[Conceptual basis]
Green Flag

Background ...


Although care has been taken by the auditor in assessing the safety elements of the trails, Green Flag or its agents (who implement or underwrite the system) cannot be held responsible for any damage suffered as a result of inaccurate or incomplete information. The user of the trails and the website acknowledges that he/she understands the risks inherent to hiking and will not hold Green Flag or its agents accountable for any damage suffered as a result of using this website. Users should also be aware that audits are repeated infrequently and sometimes with long intervals during which time changes in the safety aspects might well occur.

Tourism accommodation is accredited on the basis of facilities and service: the more stars the better the grading. The quality of a hiking experience is dependent on many intangible parameters such as the type of environment, the weather conditions, scenic beauty, etc. Because hikers differ in their choice of trails (some prefer e.g. mountainous landscapes and other the coast, whilst some enjoy challenging trails, other do not want to strain themselves, etc.), one cannot say that any particular trail is “better than” any other. The same principle goes for the accommodation facilities: some like it rustic (e.g. bathing/washing in a pool); others appreciate the “luxury” of a hot bath. It therefore has doubtful value to try to grade trails on a star-rating basis. However, by ensuring that correct and detailed information is provided, a hiker can choose the exact type of trail that he/she prefers and thus be assured of a good experience and visa versa, wrong information leads to poor experiences and such trails are depicted as “poor trails” by the hiker. A good experience also implies adherence to minimum standards (or best practice) for trail outlay, accommodation facilities, and service, in order to ensure safety and enjoyment as well as conservation of natural resources.

Documents (updated 5 July 2009)

  1. ACCOMM worksheet 3MG.doc
  2. TRAIL FACIL WORK SHEET NOV 2009.doc (updated 16 November 2009)
  3. 3.SAFETY CHECKLIST NOV 2009.doc (updated 16 November 2009)
  4. ENV CHAR 3.MG.doc
  5. Path Evaluation Sheet.doc (updated 5 July 2009)
  6. Hut Site Monitoring.doc

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Conceptual basis

The concept behind GREEN FLAG TRAIL accreditation is thus that trail owners thereby acknowledge that they should be environmentally responsible and that their trail needs to be safe and ensure user satisfaction. Accreditation is an honest attempt by trail owners to ensure that the hikers will have a “value for money” experience by providing them with accurate information of the product (hike) so that they can make an informed choice which will satisfy their expectations, whilst ensuring minimal environmental degradation on the trail.

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Accreditation entails that for a safe and comfortable hiking experience, there should be:
an accurate description (for making an informed choice) with adherence to minimum standards (for convenience of the hikers and for their safety) of the following in the promotional brochure:

  • Service and trail facilities
  • Accommodation
  • Type of environment
  • Difficulty rating of the trail
  • that the trail and accommodation facilities will be managed in an environmentally responsible way.


Trail owners that request to be accredited will thus receive a report of his trail that includes an assessment by the auditor according to the following scheme:

1. Administration and management of the trail (Service delivery)

  • Booking efficiency and standard of Trail facilities (such as vehicle safety, trail map, etc.) (See Appendix A ).
  • Accommodation facilities. (A trail is classified according to checklist in Appendix B in terms of it being excellent (luxury), standard or rustic). (“Checking to see if the minimum facilities, in accordance with the promotional brochure, are available and of acceptable quality”).
  • A star rating for accommodation may be allocated if so desired: excellent being 5-star and rustic 1 star. (Not thereby implying that all hikers prefer “luxury” accommodation).

2. Layout and planning of the trail

  • Correctness of the difficulty rating. (Scientifically calculated on a scale 1- 10). (No star rating is allocated because a strenuous trail is not necessarily better or worse than an easy trail). Appendix C.
  • Effectiveness of the utilization of the environmental resources. (“Has the trail been placed in the best position in the landscape?”). (Subjective assessment by a trained auditor. See Comment 1 below).
  • Assessment of the type of environment through which the trail runs – being pristine, natural or rural. (See checklist in Appendix D to determine if the brochure is trustworthy).

3. Impact of the trail

  • Bio-physical (ecological) impact of hikers on the environment. Detailed investigation of the quality of the trail surface as well as associated facilities such as steps, bridges, etc.
  • Included in the above is the Experiential impact on the hikers. Noting environmental conditions adversely affecting the hiker’s experience such as noise, hazardous sections, etc. (Appendix E).
  • Bio-physical impact of hikers on the hut site (Appendix F) and
  • Subjective assessment of the hut environment (Appendix G).

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1. It is to be understood that the evaluation of the effectiveness of the utilization of the environmental resources can only be done superficially as the trail auditor will only be walking on the path and not venture into the surrounding areas to investigate additional resources (such as waterfalls, vistas) that have not effectively been incorporated in the trail. Comments as to this aspect will only be regarded as recommendations and not as requirements for accreditation. It is an additional service at no cost.

