Sustainable tourism

Sustainable tourism (or responsible tourism) is the 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.[1] Tourism can involve primary transportation to the general location, local transportation, accommodations, entertainment, recreation, nourishment and shopping. It can be related to travel for leisure, business and visiting friends and relatives.[2] There is now broad consensus that tourism development should be sustainable.[3]

2001 Royal Clipper Karibik can use sail power which reduces pollution

Global tourism accounts for about eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (much of which is from aviation),[4] as well as other significant environmental and social impacts that are not always beneficial to local communities and their economies.

Tourist development organizations are promoting sustainable tourism practices in order to mitigate negative effects caused by the growing impact of tourism. The United Nations World Tourism Organization emphasized these practices by promoting tourism as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, through programs like the International Year for Sustainable Tourism for Development in 2017,[5] and programs like Tourism for SDGs focusing on how SDG 8, SDG 12 and SDG 14 implicate tourism in creating a sustainable economy.[6]

Definitions and conceptsEdit

Sustainable tourismEdit

Global economists forecast continuing international tourism growth, the amount depending on the location. As one of the world's largest and fastest-growing industries, this continuous growth will place great stress on remaining biologically diverse habitats and Indigenous cultures, which are often used to support mass tourism. Tourists who promote sustainable tourism are sensitive to these dangers and seek to protect tourist destinations, and to protect tourism as an industry. Sustainable tourists can reduce the impact of tourism in many ways:

  • informing themselves of the culture, politics, and economy of the communities visited
  • anticipating and respecting local cultures, expectations, and assumptions
  • supporting the integrity of local cultures by favoring businesses which conserve cultural heritage and traditional values
  • supporting local economies by purchasing local goods and participating with small, local businesses
  • conserving resources by seeking out businesses that are environmentally conscious, and by using the least possible amount of non-renewable resources

Increasingly, destinations and tourism operations are endorsing and following "responsible tourism" as a pathway towards sustainable tourism. Responsible tourism and sustainable tourism have an identical goal, that of sustainable development. The pillars of responsible tourism are therefore the same as those of sustainable tourism – environmental integrity, social justice, and economic development. The major difference between the two is that, in responsible tourism, individuals, organizations, and businesses are asked to take responsibility for their actions and the impacts of their actions. This shift in emphasis has taken place because some stakeholders feel that insufficient progress towards realizing sustainable tourism has been made since the Earth Summit in Rio. This is partly because everyone has been expecting others to behave in a sustainable manner. The emphasis on responsibility in responsible tourism means that everyone involved in tourism – government, product, and service owners and operators, transport operators, community services, NGOs and Community-based organization (CBOs), tourists, local communities, industry associations – are responsible for achieving the goals of responsible tourism.

Responsible tourismEdit

To minimize environmental footprint, tourism activities like removing sea shells or beach sand as souvenirs are discouraged.

There are many definitions and understandings of responsible tourism. According to the Center for Responsible Tourism, responsible tourism can be defined as, "tourism that maximizes the benefits to local communities, minimizes negative social or environmental impacts, and helps local people conserve fragile cultures and habitats or species."[7] Responsible tourism incorporates not only responsible for the physical environment, but also an incorporation of awareness for the economic and social interactions whereas, sustainable tourism focuses more on the environmental impacts.[8] Responsible tourism is regarded as a behavior. It is more than a form of tourism as it represents an approach to engaging with tourism, be that as a tourist, a business, locals at a destination, or any other tourism stakeholder. It emphasizes that all stakeholders are responsible for the kind of tourism they develop or engage in. This ensures that the tourism service providers and purchasers or consumers are held accountable.[8] Whilst different groups will see responsibility in different ways, the shared understanding is that responsible tourism should entail an improvement in tourism. Tourism should become ‘better’ as a result of the responsible tourism approach.[9]

