Trail Development


Our grateful thanks to Professor Leon Hugo of The University of Pretoria for the use of his material on this page.

   Hikers being the users of a product (a hike) for which they pay, should be insisting on getting “value for money”. For this reason the GREEN FLAG TRAILS Accreditation system has been developed to ensure that hikers get what they have been promised in the trail brochures.







Hikers being the users of a product (a hike) for which they pay, should be insisting on getting “value for money”. For this reason the GREEN FLAG TRAILS Accreditation system has been developed to ensure that hikers get what they have been promised in the trail brochures.



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.


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.



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[1] ).

·                     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).

·                     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 C 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.

·                     Experiential impact on the hikers. Noting environmental conditions adversely affecting the hiker’s experience such as noise, hazardous sections, etc. (Appendix D).




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).




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.


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 Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

Appendix E

Appendix F    

[1] All checklists are available on request from or 082 578 3023