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Exploring Sustainable Tourism

Poster: Ron Mader, How do you define sustainable tourism?

As part of our series exploring tourism definitions, we ask readers how you define sustainable tourism. Comments welcome below.

The notion that tourism could be “sustainable” is part of the dialogue on sustainable development, critical in 2017, the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

The goal is that development meet the needs of the present tourists and locals while protecting future opportunities. That said … isn’t the concept a bit presumptuous? How do you develop sustainability in an on-demand world with a short-attention span?

Sustainable Development
While there is an abundance of conceptual theory about what constitutes “Sustainable Development,” there is little practical information.

Ideally, we should see more up-to-date information on criteria and implementation. Institutional websites ought to be much better — providing the information that they already have on hand.

Sadly, when institutions highlight sustainable development, they rarely share materials in a timely manner. I once asked a major “A-list” foundation if they’d provide a transcript of an important forum on development issues. The director was incredulous and replied, “What? Make it available to everyone?”

Such trickle down sustainability is the major disappointment of the previous century. Hopefully, such closed-door mentalities will disappear.

On the bright side, we are witnessing more hand-crafted websites that do a great job exploring the breadth and depth of sustainability.

Sustainable Tourism
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The notion that tourism could be “sustainable” is part of the dialogue on sustainable development.

The goal is that development meet the needs of the present tourists and locals while protecting future opportunities.

That said … isn’t the concept a bit presumptuous? How do you develop sustainability in an on-demand world with a short-attention span?

What examples of tourism have been around long enough that we can say that the practice is sustainable? For cynics, the term has little meaning. They say that the concept is driven top-down and has few practical examples and that it’s akin to having your cake and eating it too.

Literature Review
Nevertheless, it’s important to review the literature. Here’s how the UK-based Travel Foundation defines sustainable tourism

Sustainable tourism is about making a positive difference when we travel …

* Enjoying ourselves and taking responsibility for our actions – respecting local cultures and the natural environment

* Giving fair economic returns to local families – helping to spread the benefit of our visit to those who need it most

* Recognising that often water and energy are precious resources that we need to use carefully

* Helping to protect endangered wildlife and preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the places we visit

* Protecting and enhancing favourite destinations for the future enjoyment of visitors and the people who live there

Source: Travel Foundation

Here’s the formal definition from the World Tourism Organization.

Sustainable tourism development guidelines and management practices are applicable to all forms of tourism in all types of destinations, including mass tourism and the various niche tourism segments. Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability.

Thus, sustainable tourism should:

Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.

Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.

Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio- economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.

Sustainable tourism development requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building. Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and/or corrective measures whenever necessary.

Sustainable tourism should also maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices amongst them.

Source: Sustainable Development of Tourism Conceptual Definition (WTO, 2004)

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