Within the notion of betterment resides the acknowledgment that conflicting interests need to be balanced. However, the objective is to create better places for people to live in and to visit. Importantly, there is no blueprint for responsible tourism: what is deemed responsible may differ depending on places and cultures. Responsible Tourism is an aspiration that can be realized in different ways in different originating markets and in the diverse destinations of the world (Goodwin, 2016).[10]

The concept of responsible tourism emerged following the environmental awareness that rose out of the 1960s and 70s amidst a growing phenomenon of “mass tourism”. The European Travel Commission in 1973 and a multilateral initiative to instate environmentally sound tourism and development was advanced.[8]

Given the local-based approach of Responsible Tourism, it can also incorporate local populations into the decision making and tourism planning process.[11] While further research is needed to understand the impacts of responsible tourism, a study conducted in 2017 found that well-managed responsible tourism practices were beneficial to local communities.[12]

Focusing in particular on businesses, according to the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism (2014), it will have the following characteristics:[13]

  • minimizes negative economic, environmental, and social impacts
  • generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry
  • involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances
  • makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world's diversity
  • provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social, and environmental issues
  • provides access for people with disabilities and
  • is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.

While widely acclaimed, responsible tourism has also been critiqued. Studies have shown that the degree to which individuals engage in responsible tourism is contingent upon their engagement socially. Meaning, tourist behaviors will fluctuate depending on the range of social engagement that each tourist chooses to take part in.[14] A study regarding responsible tourists behavior concludes that it is not only a personal behavior of tourists that shape outcomes, but also a reflection of mechanisms put in place by governments.[14] Other research has put into question the promise that tourism even responsible tourism is inline with UN Sustainable Development Goals given the difficulties in measuring such impact.[15] Some argue that actually detracts attention from the wider issues surrounding tourism that are in need of regulation, such as the number of visitors and environmental impact.[16][17]

Humane tourismEdit

Humane tourism is part of the movement of responsible tourism. The idea is to empower local communities through travel related businesses around the world, first and foremost in developing countries. The idea of humane travel or humane tourism is to connect travelers from Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand seeking new adventures and authentic experiences directly, to local businesses in the specific locations they wish to visit – thus, giving economic advantages to local businesses and giving travelers authentic and truly unique travel experiences. Humane travel or humane tourism focuses on the people, the local community. The idea is to enable travelers to experience the world through the eyes of its local people while contributing directly to those people, ensuring that tourist dollars benefit the local community directly.[citation needed]

Humane tourism is about giving opportunity to the local people, empowering them, and enabling them to enjoy the fruits of tourism directly. The Internet is changing tourism. More and more travelers are planning their travels and vacations via the net. The Internet enables people to cut off commissions. The traveler can search for new destinations to visit, talk, or read about other people's experience, and buy the services directly. The Internet platform can encourage local people to start new businesses and existing small businesses will begin to promote themselves through the net and receive the economic advantages of this directly in their communities. The world is now in a new tourism age, with globalization and the Internet playing a key role.[18]

Humane tourism is part of Responsible tourism. The concept of Responsible Tourism originated in the work of Jost Krippendorf in The Holiday Makers[19] called for “rebellious tourists and rebellious locals” to create new forms of tourism. His vision was “to develop and promote new forms of tourism, which will bring the greatest possible benefit to all the participants – travelers, the host population and the tourist business, without causing intolerable ecological and social damage.” As one can see he already talked, back in the 80s about benefits for the host population and used the term human tourism. Humane travel focuses on that host local population.

The South African national tourism policy (1996)[20] used the term "responsible tourism" and mentioned the well-being of the local community as a main factor.[21]

The Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations,[22] agreed in 2002, that Responsible Tourism is about “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” The declaration focused on "places" but did mention the local population.

From the Rio summit or earth summit on 1992[23] until the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in 1999,[24] the main focus of the tourism industry was the earth, the planet, the places, "green" or "eco" tourism. Now there is a trend to include the local population. This trend or branch of responsible tourism is called humane tourism or humane travel.