2. The first audit of a new trail (soon after its opening) should show no environmental degradation and the accreditation will be based only on the other (two) elements (i.e. safety and honest marketing).

3. Measuring of environmental impact or degradation (such as erosion, littering, etc.) during follow-up audits, cannot be quantified exactly in a cost-effective way. No quantitative yardstick is therefore set for acceptance of an audit report. By undergoing an audit, the owner (voluntarily) indicates that he is a responsible manager of the resources under his custody. Accreditation therefore only requires of him to indicate on at least a 2-yearly basis that he is improving on the environmental audit; not necessarily reaching perfection but aiming towards it – most assuredly not allowing a negative degradation spiral on his trail. The approach is thus in harmony with the ISO 14000 system whereby the emphasis is not on attaining one hundred percent compliance but on showing responsibility towards the environment and the clients (hikers).

If it is to be found that a trail has serious defects the trail manager will have to adhere to the recommendations of the audit report and rectify such problems. As soon as a letter has been received by HOSA that it has been done (or a time schedule of rectifying the problems) the trail will receive a GFT Certificate and the trail will be entered on the website as a Green Flag Trail. Trail managers are requested to allow an auditor to inspect such a trail as soon as it is convenient to the management. Such follow-up audits will, if possible, be done free of charge if and when an auditor becomes available.

In the case of changes to the trail (over and above the required rectifications), a fee will be charged for the updating of the internet website. In serious cases however a new audit might be required. This is to be decided according to the Green Flag management’s discretion.

All trails must be audited at least every two years in order to retain GFT status. As an interim monitoring measure, trail managers need to make evaluation forms available to hikers in which they are requested to indicate any problems encountered along the trail. Should problems be found, this will be relayed to the management of the trail for its consideration and feedback to HOSA’s  Green Flag management. An auditor may be requested to visit such a trail should there be serious complaints by hikers without satisfactory reaction by the trail manager.

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Accreditation (through the audit procedure) is therefore not an attempt to judge between “good” and “bad” trails but to identify, acknowledge and to reward, those trail owners that show a responsible management approach in contrast to trail owners who negate the enjoyable experience and safety of their clients and the condition of the environment. This attitude of responsibility is not only of vital importance to the sustainable success of any hiking trail in itself, but also to the whole hiking industry at large: for the local South African hikers as well as the international hikers; many of whom is to be expected to accompany soccer fans during the 2010 games and thereafter.

* Available on request from leonhugo@vodamail.co.za or +27 (082) 578 3023

The GREEN FLAG TRAILS Accreditation System is supported by the major trail providers: KLF (SAFCOL), Cape Nature Conservation, KZN Wildlife, as well as the two major marketing agents: JACANA and ANVIE VENTURES





A special award by ARA (Adventures and Recreation Association) of SA was conferred upon the developers of the accreditation system.



Should you require more information, please contact: +27 (082) 578 3023 or


Green Flag System underwritten by:


HOSA (Hiking Organization of Southern Africa ), as well as the Voetslaan-organisasie van Suider Afrika (VOSA) , which has as its aim to provide and organize hiking trail know-how to build successful organizations and business enterprises; in all sectors of the hiking industry; …(Read more)


SATSA (Southern Africa Tourism Services Association) is a non-profit member-driven association that represents both small businesses and principals in the private sector of tourism. To become member a business must prove adherence to the highest standards of professionalism and service. VISION: ..to be the most recognized and sought-after endorsement of good business practice in the Southern African Tourism Industry. MISSION: ..to provide domestic and international buyers with quality advice and information on credible tourism partners in the Southern Africa Tourism Industry. (Read more: www.satsa.com))


SAHTOA (SA Hiking Trail Owners Assn.) is a non-profit organization, established to represent hiking trail owners and affected role-players. Its focus is to promote a dynamic, sustainable hiking industry and to establish and maintain internationally accepted norms and sound user friendly environmental standards. To view our mission statement click here.

Wouter Schreuders
Tel: +27 (014) 717-5812
Fax: +27 (086) 682-0944
Cell: +27 (083) 677-6999

Become a Member? Download the Application Form

Open Africa
OPEN AFRICA - Go to this Green Flag Strategic Ally that has developed more than 50 tourism routes
across southern Africa to find places, people and experiences you otherwise may miss.


Your tourism Company can be rewarded with the


for significant measures of progress towards sustainability in your tourism business in your unique region(Kontrei). Your externally, audited management results must show continuous improvement in all 4C's:

C1: Conservation : conserving natural and cultural resources used for tourism. ·

C2: Community : enhancing benefits for host communities at tourism destinations.

C3: Customer : ensuring authentic sense of place experiences for tourists

C4: Company : managing the long term sustainability of its tourism business.

For participants please see the Kontrei Traveller Portfolio (KTP) at www.kontrei.co.za


Ecotrail and Ecoplan




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