County Clare Aims To Become Ireland’s First Certified Sustainable Tourism Destination

Tuesday, October 03, 2023. 4:14pm

Tourism leaders across County Clare have joined forces to achieve Ireland’s first Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Destination Certification.

Recognised as a global leader in managing standards for sustainable travel and tourism, the GSTC has developed internationally recognised criteria around sustainable management, and socioeconomic, cultural and environmental impacts, including consumption of resources, reducing pollution, and conserving biodiversity and landscapes.

Clare’s pursuit of certification aims to provide a structured framework for measuring progress, identifying potential risks, and for identifying areas that require improvement.  The approach will aim to support greater collaboration in tourism planning while ensuring external verification by a third party, enhancing transparency, and reinforcing the validity of Clare’s commitment in transitioning to become more sustainable.

County Clare will join dozens of dedicated destinations throughout the world that have received the designation such as The Azores (Portugal), Nuuk (Greenland), Järvsö (Sweden), Rottnest Island (Australia), Breckenridge & Vail, Colorado (USA), Tarvisio (Italy) and Ejder 3200 (Turkey).

The Tourism Department of Clare County Council and the Clare Tourism Advisory Forum have established a County Clare GSTC Destination Green Team to oversee the process of securing the Destination Certification, to devise a sustainable tourism policy and to establish a systematic approach to address the challenges faced by County Clare as a destination to support the application being submitted for the designation.

The Green Team comprises a cross-section of local authority employees, tourism agencies and businesses, conservation agencies, community leaders and organisations, the UNWTO INSTO Network, and the sustainable tourism expertise of Atlantic Technical University (ATU) Sligo.

Representatives of the County Clare GSTC Destination Green Team which is seeking to secure Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Destination Certification for County Clare. Photograph Eamon Ward

Cllr. Joe Cooney, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, said, “Clare tourism operators and the Local Authority have a proud and lengthy track record of adopting a sustainable approach to tourism development in the County. Developing a countywide sustainable tourism policy and securing international certification will consolidate this work and ensure sustainability remains at the core of everything the local sector does into the future.”

Leonard Cleary, Director of Tourism Development with Clare County Council, commented, “The Green Team comprises representatives of organisations and communities that have shown leadership down through the years in devising, managing and further developing sustainable and tourism policies for their respective areas. Bringing this wealth of experience together for the purpose of achieving countywide GSTC Destination Certification will elevate County Clare to the status of best in class when it comes to sustainable tourism in Ireland and will demonstrate that Clare tourism operators take sustainability seriously.”

Clare’s bid to become a globally recognised and certified sustainable tourism destination commenced in 2022 when surveys of residents and visitors to the County were carried out to measure and monitor tourism impacts on the local economy, communities, heritage, and environment. An additional survey of tourism businesses will be carried out shortly.

“Working with ATU Sligo, who will act as a third-party verifier of our bid to secure Destination Certification, is key to developing systems for measuring and monitoring the ongoing development of a genuinely sustainable tourism product in Clare,” explained Deirdre O’Shea, Head of Tourism with Clare County Council.

She added, “Once certified, the Green Team will use the GSTC Criteria to deliver more sustainable services, increase public awareness and engagement, support strategies for climate adaptation and resilience, assist with policymaking at County Development Plan and Destination Experience Development Plan levels, work towards UN Sustainable Development Goals, and guide standards and practices in the adoption of the Clare Tourism Strategy 2030 and the UNESCO Global Geopark designation for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher.”

“We are delighted to work with the Green Team by advising how members can engage most effectively with destination certification,” said Dr. James Hanrahan, lecturer in Tourism Management in the School of Business and Social Science at ATU Sligo.

He continued, “My ATU Sligo colleague Fiona McKenna and I have interviewed several companies that provide GSTC destination certification, including EarthCheck who have been working with leading tourism destinations throughout the world for more than 15 years. Representatives of EarthCheck will be engaging with the Green Team over the coming months on their journey towards securing GSTC Destination Certification for County Clare and becoming a leading example in Ireland of a collaboratively managed ecological, economical, and socially sustainable destination.”

“The key to successful destination management is using sustainable tourism indicators to measure and monitor tourism to inform and drive evidence-based planning,” added Dr. Hanrahan.

According to Carol Gleeson, Manager of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, “It is widely recognised within the local tourism industry that the sustainability goals set out in the County Clare Tourism Strategy and the upcoming Cliffs of Moher Strategy 2040 must be supported by actions and data that are globally recognised and endorsed. The members of the County Clare GSTC Destination Green Team are adopting a collaborative approach to learn more about sustainability best practices for businesses and destinations.”

Christine O’Brien of Ardboula B&B and Tourism East Clare stated, “We are committed to playing our part in securing GSTC Destination Certification which will support, strengthen, and validate the sustainable tourism actions of the Clare Tourism Strategy 2030. East Clare has many examples of tourism businesses that have prioritised sustainability and aspire to protect and sustain the natural and cultural resources of the area. It is fantastic to see the wider sector collaborating to achieve a globally recognised Destination Certification.”

Luke Aston of Carrigaholt Sea Angling Centre and Loop Head Tourism, said, “Sustainable and responsible tourism has been a central cog of our community’s longstanding approach to managing visitors to Loop Head and becoming a best practice example of how tourism in a rural area should be developed. Adopting such an approach on a countywide level will deliver benefits for visitors and for the future sustainability of communities and Loop Head Tourism is delighted to contribute to this process.”

Visit for more on the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

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