Stakeholders of sustainable tourism play a role in continuing this form of tourism. This can include organizations as well as individuals, to be specific, ECOFIN. A stakeholder in the tourism industry is deemed to be anyone who is impacted by development positively or negatively, and as a result, it reduces potential conflict between the tourists and host community by involving the latter in shaping the way in which tourism develops.[25]


The values and ulterior motives of governments often need to be taken into account when assessing the motives for sustainable tourism. One important factor to consider in any ecologically sensitive or remote area or an area new to tourism is that of carrying capacity. This is the capacity of tourists of visitors an area can sustainably tolerate without damaging the environment or culture of the surrounding area. This can be altered and revised in time and with changing perceptions and values. For example, originally the sustainable carrying capacity of the Galapagos Islands was set at 12,000 visitors per annum but was later changed by the Ecuadorian government to 50,000 for economic reasons and objectives.[26]

Non-governmental organizationsEdit

Non-governmental organizations are one of the stakeholders in advocating sustainable tourism. Their roles can range from spearheading sustainable tourism practices to simply doing research. University research teams and scientists can be tapped to aid in the process of planning. Such solicitation of research can be observed in the planning of Cát Bà National Park in Vietnam.[27]

Dive resort operators in Bunaken National Park, Indonesia, play a crucial role by developing exclusive zones for diving and fishing respectively, such that both tourists and locals can benefit from the venture.[28]

Large conventions, meetings and other major organized events drive the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry. Cities and convention centers compete to attract such commerce, commerce which has heavy impacts on resource use and the environment. Major sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, present special problems regarding environmental burdens and degradation.[29] But burdens imposed by the regular convention industry can be vastly more significant.

Green conventions and events are a new but growing sector and marketing point within the convention and hospitality industry. More environmentally aware organizations, corporations, and government agencies are now seeking more sustainable event practices, greener hotels, restaurants and convention venues, and more energy-efficient or climate-neutral travel and ground transportation.[citation needed] However, the convention trip not taken can be the most sustainable option: "With most international conferences having hundreds if not thousands of participants, and the bulk of these usually traveling by plane, conference travel is an area where significant reductions in air-travel-related GHG emissions could be made. ... This does not mean non-attendance" (Reay, 2004), since modern Internet communications are now ubiquitous and remote audio/visual participation.[30] For example, by 2003 Access Grid technology had already successfully hosted several international conferences.[30] A particular example is the large American Geophysical Union's annual meeting, which has used live streaming for several years. This provides live streams and recordings of keynotes, named lectures, and oral sessions, and provides opportunities to submit questions and interact with authors and peers.[31] Following the live-stream, the recording of each session is posted online within 24 hours.

Some convention centers have begun to take direct action in reducing the impact of the conventions they host. One example is the Moscone Center in San Francisco, which has a very aggressive recycling program, a large solar power system, and other programs aimed at reducing impact and increasing efficiency.[citation needed]

Local CommunitiesEdit

Local communities benefit from sustainable tourism through economic development, job creation, and infrastructure development. Tourism revenues bring economic growth and prosperity to attractive tourist destinations, which can raise the standard of living in destination communities. Sustainable tourism operators commit themselves to creating jobs for local community members. An increase in tourism revenue to an area acts as a driver for the development of increased infrastructure. As tourist demands increase in a destination, a more robust infrastructure is needed to support the needs of both the tourism industry and the local community.[32] A 2009 study of rural operators throughout the province of British Columbia, Canada found "an overall strong 'pro-sustainability' attitude among respondents. Dominant barriers identified were lack of available money to invest, lack of incentive programs, other business priorities, and limited access to suppliers of sustainable products, with the most common recommendation being the need for incentive programs to encourage businesses to become more sustainable."[33][34]

