Our column on sustainability cannot certainly be missing an article on sustainable tourism. But what is it and how can we achieve it?
There are several definitions of this concept, but according to the UNWTO (the United Nations World Tourism Organisation) it can be defined as a kind of “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”. So, this type of tourism tries first to make optimal use of environmental resources that are important for maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity. Indeed, tourism can be related to travel for leisure, business and visiting friends and relatives and so it also includes means of transportation related to tourism. Without travel, there is no tourism, so the concept of sustainable tourism is tightly linked to the concept of sustainable transport. Many governments took several measures in this field, for example giving discounts on ‘green’ transportation, like bikes or trains.
Then, it is also useful to raise respect for the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to intercultural understanding. In fact, local communities benefit from sustainable tourism through economic development, job creation, and infrastructure development.
Also, it helps to ensure viable and long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, therefore contributing to poverty alleviation. Sustainable tourism is also mentioned in some of the SDGs, which are the numbers 8, 12 and 14, which pursue it as a goal to achieve before 2030.
Moreover, there are other similar definitions connected to sustainable tourism that is also used in daily life. One of these is responsible tourism, which refers to the behaviours and practices that can lead to sustainable tourism. For example, backpacker tourism is a trend that contributes to sustainability from the various environmental, economic, and cultural activities associated with it. Another one is ecotourism, which is a sustainable form of tourism in natural areas, that focuses primarily on experiencing and learning about nature; it is in fact aimed at contributing to the conservation or preservation of such natural areas, educating travellers on ecological conservation.
Like all the ideas connected to sustainability, also the concept of sustainable tourism has been criticised by some scholars which were claiming that it would be impossible to have full and perfect sustainability, because of the inner conflicts between equity, economy, and ecology. This is undoubtedly true and difficult to achieve for sure, but still, there are a lot of good practices in the field of sustainable tourism that are helping both tourists and local people to learn how to travel in a sustainable way. Governments together with NGOs or international organisations are indeed committed to this purpose and are making improvements all around the world. We can find examples of this all over the world, from the Six Senses Fiji resort, which is powered solely on solar power, recycles rainwater, runs on a low-waste model, and uses handiwork such as furnishings and artwork created by local villagers; to the Mdumbi, a backpackers on the Wild Coast of South Africa, that uses energy efficiency, solar power and waste management, and involve tourists in local community life…
But of course, sustainable tourism should be accessible to everyone, not only to people who could afford these resorts that could be maybe a little expensive; so the solution is very simple: choosing to travel with the least polluting means of transport and being respectful of nature.