Sustainable tourism: Why is it important?


Sustainable tourism is the new keyword dominating the hospitality industry. Why it is important? How does it impact the larger economy?

Sustainable tourism is a concept that covers the complete tourism experience, including concern for economic, social and environmental issues as well as attention to improving tourists’ experiences and addressing the needs of host communities. Sustainable tourism should embrace concerns for environmental protection, social equity, quality of life, cultural diversity, and a dynamic, viable economy delivering jobs and prosperity for all. It has its roots in sustainable development and there can be some confusion as to what “sustainable tourism” means.

There is now a broad consensus that tourism should be sustainable. In fact, all forms of tourism have the potential to be sustainable if planned, developed and managed properly. Tourist development organizations are promoting sustainable tourism practices in order to mitigate negative effects caused by the growing impact of tourism, for example, its environmental impacts.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization emphasized these practices by promoting sustainable tourism as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, through programs like the International Year for Sustainable Tourism for Development in 2017. There is a direct link between sustainable tourism and several of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Tourism for SDGs focuses on how SDG 8 (“decent work and economic growth”), SDG 12 (“responsible consumption and production”) and SDG 14 (“life below water”) implicate tourism in creating a sustainable economy. Improvements are expected to be gained from suitable management aspects and include sustainable tourism as part of a broader sustainable development strategy.

Sustainable tourism development guidelines and management practices are applicable to all forms of tourism in all types of destinations, including mass tourism and the various niche tourism segments. Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability.

Thus, sustainable tourism should:

Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.

Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.

Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.

Sustainable tourism development requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus-building. Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, and introducing the necessary preventive and/or corrective measures whenever necessary.

Sustainable tourism should also maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience for the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices amongst them.

Sustainable Tourism

Why is it important?

Tourism is a huge part of our global culture, allowing us to explore different parts of the world, meet people from different walks of life, and experience new traditions and activities. Since it brings many benefits to both travellers and communities, it can generally be seen as a force for good.

However, the industry is changing. As the years go by, we’re becoming more and more aware of the threat of climate change and our role in escalating it. Across all industries, our global community is thinking about ways we can lessen our impact on the earth.

A study published in 2018 by Nature Climate Change suggested that tourism accounts for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is a very large percentage when we consider all of the possible sources of emissions. For this reason, it’s clear that we need to move towards a more sustainable tourism model, and that’s why we’re having this discussion today.

In this article, we’ll offer definitions of sustainable tourism and ecotourism, discuss the pros and cons of the tourism industry, explore how sustainable tourism could offer a solution to our current challenges, and finish with some examples of sustainable tourism.

10 principles of sustainable tourism:

Tourism Concern, 1991 in association with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) gives 10 principles for sustainable tourism. These are the following:

  • Using resources sustainably- The conservation and sustainable use of resources- natural, social and cultural – is crucial and makes long-term business sense.
  • Reducing over-consumption and waste- Reduction of over-consumption and waste avoids the costs of restoring long-term environmental damage and contributes to the quality of tourism.
  • Maintaining biodiversity- Maintaining and promoting natural, social and cultural diversity is essential for long-term sustainable tourism and creates a resilient base for the industry.
  • Integrating tourism into planning- Tourism development which is integrated into a national and local strategic planning framework and which undertakes environmental impact assessments increases the long-term viability of tourism.
  • Supporting local economies- Tourism that supports a wide range of local economic activities and which takes environmental costs and values into account, both protects these economies and avoids environmental damage.
  • Involving local communities- The full involvement of local communities in the tourism sector not only benefits them and the environment in general but also improves the quality of the tourism experience.
  • Consulting stakeholders and the public- Consulting between the tourism industry and local communities, organizations and institutions are essential if they are to work alongside each other and resolve potential conflicts of interest.
  • Training staff- Staff training which integrates sustainable tourism into work practices, along with recruitment of personnel at all levels, improves the quality of the tourism product.
  • Marketing tourism responsibly- Marketing that provides tourists with full and responsible information increases respect for the natural, social and cultural environments of destination areas and enhances customer satisfaction.
  • Undertaking research- Ongoing research and monitoring by the industry using effective data collection and analysis are essential to help solve problems and to bring benefits to destinations, the industry, and consumers.

Three dimensions of sustainable tourism:

Tourism has environmental, economic and social impacts. Sustainable tourism is about maximizing the impacts which are positive and minimizing the negative ones.