International organizationsEdit

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) serves as the international body for fostering increased knowledge and understanding of sustainable tourism practices, promoting the adoption of universal sustainable tourism principles, and building demand for sustainable travel.[35][36] GSTC launched the GSTC Criteria, a global standard for sustainable travel and tourism, which includes criteria and performance indicators for destinations, tour operators and hotels.[37] The GSTC Criteria serve as the international standard for certification agencies (the organizations that would inspect a tourism product, and certify them as a sustainable company).[38]

Sustainable transport and mobilityEdit

Without travel there is no tourism, so the concept of sustainable tourism is tightly linked to a concept of sustainable mobility.[39] Two relevant considerations are tourism's reliance on fossil fuels and tourism's effect on climate change. 72 percent of tourism's CO2 emissions come from transportation, 24 percent from accommodations, and 4 percent from local activities.[2] Aviation accounts for 55% of those transportation CO2 emissions (or 40% of tourism's total). However, when considering the impact of all greenhouse gas emissions, of condensation trails and induced cirrus clouds, aviation alone could account for up to 75% of tourism's climate impact.[40]

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) considers an annual increase in aviation fuel efficiency of 2 percent per year through 2050 to be realistic. However, both Airbus and Boeing expect the passenger-kilometers of air transport to increase by about 5 percent yearly through at least 2020, overwhelming any efficiency gains. By 2050, with other economic sectors having greatly reduced their CO2 emissions, tourism is likely to be generating 40 percent of global carbon emissions.[41] The main cause is an increase in the average distance traveled by tourists, which for many years has been increasing at a faster rate than the number of trips taken.[41][42][43][44] "Sustainable transportation is now established as the critical issue confronting a global tourism industry that is palpably unsustainable, and aviation lies at the heart of this issue."[41]

The European Tourism Manifesto has also called for an acceleration in the development of cycling infrastructure to boost local clean energy travel. Deployment of non-motorized infrastructures and the re-use of abandoned transport infrastructure (such as disused railways) for cycling and walking has been proposed. Connectivity between these non-motorized routes (greenways, cycle routes) and main attractions nearby (i.e. Natura2000 sites, UNESCO sites, ...) has also been requested.[45] It has also called for sufficient and predictable rail infrastructure funding, and a focus on digital multimodal practices, including end-to-end ticketing, all of which are in-line with the EU’s modal shift goal.[46]

Global goalsEdit

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all".[47] The United Nations specialized agency called the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), highlights the link between tourism and development in aims of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Given the dramatic increase in tourism, the report strongly promotes responsible tourism.[48] Even though some countries and sectors in the industry are creating initiatives for tourism in addressing the SDGs, knowledge sharing, finance and policy for sustainable tourism are not fully addressing the needs of stakeholders.[48]

The SDGs include targets on tourism and sustainable tourism in several goals:

  • Target 8.9 of SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth) states: "By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products".
  • Target 12.b of SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) is formulated as "Develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products." UNWTO is the custodian agency for this target.
  • Target 14.7 of SDG 14 (Life below Water) is to: "By 2030, increase the economic benefits to small island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism".[49][47]


Displacement and resettlementEdit

In places where there was no tourism prior to tourism companies' arrival, displacement and resettlement of local communities is a common issue.[50][51] For example, the Maasai tribes in Tanzania have been a victim of this problem. After the second World War, conservationists moved into the areas where the Maasai tribes lived, with the intent to make such areas accessible to tourists and to preserve the areas' natural beauty and ecology. This was often achieved through establishing national parks and conservation areas.[52][53] It has been claimed that Maasai activities did not threaten the wildlife and the knowledge was blurred by "colonial disdain" and misunderstandings of savannah wildlife.[52] As the Maasai have been displaced, the area within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) has been adapted to allow easier access for tourists through the construction of campsites and tracks, as well as the removal of stone objects such as stones for souvenirs.[53]

Many critics view the extractive nature of this type of "sustainable tourism" as an oxymoron, as it is fundamentally unable to continue indefinitely. True and perfect sustainability is likely impossible in all but the most favorable circumstances, as the interests of equity, economy, and ecology often conflict with one another and require tradeoffs. It is a reality that many things are done in the name of sustainability are actually masking the desire to allow extra profits.[52] There is often alienation of local populations from the tourists.[53]

Environmental ImpactsEdit

The environmental sustainability focuses on the overall viability and health of ecological systems. Natural resource degradation, pollution, and loss of biodiversity are detrimental because they increase vulnerability, undermine system health, and reduce resilience.

