Sustainable tourism, from A to Z – Part 1

Traditional models of tourism are becoming unsustainable. The threat of resource depletion and destruction of our environment is a reality. The resources that the tourism industry relies heavily on are being exhausted.

Credit Alandis Travel

In this 3-part article we will see why sustainable tourism is the alternative to conventional tourism. Part 1 explores the definition of sustainable tourism, how it compares to traditional tourism and what the benefits of sustainable tourism are.

What is sustainable tourism and what is its aim?

As early as 1987 we saw the very first definition of sustainable tourism:

“[tourism] that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Brundtland Report. 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development.

Essentially, sustainable tourism aims to not only reduce our completely eradicate the negative impact of tourism, but to develop its positive impact on an environmental, social, and economic level.

Sustainable versus conventional tourism: what’s the difference?

Until that moment, tourism had focused solely on attracting more tourists and increasing revenues. Sadly, many factors were not taken into account, such as pressure on the environment, water and energy consumption, seasonality, pollution, gentrification, among others.

Disorderly and inefficient systems that took complete advantage of natural and human resources. Local populations would not intervene; touristic activities and initiatives were largely organized by foreign companies, meaning locals would rarely see appropriate remuneration for their efforts.

Benidorm Beach, Spain. (Source: Diego Delso) 

A destination’s human capacity was never considered. Destinations suffocated due to their inability to meet the demand of tourism. Rising prices caused by inflation pushed original populations away from city centres to less centralized areas, while local population-tourist ratios spiked in favour of tourists.

It was not until the 1970s that some issues were eventually questioned, and concern spread to global levels. Already in 1975, when the UNWTO held its first meeting in Madrid (Spain), amongst other objectives it lay down reworded the following aim:

Tourism as an engine of economic growth, inclusive development, and environmental sustainability. UNWTO

As of that moment sustainable tourism became a more widely adopted concept; to carry out touristic activities with the least negative impact on our environment.

Why is sustainable tourism important?

In 2019, tourism generated 1 in 4 new jobs around the world (10.6% of all jobs). With a contribution to the world GDP of a staggering 10.4%.

Source: The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) – a forum for the top 100 leading global tourism companies

These figures let us know how important the tourism industry is and how much we must take care of it. As an industry, we have a responsibility to lead the way. We will provide a much more complete, healthy, and quality experience to our customers. In turn, this benefit will have an impact on company profits.

What are the benefits of sustainable tourism?

The benefits of sustainable tourism are innumerable, not only for helping the industry continue to grow but also for the impact it has on many different fields.

Economic benefits:

Job creation. Income generation in the local economy. Improved infrastructure, quality of life, and poverty reduction. 

Environmental Benefits: 

Conserving biodiversity and natural resources, favoring balanced development. A healthy environment contributes to more competitive tourism.

Social Benefits: 

Favoring the integration of local populations. Active participation between local people and visitors. This creates stronger ties with local communities and improves local satisfaction with tourism.

“Sustainability must stop being a niche in tourism and become the new norm for every part of our sector” Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO Secretary-General

Why is sustainable tourism difficult?

Sustainable tourism requires effort. A commitment from each organization and its management to establish strategies with long-term results.

We do not always have the necessary tools to quantify where and how we are having a negative impact. Organizations such as the UNWTO can help us make decisions, and conscious measurement and benchmarking will help us to create improvements.

Part 2 of this 3-part series describes the main types of sustainable tourism.

You can get more information on how to organize your next sustainable vacation at alandistravel.com

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