what is sustainable tourism
Did you know that 2017 was declared the International Year of Sustainable Tourism by the United Nations? You already heard about green tourism, ecotourism, and you think this is just a new green term that will confuse you more?  Or on the contrary, you may already be among the increasing number of travellers that place sustainability and environment first in their travelling or holiday criteria.

So, what is sustainable tourism exactly and what is being a responsible traveller in real life?

What the Wolrd Tourism Organisation Says:

First of all, let’s start by the official defintion: the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) defines sustainable tourism 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. Read more about it 

Can we make it easier?

Sustainable development means replying to today’s needs without compromising the needs of the future. Sustainable development concerns every industry and is based on 3 fundamental pillars, that John Elkington defined in the easiest way:

In its purest, most distilled form, the imperatives of sustainability are summed up by just three words: Planet, People, ProfitElkington, 1997


Sustainability applied to the tourism industry should be founded on those three pillars making sure that tourism is liveable, viable and fair for all the actors implicated in the industry: the tourists, the businesses of hospitality from restaurants to hotels and leisure activities and the local communities.

The SOCIAL impact is related to PEOPLE, culture and heritage. For example, preserving the cultural heritage of countries and regions open to tourism. Respecting diversity of cultures and values of countries visited.

Reducing our impact on the environment as travellers is related to the PLANET. From making an optimal use of resources, preserving ecological processes to conserving natural resources or respecting biodiversity.

As for PROFIT, tourism should guarantee economically viable activities to a region and its inhabitants or create stable revenues locally.

So basically, Sustainable Tourism is all about making a positive impact with your tourism approach whether you are a tourist, a tourism operator or a hospitality business.

Why should tourism be more sustainable?

Tourism is one of the most important industries in the world and its growth is tremendous. It is also one of the world’s leading employment sectors but it’s also a major greenhouse gas contributor. By 2030 the World Tourism Organisation projects there will be 1.8 billion international travellers in the world and 57% of those will be in emerging economies.


Additionally, we should not only change our tourism practices under the scope of the environment or our ecological footprint, we should also consider it more globally. Mass tourism can have negative consequences not only on the natural resources of a country, even if it is what first comes to mind, it can also impact local communities, cultural sites, or countries economics. Populations can be fragilized by these negative impacts. You might remember that during the summer of 2017 there were demonstrations from residents of Barcelona opposed to tourism.

Changing for a more responsible tourism is a necessity and everyone should not only be conscious of it but change their practices in all forms of tourism.

What is being a sustainable traveller in real life?

If you are like me, a happy member of the growing community of eco-conscious people at home, then you’re probably already a sustainable traveller without even knowing it. To better understand, let’s take the example of a traveller.

Paul lives in London and decides to visit a small island in the Indian Ocean for his holiday. Paul is already eco-conscious at home, minimizes his waste, reduces his water usage and avoids using his car too much. He buys seasonal products and prefers buying food from local producers.

Why would Paul act differently when he takes a trip for holidays?

Paul is visiting a country that has different cultural values. He knows it because before going there he did a little research to learn about his holiday destination’s traditions, customs and social conditions.

That makes it easier for Paul to respect the values of the people he meets during his visit and gives him a chance to make connections easier with local communities. The authenticity and the respect of cultures brings an enriched experience to Paul but also brings value and pride to the local people he connects with.

By visiting the country and paying to visit the cultural sites, Paul plays a role in the conservation of the island’s heritage.

Paul has a passion for snorkelling, and he loves shells that he does not see at home. But Paul knows that he shouldn’t bring any of those home, because it’s disrespectful of biodiversity.

And when Paul goes to a restaurant on that small island, he should privilege places where the food is prepared with local and seasonal goods and brings jobs to local staff. Yes, he should avoid going to that fast-food even if the sign is green.

Should you only be sustainable traveller when you are going abroad?

Of course not! You can act sustainably in any forms of travel. Whether you’re leaving for a month, a week or a city break. Even when you’re in your hometown and visiting a restaurant, or doing leisure activities.

The United Nations International Sustainable Tourism Year made a great campaign to raise awareness on sustainable tourism and it’s summarized in three words: travel enjoy respect.  #travelenjoyrespect


Holiable is an eco-friendly travel planner helping you find sustainable hotels, green restaurants and ethical tourism activities around the world. Holiable was developed to share experiences, advice and reviews on sustainable travel, making it easier to prepare your next eco-friendly holiday.
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