Coastal tourismEdit

Many coastal areas are experiencing particular pressure from growth in lifestyles and growing numbers of tourists. Coastal environments are limited in extent consisting of only a narrow strip along the edge of the ocean. Coastal areas are often the first environments to experience the detrimental impacts of tourism. Planning and management controls can reduce the impact on coastal environments[54] and ensure that investment into tourism products supports sustainable coastal tourism.[55]

Mountain tourismEdit

Mount Everest attracts many tourist climbers wanting to summit the peak of the highest mountain in the world each year. Everest is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Over the years, carelessness and excessive consumption of resources by mountaineers, as well as overgrazing by livestock, have damaged the habitats of snow leopards, lesser pandas, Tibetan bears, and scores of bird species. To counteract past abuses, various reforestation programs have been carried out by local communities and the Nepalese government.[56]

Expeditions have removed supplies and equipment left by climbers on Everest's slopes, including hundreds of oxygen containers. A large quantity of the litter of past climbers—tons of items such as tents, cans, crampons, and human waste—has been hauled down from the mountain and recycled or discarded. However, the bodies of most of the more than 260 climbers who have died on Everest (notably on its upper slopes) have not been removed, as they are unreachable or—for those that are accessible—their weight makes carrying them down extremely difficult. Notable in the cleanup endeavour have been the efforts of the Eco Everest Expeditions, the first of which was organized in 2008 to commemorate the death that January of Everest-climbing pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary. Those expeditions also have publicized ecological issues (in particular, concerns about the effects of climate change in the region through observations that the Khumbu Icefall has been melting).[56]

Small Island tourismEdit

Small Islands are especially affected and often depend on tourism, as this industry makes up anywhere from 40% to 75% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for various islands including Barbados, Aruba, Isle of Man, and Anguilla.[57][58][59][60]

Mass tourism tends to put a strain on fragile island ecosystems and the natural resources it provides. Studies have shown that early practices of tourism were unsustainable and took a toll on environmental factors, hurting the natural landscapes that originally drew in the tourists.[58][61] For example, in Barbados, beaches are the main attraction and have been eroded and destroyed over the years. This is due to inefficient political decisions and policies along with irresponsible tourist activity, such as reckless driving and waste disposal, damaging coastal and marine environments. Such practices also altered physical features of the landscape and caused a loss in biodiversity, leading to the disruption of ecosystems.[60] Many other islands faced environmental damage such as Isle of Man and Samoa.[59][61]

However, visitors are attracted to the less industrial scene of these islands,[58] and according to a survey, over 80% of the people enjoyed the natural landscape when they visited, many commenting that they wanted to protect and save the wildlife in the area.[59] Many tourists have turned to practices of sustainable and eco-tourism in an attempt to save the nature they enjoy in these locations, while some political entities try to enforce this in an attempt to keep tourism in their island afloat.[58][59]

Impacts of COVID-19 pandemicEdit

Due to COVID-19, an unprecedented decrease of 65% took place in international tourist numbers in first half of 2020 as compared to 2019. Countries around the world closed their borders and introduced travel restrictions in response to the pandemic. The situation is expected to gradually improve in 2021 depending upon lifting of travel restrictions, availability of COVID-19 vaccine and return of traveler confidence.[62]

