Sustainable Tourism – Scope and Viability

Sustainability is the buzz word in every context in this globalized world and will remain until it is achieved! Achieving sustainability depends on the various stakeholders involved in that country’s economy ! It is believed that the Tourism industry is the World’s second largest in terms of money generated which contributed approximately 7.6% to Global GDP in 2022 (Source). This industry encompasses diverse sectors including transport, travel companies, accommodation, food and many more. Whether people travel and stay for leisure, business, health or for any other reasons it is the responsibility of everyone involved to preserve the integrity and heritage of that environment. 

In a recent UN report “Transport Related CO2 Emissions of the Tourism Sector”, the tourism industry was shown to be a significant contributor to climate change. 

This graph shows the different activities that contribute to tourism’s total carbon footprint.

Data Source: Nature Climate Change (2018)

Recognising this challenge, this essay delves into the multifaceted nature of sustainable tourism examining the gaps and analyzing the viability. Addressing sustainability in tourism becomes imperative particularly in the post-pandemic period as this industry is projected to experience 1.8 billion tourists with a growth of approximately 11.3% in Global GDP by 2030(Source). 

Keeping the projections aside, who would not love having a vacation? And when we incorporate the concept of sustainability in it don’t you think you will get the fulfillment and completeness to your experience!  To imbibe sustainable tourism, let us first understand what it means and explore its scope. 

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Sustainable Tourism is tourism that “takes full account of current and future economic, social, culture and environmental impacts to meet the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”.

Sustainable tourism is a complex term and it involves diverse stakeholders with varying interests and responsibilities. Be it planning and arranging environment friendly visits, reducing the carbon footprint and encouraging the local economy along with maintaining the harmony of the local culture, achieving sustainability in tourism is a must for our future generations also to enjoy this pristine natural environment. 

Though sustainable tourism has been a topic of discussion in tourism circles since 1990’s, there is still a lot of gap in terms of

  • Awareness among visitors in terms of choosing sustainable options
  • Limited availability of sustainable options for the conscious travelers
  • Cooperation of Profit motive businesses and tourist operators overriding the economic benefits of local communities 
  • Policy to drive and give a direction to the tourism businesses, operators and environmental regulations
  • Preserving the purity of environment

In 1992, Rio ‘Earth Summit’ triple principles of sustainable tourism were established and adopted by the tourism industry worldwide to address these gaps. 

Let us now turn our focus to the viability associated with sustainability in tourism by comprehensively analyzing the involvement of diverse stakeholders across those triple principles. 

Economic viability: When a family/friends/school/corporates plans for a vacation all we want is a wonderful experience within our budget. Choosing a sustainable mode of transportation like bus, train, car when it is a domestic nearby destination reduces the carbon footprint. However while traveling for farther distances, air travel is the only option but still the choice can be sustainable by packing light and booking non-stop flights. However in this busy lifestyle, it is important to find balance between travel time and budget constraints. According to the Sustainable Travel Report 2021, by across 30 countries and 29k travelers, 46% of travelers stated that the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future. 

Apart from transportation, there is a growing awareness of sustainable destinations, where host communities in collaboration with various e-commerce websites have been offering the choice of staying in a hotel or homestays or eco-friendly locations. Ensuring that they follow the GSTC(Global Sustainable Tourism Council) industry criteria assures us of a fulfillment. But compliance to achieve the standards is a big feat considering the voluminous count of tourist operators.

Along with these, when a responsible traveler incorporates simple acts such as packing light, carrying reusable water bottles, savoring local cuisine with minimal waste, and engaging local tourist operators, it contributes to the growth of the local economy. 

Socio-Cultural dimension: When the pressure of tourists is more on a particular place, be it a culturally or devotionally important place, maintaining the heritage, sanitation and hygiene of that place is of utmost importance for the visitor’s satisfaction. When the governments work along with the local communities and civil society organizations, it is possible to create a framework for sustainable tourism. Along with these efforts, awareness and commitment to respect and support the efforts of local communities will ensure conscious travel on part of the tourists. 

For example in India, we have NGOs like Ecosphere, Grassroutes playing constructive roles as facilitators and mediators in creating awareness among travelers and empowering  local communities to make the world a greener and happier place to travel. There is a huge scope of opportunities on this front considering the increasing importance of sustainability in tourism.

Environmental Purity: Last but the most important pillar of sustainable tourism is preserving the purity of the natural environment. Along with strict environmental regulations by the government, adherence by the tourism industry is a major task to ensure future travelers enjoy authentic experience without the risk of resorting to virtual tours.

When travelers embrace the below principles of ecotourism, it benefits everyone involved and helps to maintain the vibrancy of the environment.

  • Participating in activities that protect and conserve the environment such as taking up a cleaning activity while visiting a beach
  • Making sure to minimize energy usage while staying in the hotels/resorts
  • Interacting with the flora & fauna from a safer distance so as not to disturb the wildlife
  • Responsible waste management (not throwing plastic/flowers/any waste in lakes/rivers) 

However, a change in behavior and being mindful of our impact on the environment is the most difficult task to be achieved but not impossible. As our climate is changing, so should we!! 

From a traveler perspective, to get the initial guidance there are so many travel vlogs like # rethinking tourism, #sustainabletourismIndia which gives information on sustainable tourism destinations, tips and practices. 

Also, while drafting the policies, care should be taken to clearly state the roles and responsibilities of all those involved in making the tour a delightful experience for the domestic and international travelers. For example, India through the medium of  Incredible India campaign has been following Sustainable tourism dicta via Atithii Devo Bhava and Bharath Darshan from 2002. Efforts are on-going and the Ministry of Tourism, GOI has come up with an elaborate National Strategy on Sustainable Tourism encouraging responsible traveling! 

Minimizing the negatives and maximizing the positive effects of all forms of tourism across the different pillars should be an on-going effort to build a sustainable eco-system for the future tourists. Nevertheless, this feat can be achieved when there is coordination, collaboration and collective action among all those involved. 

Happy Traveling around the world!

Article By

Kameswari Popuri
Once an IT professional, she is a conscious soul in the making who enjoys the innocent smiles of the children and is on a quest to reach her full potential.

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