It seems that the environmental impacts are negative, the economic effects positive, and the social impacts a combination of both. However, it is also important to recognize that there are clear links between the three aspects of tourism – the environmental, economic, and social dimensions.
Three dimensions of sustainable tourism are:

  • Environmental
  • Economic
  • Social
Sustainable tourism

Need for sustainable tourism development:

Until the beginning of the last decade tourism was seen as a profitable sector of business with no obvious constraints to growth, few barriers to entry to the market, and almost, universal welcome from governments and, for the most part, entailing few effective regulatory requirements to take the environment into account.

Commercial organizations, large and small, act on Dawkins’s principle of self-interest. They do not make significant changes to the way they do business, which could be because of exhortations or out of good intentions, except in response to the pressure of external factors that cannot be avoided or to seize a competitive advantage.

International tourism has brought in a phase in which the opportunities of making quick profits from exploiting what was regarded as freely available natural resources dazzled the eyes of government and businessmen, as well as many local residents.

As there are many economic, social, ecological and political limits to tourism development, sustainable strategies are necessary to eradicate these problems.

Environmental Dimension

To many people, sustainability is about the environment, primarily the natural, physical environment, and its protection. However, there is far more to the environment than just the natural landscape.

Let us now move on to look at the five aspects of the environment:

  • Natural resources: Tourism makes use of a range of natural resources, and in many cases, the core attraction of a destination’s product may be natural resources such as clean air, land, mineral waters, and the water in lakes and seas.
  • Natural environment: There are few natural landscapes or wilderness areas left in the world. Almost all natural landscapes have been affected to some extent by the actions of man through the centuries. Tourism is only one industry or activity which changes landscapes. The natural landscape represents the core of the tourism product in many areas including natural forests, mountains, and regions which attract tourists because of their rivers and lakes.
  • Farmed environment: The farmed environment can cover a diverse range of agricultural systems including agricultural landscapes, man-made forests, and fish farms.
  • Wildlife: Wildlife has a number of dimensions such as land-based mammals and reptiles, flora, birds, insects, fish, and marine mammals. Tourism can clearly be very harmful to wildlife through the destruction of habitats, affecting feeding habits, disrupting breeding patterns, fires in woodlands and people picking rare plants.
  • Built environment: We also need to recognize that, in terms of tourism, there are several dimensions to the built environment such as individual buildings and structures, villages and townscapes, transport infrastructure, dams, and reservoirs.

Economic dimension

In the debate over sustainable tourism, the economic dimension is often given relatively scant attention compared to environmental issues. Tourism is an economic phenomenon because:

  • It is a major industry and foreign currency earner.
  • It is the basis of the growth of many transnational corporations.
  • It accounts for a significant proportion of the annual disposable income.

Economic benefits of tourism

Tourism contributes to the economy of a country in various ways. The economic benefits of tourism are the following:

  • Job creation
  • Injection of income into the local economy through the multiplier effect.
  • Helping keep the local business viable.
  • Infrastructure development.
  • Attracts foreign direct investments.

Economic costs of tourism

There are many economic benefits of tourism as well as costs. Economic costs of the tourism are following:

  • Many jobs are low-paid and seasonal.
  • Opportunity costs.
  • Congestion.
  • The need to invest in expensive infrastructure may only be required for part of the year.
  • Over-dependence on tourism makes the host economy vulnerable.

Social dimension

The social dimension of tourism has been given less attention in the sustainable tourism debates, than the environmental impacts of tourism. This is because the socio-cultural impacts of tourism usually occur slowly over time in an unspectacular fashion. They are also largely invisible and intangible.

The social impact of tourism is usually permanent with little or no opportunity to reverse the changes once it has taken place. When the social impact of sustainable tourism has been considered the focus has normally been upon the host community.

There are a number of factors that determine whether or not the balance of socio-cultural impacts will be positive or negative in a particular location including:

  • The strength and coherence of the local society and culture.
  • The nature of tourism in the resort.
  • The level of economic and social development of the host population in relation to the tourists.
  • The measures were taken by the public sector in the destination to manage tourism in ways which minimize the socio-cultural costs of tourism.

Also Read: Bollywood and gastronomy: An ever-evolving entwined relationship

(Tavishi Datta is a student of Journalism and Mass Communication from Amity University.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)


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