Furthermore, the current corona pandemic has made many sustainability challenges of tourism clearer. Therefore sustainable tourism scholars call for a transformation of tourism.[63][64][65] They state that the corona pandemic has created a window of opportunity, in which we can shift towards more sustainable practices and rethink our systems. The system we have in place now, cannot be sustained in its current form. The constant aim for economic growth goes at the expense of Earth´s ecosystems, wildlife and our own well-being. The gap between rich and poor is growing every year, and the pandemic has spurred this even further. Our current systems are often in place for the few, leaving the many behind.[66] This is no different for the global and local tourism systems. Therefore, tourism scholars argue we should learn from the pandemic. “COVID-19 provides striking lessons to the tourism industry, policy makers and tourism researchers about the effects of global change. The challenge is now to collectively learn from this global tragedy to accelerate the transformation of sustainable tourism”.[67]


Management aspectsEdit

There has been the promotion of sustainable tourism practices surrounding the management of tourist locations by locals or the community. This form of tourism is based on the premise that the people living next to a resource are the ones best suited to protecting it. This means that the tourism activities and businesses are developed and operated by local community members, and certainly with their consent and support. Sustainable tourism typically involves the conservation of resources that are capitalized upon for tourism purposes. Locals run the businesses and are responsible for promoting the conservation messages to protect their environment.

Community-based sustainable tourism (CBST) associates the success of the sustainability of the ecotourism location to the management practices of the communities who are directly or indirectly dependent on the location for their livelihoods. A salient feature of CBST is that local knowledge is usually utilized alongside wide general frameworks of ecotourism business models. This allows the participation of locals at the management level and typically allows a more intimate understanding of the environment.[citation needed]

The use of local knowledge also means an easier entry level into a tourism industry for locals whose jobs or livelihoods are affected by the use of their environment as tourism locations. Environmentally sustainable development crucially depends on the presence of local support for a project.[68] It has also been noted that in order for success projects must provide direct benefits for the local community.[69]

However, recent research has found that economic linkages generated by CBST may only be sporadic, and that the linkages with agriculture are negatively affected by seasonality and by the small scale of the cultivated areas. This means that CBST may only have small-scale positive effects for these communities.[70]

It has also been said that partnerships between governments and tourism agencies with smaller communities are not particularly effective because of the disparity in aims between the two groups, i.e. true sustainability versus mass tourism for maximum profit. In Honduras, such a divergence can be demonstrated where consultants from the World Bank and officials from the Institute of tourism wanted to set up a selection of 5-star hotels near various ecotourism destinations. But another operating approach in the region by USAID and APROECOH (an ecotourism association) promotes community-based efforts which have trained many local Hondurans. Grassroot organizations were more successful in Honduras.[71]

As part of a development strategyEdit

Developing countries are especially interested in international tourism,[72] and many believe it brings countries a large selection of economic benefits including employment opportunities, small business development, and increased in payments of foreign exchange. Many assume that more money is gained through developing luxury goods and services in spite of the fact that this increases a countries dependency on imported products, foreign investments and expatriate skills.[73] This classic 'trickle down' financial strategy rarely makes its way down to brings its benefits down to small businesses.[74]

It has been said that the economic benefits of large-scale tourism are not doubted but that the backpacker or budget traveler sector is often neglected as a potential growth sector by developing countries governments.[75] This sector brings significant non-economic benefits which could help to empower and educate the communities involved in this sector. "Aiming 'low' builds upon the skills of the local population, promotes self-reliance, and develops the confidence of community members in dealing with outsiders, all signs of empowerment"[74] and all of which aid in the overall development of a nation.

In the 1990s, international tourism was seen as an import potential growth sector for many countries, particularly in developing countries as many of the world's most beautiful and 'untouched' places are located in developing countries.[76] Prior to the 1960s studies tended to assume that the extension of the tourism industry to LEDCs was a good thing. In the 1970s this changed as academics started to take a much more negative view on tourism's consequences, particularly criticizing the industry as an effective contributor towards development. International tourism is a volatile industry with visitors quick to abandon destinations that were formerly popular because of threats to health or security.[77]

See alsoEdit


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