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 adopted the idea of sustainability in the Brundtland report in 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 unilaterally focusing 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 (if it include tourism related business (e.g. catering, cleaning) (US $7 trillion).
» The global travel and tourism industry creates approximately 11% of the worlds 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 C02 and non C02 emissions during the production of food.
» The average Canadian household used 326 liters of water per day 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 litres of water per day 3 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 worlds population) currently consumes 52% of total global energy.
» 1 acre of trees absorbes 2. 6tonnes of CO2 per year
» More than 80% of the worlds coral reefs are at risk. Nearly 2/3 of Caribbean reefs are in jeopardy
» Eating beef is the most water consumptive practice by travellers
» 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 worlds 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 worlds coral reefs are in the Caribbean a most under threa, 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 earths surface is water, only 3% is potable.


Sustainable tourism is about re-focusing 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 realising that change is often cumulative, gradual and irreversible. 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.
» Dont litter. Try to carry your own shopping bag to avoid contributing to the plastic problem in many countries of the world.
» Try to avoid excessive waste and the use of plastic bottles (in many countries there is no way of disposing of these, therefore creating plastic mountains due to tourism) bring your own and consider purifying your own water & remove 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 approx. 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 it! People in different places do things differently dont try change them enjoy them.
» Dress respectively. 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 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 organisation that works towards responsible
» Before you go, ask your travel provider (tour operator, travel agent) about the companys 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 publicly are aiming to make tourism more responsible.
» Support local organisations either in the place you visit or where you live

In conclusion:

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