Before tackling the subject of sustainable tourism, we should define and talk about what Tourism is. In the ample sense of the word, tourism is when people travel to and stay in places outside of their usual environment for less than a year. Although honestly most people travel for a couple weeks to a month. The reasons for this may vary between leisure, business, health, or any other reason.
We all like to explore new places, experience new traditions, and take part in new and different activities. Tourism is not a zone-specific industry, it can be anywhere, from big cities to jungle adventures and everything in between which makes it a global industry. Of course, most of us, when hearing the word tourism, think of beaches, hotels, lodges secluded in lush forests, etc. Tourism benefits both travelers and communities and is generally seen as a positive thing, a source of good.
According to Statista.com, when looking at countries that directly contributed the most to global GDP (Gross Domestic Product) the United States’ travel and tourism industry contributed the largest sum at 1.1 trillion U.S. in 2020. The tourism industry drives most economies in the world and can help enormously in bouncing back after events such as the world has lived through these past two years.
When it comes to Sustainable Tourism, there are different terms used at times. Sustainable Tourism refers to sustainable practices put in place by the tourism industry. It is the recognition of the impact that tourism has, both positive and negative and it works actively to reduce the negative impact and boost the positive. Sustainable tourism is defined by the UN Environment Program and UN World Tourism Organization as “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.” This means it takes into consideration everyone involved and works for the good of them all not just for a short term but in a permanent way.
Another term used to relate to sustainable tourism is Ecotourism, which just refers to tourism in natural areas. This is just a form of tourism and for the most part, consists of experiencing and learning about nature. This form of tourism encourages awareness and an appreciation of cultures and environments. A third term used within tourism is responsible travel, which refers to the behavior of those traveling and how to reduce negative practices and promote positive impact while traveling to and staying at any destination. It is, as a traveler, to respect the environment, community, and culture.
These three terms are used, and sometimes misused, but in summary sustainable tourism is the drive to make all forms of tourism sustainable for future generations, Ecotourism is a segment within the tourism industry, and responsible tourism refers to the behavior of the travelers.
So now that we have defined what sustainable tourism is, how do we know if a destination is sustainable or not? The tourism industry does not have a specific product it offers. Tourism mostly consists of services provided to those traveling to destinations, be that on the way or while already there. So, measuring those services is not as easy as measuring products. In this case, the use of benchmarking makes this much easier. Benchmarking is basically lining up businesses and comparing specific aspects and how one measures up to the other.
According to the document Making Tourism More Sustainable – A Guide for Policy Makers, UNEP and UNWTO, 2005, p.11-12, commonly used benchmarks in the tourism sector are:
- Electricity and energy consumption in kilowatt-hours (kWh) per square meter of serviced space
- Freshwater consumption in liters or cubic meters (m3) per guest per night
- Waste production (kg per guest per night and/or liters per guest per night)
Measuring these specific things makes it easier to determine the benefits and savings of a business and how to improve their positive impact on the environment. By benchmarking activities, businesses can work on sustainable development and at the same time reap tangible benefits of internal improvements. For the most part, tourism has been done without much care over the years, but in recent years the realization that our environment is being threatened by our practices and lifestyle has driven the industry to set in place standards and processes such as benchmarking to make sure that all destinations are preserved for future generations.
One example of a destination that embodies sustainability is the Six Senses Fiji resort. According to the Six Senses website, sustainability programs include conserving energy and rainwater, making high-quality drinking water, and growing their own organic produce. They have one of the largest off-grid solar installations in the Southern Hemisphere where energy from the sun produces 100% power for the resort and desalination plant. At Cluckingham Palace, over 100 hens and roosters roam, relax and produce fresh eggs for use throughout the Fiji resort’s restaurants. Nearby is a protected beehive area, which produces delicious honey and honeycomb. This amazing place embodies respect for the environment, culture, and community. Now that’s sustainability at its finest! It works to maintain the integrity of the place, culture, and environment while offering authentic cultural and historic experiences in a way that sustains its environment while offering economic opportunities for local communities.
We can work on making our impact a positive one wherever we go as tourists, be it camping in a neighbor state or going on a wildlife conservation program overseas. We may live in a city, in the suburbs, or out in the countryside, but wherever we are, we can make our visitors know and experience our piece of the global environment in a sustainable way.
We are all responsible for the protection of the environment and protection of our local communities. And this is not a one-time thing, it is along going process and renews itself with every generation that is born. Let’s enjoy the gifts that nature and our community give us and appreciate the places we go to by acting responsibly and promoting a sustainable way of living.