The United Nations reported just 25 million tourist arrivals in 1950. More than 68 years later, the number of tourists has increased to 1.4 billion international arrivals per year (Orlandi, 2019). Such a tremendous increase in tourism over the years has led to significant environmental impacts which need to be addressed.
What is Sustainable Tourism?
Sustainable tourism is defined by the United Nations Environment Program and the United Nations World Tourism Organization as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.”
In other words, sustainable tourism is built on three main pillars which are the economic, social, and environmental consequences of growing tourism, with the aim of guaranteeing the long-term sustainability and stability of the sector (Wich, 2019).
Sustainable tourism seeks to ensure that the impact that the Earth is subjected to from long-haul flights, mass tourism, exploitation of resources, and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to preserve and protect our natural ecosystems so that our wildlife, rainforests, and oceans can remain stable and healthy (Wich, 2019).
How Can Tourists, Businesses, and Governments Support Sustainable Tourism? Adapted from EHL Insights (Wich, 2019).
Tourists can take action to travel sustainably and this will be dependent on if they decide to travel domestically or internationally so that for future generations, the places that are being affected by over-tourism will be preserved.
Tourists can plan their trips by researching different ways they can support local establishments. This means tourists choosing to eat from local restaurants support natives and reduce the amount of food transportation that occurs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore this minimizes any natural resources that are being depleted faster than they can regenerate.
Another option is to investigate how to travel long distances by reducing carbon emissions. There are numerous options that tourists can take part in when deciding to travel abroad that are cost-effective and support sustainable tourism. As an example, purchasing carbon offsets as a method to reduce carbon emissions when traveling will allow passengers to reduce the number of carbon emissions they emit and the opportunity to compensate for their carbon footprint.
Lastly, tourists can choose to travel in the off-season. This guarantees travelers a less crowded experience and is a cost-effective way of traveling as tourists will save money on airfare, hotels, and other amenities such as tours. Furthermore, this reduces over-tourism and any further exploitation of resources when tourists travel during on-season.
Governments are in control of how tourism affects their native people and can decide how tourism will affect the environment. However, Global South countries as popular tourist destinations rely heavily on the revenue generated from tourism. Unfortunately, over-tourism damages wildlife habitats, local ecosystems, and native people’s homes. Thus, governments are confronted with learning how to increase economic prosperity while learning to maintain and implement sustainable practices. Governments are challenged by popular tourist destinations and may decide to continue to exploit natural ecosystems as a means of generating revenue. For example, in Thailand, the income generated from tourism represents 13% of the annual GDP (Wich, 2019). Therefore, closing tourist attractions and other amenities that support the economy may have a significant positive impact on the country’s economy but a negative effect on the environment.
All in all, governments need to work to educate locals on sustainable tourism. For example, in Italy, they incorporated climate change and sustainable development education in their curriculum, bringing a greater awareness to the importance of protecting the environment so that locals acknowledge the impacts of human activities on the environment and can work with their community to try to alleviate the negative repercussions caused by tourists (Orlandi, 2019).
Numerous and diverse businesses are involved in tourism, from large-scale airlines to local shops, and restaurants. Each business has its own barriers and contributions that are associated with tourism. Businesses can work to promote the importance of sustainable tourism and take actions that support protecting the environment. For example, businesses need to be made more aware of the existence of eco-friendly materials and the benefits of using them in making their products. Even though they may be more costly, they will benefit the environment.
Also, it is vital for businesses involved in tourism to understand how they contribute to mass tourism. Once small and large businesses assess their roles and responsibilities, they can better work on reducing the negative impacts they contribute to the industry. There are numerous ways in which the hotel industry can work to reduce water scarcity within their buildings, for example, by installing specialized equipment that minimizes water and electricity waste. For example, a hotel in the Mediterranean region uses, on average, 820 liters of water per person per year (Wich, 2019). As compared to a hotel in the United States of America on average 165,932- 331,864 liters of water is consumed per year per room (Reichardt, n.d.). Aforementioned implementing these devices can still provide guests with the same experiences while still being sustainable. Therefore companies and hospitality services can provide other means of serving their guests and being environmentally conscious.
Hilton’s CEO, Chris Nassetta, added that hotel companies “fight over customers and development, but sustainability is one thing we should not fight over. You can be a provider of fantastic experiences and be environmentally conscious.”
We can all play a role to advance sustainable tourism. Here are few ideas you can begin to start practicing:
- Eat and support local businesses and restaurants
- Stay in local areas or villages when it is safe to do so
- Sort your garbage properly (reduce, reuse, recycle)
- Walk when you can! This reduces carbon emissions (Rinkesh, n.d.)
- Travel more locally before leaving the country. Start by being a tourist in your own city first! (Rinkesh, n.d.)
Orlandi, G. (2019). Italy introduces mandatory climate change lessons in schools | Euronews. https://www.euronews.com/2019/11/07/italy-introduces-mandatory-climate-change-lessons-in-schools
Reichardt, K. (n.d.). Measure Your Hotel’s Water Consumption, Then Start Saving. : 4Hoteliers. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.4hoteliers.com/features/article/1889
Rinkesh. (n.d.). 13+ Ultimate Ways to Promote Sustainable Tourism – Conserve Energy Future. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/ways-promote-sustainable-tourism.php
Roser, M. (2017). Tourism – Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/tourism
Water stewardship – addressing hospitality’s impact on water scarcity. (n.d.). Retrieved June 20, 2022, from https://sustainablehospitalityalliance.org/our-work/water-stewardship/
What is Sustainable Tourism? Here’s the Definition | GSTC. (n.d.). Retrieved June 20, 2022, from https://www.gstcouncil.org/what-is-sustainable-tourism/
Wich, S. (2019). Sustainable Tourism: A Long Road Ahead. https://hospitalityinsights.ehl.edu/sustainable-tourism-definition