The United Nations World Tourism Organization outlines sustainable tourism goal thus:
The tourism industry is an amalgamation of multiple sectors. It includes transport, hospitality, accommodation, travel companies, and more. Its overall contribution to the global GDP, nearly 5.81 trillion U.S. dollars in 2021, underlines its profitability. While the pandemic wreaked havoc, the industry is recovering.
The tourism industry’s impact on the global socio-economic structure is huge. It positively affects the economy by generating employment. As countries strengthen their tourism industry, they must also consider how it impacts natural resources, pollution, and social systems. Many countries undertake activities in the name of tourism development that disbalance nature. For instance, clearing coral reefs or mangroves to make way for sandy beaches. It does attract tourists, but at what cost? To survive, the industry must adopt sustainable planning and management.
“There is a huge opportunity post-COVID to reset, to create a new paradigm which is genuinely sustainable, where travel and tourism is framed in a more planet-friendly way and where people think before they jump the plane,” said James Bidwell, Chair of Springwise.
A common goal for a better future
In 2015, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) released the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It firmly positioned sustainable tourism in this agenda, considering its potential to impact multiple goals.
UNWTO asserts that sustainable tourism should:
Make optimal use of environmental resources, maintain essential ecological processes and help conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities.
Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, provide socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders and provide income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities.
Making tourism sustainable
Sustainable tourism development is more than controlling and managing the industry's negative impact on the environment. It is about realizing tourism’s potential in impacting local communities economically and socially and raising awareness about environmental conservation. The government policies and actions should focus on enhancing the benefits and reducing the cost of tourism.
Responsible tourism calls for collective efforts of all the stakeholders, including tourists, to achieve the mountainous task. It can also benefit the stakeholders in the following ways:
Sustainable tourism enterprises tend to have a better corporate image that improves their profitability.
Local communities can gain prosperity without damaging their natural surroundings.
Environmentalists can push for sustainable tourism as a way to conserve nature.
Tourists can experience nature in safe and attractive environments.
Sustainable tourism development is about realizing tourism’s potential in impacting local communities and raising awareness about environmental conservation.
The role of government and tourism boards
Sustainable tourism development must be backed by strong political leadership and detailed guidelines to ensure participation and consensus. The combined actions of the government, the tourists, and the private and public tourism facilitators create a collective environmental impact, positive and negative.
Based on the global directives by the UNWTO, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Framework offers common guidelines for international tourism board authorities. The framework helps them develop policies, practices, and institutional structures to ensure sustainability. It helps them systematize, measure, and monitor sustainability practices.
Development and implementation of policies
Here are some guiding concepts and principles for policy development and implementation for sustainable tourism:
Consider the interconnectedness of tourism with other sectors and how a policy change in one will impact all the others.
Sustainable tourism must engage people and companies at a local level.
Promote self-sustaining actions and initiatives that can address long-term goals.
Promote and encourage sustainable destinations that offer quality tourism.
Understand factors that limit tourism to protect its ecological resilience and other crucial factors.
The UNEP and the WTO have also developed a definitive guide to assist policymakers in designing their strategy to meet sustainable tourism goals. There generally are three stages involved in the formulation of a sustainable tourism strategy:
Analyzing the current state of tourism in an area and the resources available to support it. This gives an idea about the current issues and opportunities and how they can be met sustainably.
Defining the vision and strategic objectives as well as the choices that need to be made today for a sustainable tomorrow.
Developing specific policies and action plans that help meet the defined objectives and local, national, and global goals.
The greatest responsibility finally lays on the tourists. They must respect each destination’s culture, customs, environment, and laws. Tourists must adhere to the guidelines and contribute to the common goal of making tourism and the world sustainable, beautiful, and balanced again.
As Chief Seattle, the 19th-century Native American Chief, said, “Take only memories. Leave only Footprints.”