the country: hotels, safari lodges, backpacker lodges and guesthouses, but also organised tours and ‘adventure’ type of activities. They are all listed on the following website, http://www.fairtrade.travel. 


Whereas the FTT presents itself explicitly as fair label, its criteria also comply with other standards applicable in the tourism industry such as the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria or the Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct. Through its code of conduct the latter international initiative aims to fight the sexual exploitation of children in tourism.

The main elements are the following:

  • Fair remuneration: any person working in a tourism activity must receive a fair share of the revenue in proportion to the work delivered.
  • Respect: both hosts and tourists must respect human rights, culture and the environment. This implies, among other things, decent working conditions, the protection of young workers, the promotion of gender equality as well as an understanding of, and tolerance for, cultural practices. Environmental pressure should be reduced as much as possible: limitation of water consumption, re-use of waste and protection of biodiversity.
  • Democracy: any person working in a tourism activity is entitled to and should be given the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process concerning the matters that concern him or her.
  • Transparency: applicable rates and accounting must be transparent. Travel agencies develop long-term relationships with (food, accommodation, etc.) suppliers and pay advances and apply sound cancellation conditions.
  • Food products are purchased locally as much as possible to support the local economy.
  • Important South African concerns are addressed, such as the training of black employees, ownership issues (joint management by black people) and awareness-raising about HIV and AIDS.

FTT approved

With the support of the Trade for Development Centre and in collaboration with South African authorities, as part of a first project, the organisation has conducted a study on the
German, Swiss, Swedish and Dutch markets. Once again, the ambition is to define the target groups to allow FTT-certified organisations and businesses to promote, in a targeted way, sustainable tourism on the European market.

To avoid conflicts of interests, the decision was made to split the activities pertaining to market development and activities pertaining to certification, comparable to the split between
Fairtrade International, the organisation behind the Fairtrade label, and FLO-CERT, the audit body. Now, an external office, in this case KPMG, is responsible for certification and auditing.

FTT focuses on the development of the Fair Trade Tourism label in view of making it a strong brand by exploring new opportunities on both the supply and demand sides.

On the demand side this is done mainly through partnerships. Several South African, British, Swiss, German and Dutch travel agencies already sell FTT-labelled holidays. For tour operators, certification did not seem to be the most appropriate approach since the value chain is far more complex than the value chain of traditional Fair Trade certified value chains such as the coffee, cocoa or banana value chains. In 2016, it was therefore decided to not further certify tour operators but to deliver an ‘FTT-approved’ status.  

To be ‘FTT-approved’, the operator must sign the FTT Code of Conduct and commercialise Fair Trade holidays within 12 months after signing the Code of Conduct. Operators that are already certified by Travel Life and/or TourCert are automatically FTT-approved because of a reciprocal recognition agreement.

A tour is considered Fair Trade if at least 50% of the accommodation is in FTT-certified establishments (or certified by a partner certification programme with which a reciprocal recognition agreement has been signed). Each FTT-certified activity included in the programme amounts to 5% in the calculation of the 50%. At the beginning of 2017, 38 South African tour operators (inbound) and 21 European tour operators (outbound) were FTT-approved. One of them is a Belgian organisation.

Several NGOs, such as the Tourism Concern (Great Britain), EED–Tourism Watch (Germany), Schyst Resande (Sweden) and Akte (Switzerland), also play a key role in the dissemination of this concept. And finally, the official South African Tourism Office also promotes the label on the foreign market.

Development of fair trade tourism

A second project supported by the TDC aims to improve the profitability, competitiveness and sustainability of small tourism stakeholders outside South Africa. This will result in a more varied basket of tourism products from which consumers and operators can choose. The Fair Trade Holiday label will be the umbrella brand under which the tourism products will be commercialised using terminology that is known and understood by European consumers and which they trust, i.e. fair trade

The project has four components that are perfectly in keeping with the FTT strategy as developed above:

  • Increase the number of certified tourism products in South Africa and the region;
  • Support (inbound) South African tour operators with the promotion of innovative tours among foreign travel
  • Increase foreign arrivals to Fair Trade Tourism tours and products.
  • Strengthen the Fair Trade Tourism model and expand it throughout South Africa and replicate the model in the region.


Fair Trade tours in the whole of southern Africa

FTT also has cross-border ambitions and intends to progressively expand its activities to seven other countries of southern and eastern Africa (Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Tanzania). In this way, the tourist is offered a far broader choice, with tours covering the whole of southern Africa.

FTT has signed reciprocal recognition agreements with five existing African certification programmes (Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and the Seychelles), which represents an important step in extending the Fair Trade Tourism model in the region. FTT has also started certification of products in Mozambique and Madagascar (7 in Mozambique, 8 in Madagascar) because reciprocal recognition agreements could not be signed there. The reciprocal recognition agreements have been made possible thanks to partnerships developed within the Sustainable Tourism Certification Alliance.