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|Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, Germany
Tourism destinations are complex entities that can be defined as geographical areas of different sizes that are being visited by tourists. Most definitions then differentiate between the perspectives of those living in and managing a destination, who tend to see them as administrative entities, and the perception of actual or potential tourists which is less well defined and usually based on other criteria such as cultural spaces or landscape types that provide tourism facilities and services. Thus, destinations can be seen as virtual tourism products that are being shaped or jointly produced by a large variety of companies and other stakeholders (Bieger 2002). As such they are usually managed by destination management organisations (DMOs). However, destinations are not only the “place of production” of the tourism experience, but also the space where local people live and who are affected in different ways by tourism.
With this in mind, the concept of sustainable development is increasingly being applied to tourism destinations. So far, a large variety of approaches have been developed to assess the sustainability of tourism companies and tourism products, often in the form of certification schemes that usually imply an independent verification of compliance with defined criteria and eventually acknowledge this by a certificate or label. Worldwide, there is a large number of sustainable tourism certification systems, most of which relate to hotels or other accommodation businesses (Destinet 2014). There are very few that assess more complex tourism products, such as package tours, or tour operators that depend on long supply chains. The typically multi-stakeholder tourism destinations are even more complex, especially since a destination cannot be managed like a single company, but needs the consensus of stakeholders with (partially) conflicting interests. Therefore it comes as no surprise that certification schemes for sustainable tourism destinations have hardly been implemented so far (Rath 2012).