Green Flag Trails

HIKE CA­NOE HORSE KLOOF

Tourism Tattler - - EDITORIAL - By Leon Hugo.

Tourists want re­as­sur­ance. For this rea­son, ho­tels are star graded, beaches are awarded Blue Flag sta­tus, and clean and safe trails are Green Flag ac­cred­ited.

Ten years ago, ad­ven­ture tourists had no means of as­sess­ing an ad­ver­tised trail’s qual­ity stan­dard, risk po­ten­tial or dif­fi­culty in terms of fit­ness level re­quired. Now they do!

The Green Flag Trails ac­cred­i­ta­tion sys­tem (im­ple­mented through Hik­ing South­ern Africa) is not a grad­ing sys­tem that pro­motes one trail as be­ing su­pe­rior to an­other. It’s a sci­en­tif­i­cally based, ac­cu­rate third-party as­sess­ment that al­lows tourists to make in­formed de­ci­sions, know­ing that they will get what is be­ing promised, and will be as­sured of a good trail ex­pe­ri­ence.

Green Flag as­sess­ments take the fol­low­ing as­pects into con­sid­er­a­tion:

• Ser­vice and fa­cil­i­ties: Car park, stiles, bridges, ac­cess road, san­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties. Safety: At huts and along the trail and an as­sess­ment of how risk is man­aged. Ac­com­mo­da­tion: Clas­si­fi­ca­tion of ac­com­mo­da­tion types (Lux­ury, Com­fort­able, Ba­sic or Rus­tic) En­vi­ron­ment type: Pris­tine, Ru­ral, or Semi-ur­ban.

En­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity: Con­ser­va­tional sta­tus.

Dif­fi­culty rating: Ob­jec­tively cal­cu­lated in terms of en­ergy re­quired.

Tech­ni­cal clas­si­fi­ca­tion: Walk, scram­ble, or climb. Why Qual­ity Trails Mat­ter

1. Ben­e­fits to trail users

By hik­ing, pad­dling, rid­ing or climb­ing Green Flag Trails, trail users are as­sured that they will have a sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as they will find the trail char­ac­ter and fa­cil­i­ties ex­actly as ad­ver­tised, safe and well man­aged. Per­sonal and com­mu­nity en­hanc­ing val­ues in­clude: • Ap­pre­ci­a­tion of na­ture and cul­tural her­itage. • Value-for-money by mak­ing an in­formed

choice based on trust­wor­thy in­for­ma­tion. • Im­proved health and well­ness.

• Im­proved so­cial val­ues with fam­i­lies and

friends.

• A well-man­aged, safe, and re­laxed

ex­pe­ri­ence.

2. Ben­e­fits to trail man­agers and own­ers

As­sur­ance that in cases where their clients lodge le­gal claims for com­pen­sa­tion for in­juries sus­tained, they will be re­garded favourably as hav­ing pro­vided a re­spon­si­ble recre­ational prod­uct to the public – as­sessed by an out­side pro­fes­sional body. Note that this does not im­ply full in­dem­nity against all mishaps.

With the Green Flag logo as a qual­ity as­sur­ance mark, own­ers are adding cred­i­bil­ity to their trail and mak­ing trail users aware that they have their en­joy­ment of a qual­ity trail ex­pe­ri­ence at heart. This ap­proach will ex­pand the trails market by en­sur­ing sat­is­fied

trail users, which in turn re­sults in sus­tain­able in­come and sup­port for the trail.

With the as­sur­ance that a trail is safe and un­der re­spon­si­ble man­age­ment, trail users will not feel ap­pre­hen­sive to visit for­eign en­vi­ron­ments and coun­tries.

Through its unique au­dit pro­ce­dure, Green Flag ac­cred­i­ta­tion iden­ti­fies, ac­knowl­edges and re­wards those trails that demon­strate and prac­tice re­spon­si­ble man­age­ment, in con­trast to trails which negate the en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence and safety of hik­ers and re­spon­si­ble en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship.

Green Flag Trails pro­vides the nec­es­sary guide­lines to trail man­agers for main­te­nance and mon­i­tor­ing pro­ce­dures of their trails so as to help con­serve the nat­u­ral her­itage where trails pass through.

