What is sustainable tourism?


What is sustainable tourism?

sustainable tourism

Tourism will never be completely sustainable as every industry has impacts, but it can work towards becoming more sustainable.

The UN World Commission on Environment and Development introduced the concept of sustainability in the Brundtland report of 1987 and defined sustainable development as follows:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.[UNEP, 1987]

Tourism policies that unilaterally focus on the environment cannot claim to be sustainable. The objective of Sustainable Tourism Development is to implement all areas of Sustainable Development (ecology, economy, social issues, cultural issues) in tourism.

Figure 1: Pentagon pyramid: Sustainability in Tourism [Mller, 1999]



» International tourist arrivals have increased from 25 million globally in 1950, to 278 million in 1980, 527 million in 1995, and 1.1 billion in 2015. They are expected to reach 1.8 billion by 2030.
» The average international tourist receipt is over US$700 per person and travellers spent over $1.4 trillion.
» Travel and tourism represents approximately 10% of total global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2015, including tourism-related businesses (e.g. catering, cleaning) (US $7 trillion).
» The global travel and tourism industry creates approximately 11% of the world's employment (direct & indirect) in 2015.
» At least 25 million people spread over 52 countries are displaced by violence, persecution, and/or disasters. Tourism receipts in every country are affected by this.
» Leakage in tourism is as high as 80% in the Caribbean (of every dollar earned in tourism, 80 cents leaves the country).


» Although the Belladonna hotel in Las Vegas recycles its water, it still uses 12 million litres of water per year in a water-scarce region.
» Buying local could achieve a 4-5% reduction in GHG emissions due to large sources of CO2 and non-CO2 emissions during the production of food.
» The average Canadian household uses 326 liters of water per day, while a village of 700 in a developing country uses an average of 500 liters of water per month, and a luxury hotel room guest uses 1800 liters of water per person per night.
» The average person in the UK uses approximately 150 liters of water per day, three times that of a local village in Asia.
» A species of animal or plant life disappears at a rate of one every three minutes.
» 70% of marine mammals are threatened.
» The Western world (with 17% of the world's population) currently consumes 52% of total global energy.
» 1 acre of trees absorbs 2.6 tonnes of CO2 per year.
» More than 80% of the world's coral reefs are at risk. Nearly 2/3 of Caribbean reefs are in jeopardy.
» Eating beef is the most water-consumptive practice by travelers.
» 2015 was the warmest year by margin on record.
» Seawater is expected to rise 70 cm in the next 10 years.
» By 2050, climate change could have directly led to the extinction of 30% of species, the death of 90% of coral reefs, and the loss of half the Amazon rainforest.
» Since 1970, a third of the natural world has been destroyed by human activity. Almost 2/3 are degraded by human activity.
» Half the world's population lives in urban areas, and this figure is expected to increase. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 76% of the population live in urban areas.
» 10% of the world's coral reefs are in the Caribbean, a most-under-threat, 35% of mangroves have been destroyed.
» The number of cars on the road surpassed 1 billion in 2010. Today it is 1.2 billion and will be 2 billion by 2035.
» A European uses 14x more energy than someone living in India.
» For every 1-degree rise in temperature above 34 degrees Celsius, yields of rice, maize, and wheat in tropical areas could drop by 10%.
» Every year we dump 40 million tons of carbon pollution into our atmosphere.
» Although 70% of the earth's surface is water, only 3% is potable.


Sustainable tourism is about refocusing and adapting. A balance must be found between limits and usage so that continuous changing, monitoring, and planning ensure that tourism can be managed. This requires thinking long-term (10, 20+ years) and realizing that change is often cumulative, gradual, and irreversible. The economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainable development must include the interests of all stakeholders, including indigenous people, local communities, visitors, industry, and government.

Sustaining Tourisms Guide to Being a Responsible Traveller

» Be considerate of the communities and environment you visit.
» Don't litter. Try to carry your own shopping bag to avoid contributing to the plastic problem in many countries around the world.
» Try to avoid excessive waste and the use of plastic bottles (in many countries, there is no way of disposing of these, creating plastic mountains due to tourism). Bring your own and consider purifying your own water and removing all packaging before leaving home.
» Reduce energy consumption. Unplug your mobile phone charger, turn off the lights.
» Conserve water. Take shorter showers. The average hotel guest uses over 300 liters of water per night! In a luxury hotel, it is approximately 1800 liters!
» Always ask before taking photographs. If someone says no, respect their wishes.
» Educate yourself about the place you are visiting and the people.
» Respect cultural differences and learn from them! People in different places do things differently, don't try to change them, enjoy them.
» Dress respectfully. Cover up away from the beach. Cover your head in religious places. Notice local dress codes and adhere to them.
» Do not purchase or eat endangered species (e.g., turtle egg soup, crocodile handbags). Choose sustainable seafood.
» Support the local economy. Buy locally made souvenirs, eat at local restaurants, and enjoy the local culture!
» Do not give pens, candy, or other gifts to local children. It fosters a begging economy. If you wish to donate, contact a local school or tour operator who can ensure the gifts are distributed fairly and properly.
» Do not support the illegal drug trade or the sex trade.
» Take public transit. Or, if you must rent a car, why not a hybrid or electric one if available?
» Support a local charity or organization that works towards responsible tourism.
» Before you go, ask your travel provider (tour operator, travel agent) about the company's environmental and responsible tourism policies - support those who support responsible tourism.
» Ask your accommodation provider (hotel, guest house, lodge) about their sustainability practices. Do they compost? Recycle? Have fair labor laws? Have an environmental policy?
» Support responsible tourism organizations, those operators who are publicly aiming to make tourism more responsible.
» Support local organizations either in the place you visit or where you live.

In conclusion:

The aim of sustainable tourism is to make a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate future employment for local people. The positive impact of sustainable tourism is to ensure that development is a positive experience for local people, tourism companies, and tourists themselves.