The Tourism industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and is an important source of revenue for many areas internationally, particularly developing countries. Tourism can contribute positively to a country’s socio-economic development and can bring much needed money into countries but it can also cause great destruction if not properly managed.
But what does sustainable tourism actually mean? To the majority of people, the word ‘sustainable’ is synonymous with ‘being green’ or ‘eco-friendly’. However this is not the only element which contributes to sustainable tourism and whilst it is important that hotels, and travel companies, and so on be aware of their carbon footprints and their energy usage, the buck doesn’t stop there. A hotel could install geothermal-power and still not be sustainable.
There are three elements to sustainable tourism: economic, environmental and socio-cultural. We will look at each of these in a little more detail below:-
The environment is obviously a key part of what draws tourists to particular areas. As we increasingly seek to escape the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, countries which offer us the opportunity to get back to nature are gaining in popularity. However ‘environment’ doesn’t just mean the natural such as beaches, forests and so on but also the artificial such as historic buildings and ruins. Both the natural and the artificial need to be protected and preserved for future generations.
When tourists descend on an area there are always going to be social and cultural implications, from a potential rise in crime to an influx of migrants coming to work in the area. Socio-cultural sustainability is about minimising the negative impact tourism may be having on an area (such as crime) and instead promoting the positive such as learning about new cultures and languages. The best way to do this is by involving the locals in the tourism industry of an area. Not only will visitors be provided with a more authentic experience when they visit but ultimately, there will be an increase in employment opportunities for locals which can only be a positive thing.
This is perhaps the most important strand of sustainable tourism. Essentially it is about keeping money local, involving the local community. If a hotel or resort is owned by a foreign company then the money is unlikely to stay within the country, but instead go to the home country of the company. This is not sustainable. Not only should social and cultural implications be considered but steps should also be taken to ensure that the local community is benefiting financially from the tourism in its area.
If you are involved in the tourism industry and are interested in learning more about sustainable tourism and its importance in the future, then there is a fantastic seminar which takes place in 2015 called the PATA Adventure Travel and Responsible Tourism Conference and Mart. This 3 day niche event is a must for all serious travel industry professionals.