3. Ben­e­fits to the en­vi­ron­ment

Green Flag Trails en­sure the ef­fec­tive use of land. Large tracks of land on pri­vately owned farms and gov­ern­ment land lies idle as it is re­garded as “un­pro­duc­tive ground”. These ar­eas are of­ten ex­cel­lently suited for hik­ing: moun­tain slopes, deep val­leys, indige­nous forests, flood­plains, river­ine stretches, even marshy land. Hik­ing is a non-con­sump­tive util­i­sa­tion of re­sources and pro­vides an ex­tra, low-in­vest­ment, in­come to land own­ers.

The con­cept of eco-ef­fi­ciency is a re­cent ex­ten­sion of the sus­tain­abil­ity con­cept –

mul­ti­ple-use of re­sources with­out de­grad­ing any of them – thus adding value. Re­spon­si­ble hik­ing trails are ideally suited for this ap­proach.

Green Flag mon­i­tors the ex­tent of ex­otic and in­va­sive plant species, pol­lu­tion, ero­sion and all other en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

4. Ben­e­fits to econ­omy and eco-tourism

As a ca­pac­ity build­ing ser­vice for gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als, the Green Flag Trail sys­tem de­liv­ers a ser­vice to the tourism in­dus­try by as­sess­ing and pro­vid­ing feed­back on the qual­ity of the ser­vices ren­dered by trail own­ers/man­agers as to the:

• Mar­ket­ing and man­age­ment of their trails. • Safety through a risk as­sess­ment study. • De­gree of en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

• The mon­e­tary value of trails to the tourism sec­tor of the econ­omy, in­clud­ing the out­door equip­ment in­dus­try (fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits).

• Job cre­ation through train­ing. Green Flag Trails runs an­nual train­ing cour­ses in trail de­vel­op­ment, which in­cludes:

• plan­ning,

• build­ing, and

• au­dit­ing of trails.

How to gain Green Flag Trails ac­cred­i­ta­tion

There are three steps to the au­dit process: • Pre­lim­i­nary Self-Au­dit.

• Full-fledged Green Flag Cer­ti­fied Au­dit . • Re-au­dit (2nd au­dit).

Step-by-step de­tails can be viewed on­line: www.green­flag­trails.org/ap­pli­ca­tion-process/

Which trails are Green Flag ac­cred­ited?

There are cur­rently (as at March 2016) 40 hik­ing trails in South Africa that have Green Flag Trail sta­tus, with at least an­other 40 pend­ing ac­cred­i­ta­tion. Coun­tries such as Peru, Nepal, Swazi­land, St He­lena, Namibia and Mozam­bique all have Green Flag trails.

The Green Flag Trails sys­tem was de­vel­oped at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria (un­der the lead­er­ship of Prof Leon Hugo). It is un­der­writ­ten by the non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, Hik­ing South­ern Africa (HOSA) and is be­ing im­ple­mented by all large trail pro­vi­sion agen­cies in South Africa: SANParks, KZN-Ezemvelo, Cape Na­ture and SAFCOL (Ko­mati­land Forests and Cape Pine: MTO) as well as ma­jor ur­ban mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties such as Johannesburg and Pre­to­ria (Tsh­wane) and many pri­vate landown­ers.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, the most well-known trails that have re­ceived Green Flag sta­tus in­clude the Inca trail in Peru; the High Peak trail on the is­land of St He­lena; and the Ot­ter trail in South Africa. An eight-day sec­tion of the Ana­purna trail in the Hi­malayas is in the process of be­ing cer­ti­fied. Nepal has for­mally started a pro­gramme of au­dit­ing their Great Hi­malaya trekking trails in 2016.

An al­pha­bet­i­cal list of all ac­cred­ited Green Flag Trails (Day Walks and Multi-day Trails) can be viewed at: www.green­flag­trails.co.za/hik­ing-trails

The author train­ing the au­dit­ing team in the Hi­malayas (An­na­purna Panoramic Trek) – 1st Green Flag trail in Nepal (Oc­to­ber 2016).

About the author: Pro­fes­sor Leon Hugo is the Chair­man: Qual­ity Con­trol com­mit­tee at HOSA (Hik­ing Orgni­sa­tion of SA).

Cell: +27 (0)82 578 3023 / Of­fice: (0)28 388 0036 leon­hugo@vo­damail.co.za www.green­flag­trails.org www.hosavosa.co.za

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