Tourism is a huge, fast-growing industry. Worldwide, tourism accounts for 319 million jobs, and 10.4% of all global economic activity. Tourism was responsible for 1 in every new 5 jobs created globally last year, and it’s only predicted to expand.
That’s great news for the global economy, but it’s not great news for the environment.
Tourism can also come with a whole range of problematic environmental and social impacts. Overuse of local resources, loss of cultural heritage, litter and pollution, greenhouse gas emissions from air travel, overcrowding, economic dependence and exploitation are some of the issues commonly arising in this sector.
Did you know: An average golf course in a tropical country such as Thailand needs 1500kg of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides per year and uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers?
What is sustainable tourism?
Sustainable tourism is defined by the World Tourism Organisation 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.”
Put simply, it is what happens when the tourism industry presents an ethical and environmentally responsible alternative to the ‘golf course in Thailand’ holiday experience.
It’s a growing trend in the industry. An increasing number of sustainable tourism providers are popping up every year. In fact, for the last three years Sustainable Destinations has been running a ‘Top 100’ list of sustainable travel destinations, to help the conscious traveller decide on where to go!
Why is sustainable tourism important?
Luckily, more and more travellers are becoming conscious consumers. In a survey conducted recently by Booking.com, it was found that 58% of people would choose not to visit a place if doing so would have a negative impact on its inhabitants, and 49% would prioritise social or environmental issues when considering a destination.
Many tourists want to enjoy a holiday without harming the environment, or the lives of locals. Sustainable tourism provides this ‘low impact’ option for tourists, boosts the local economy without bringing along the negative effects, and it sets an example of best practices to the rest of the sector.
In its Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report in 2017, the World Economic Forum noted that degradation of the natural environment is having a negative effect on the tourism sector. In locations affected by overfishing, deforestation or water and air pollution, tourism revenue declines.
Essentially, all tourism should be sustainable. In the long term, if we don’t care for local communities, ecologies and heritage sites, who will want to come and see them in ten years? A tropical island covered in trash is not an attractive destination!
How you can holiday more sustainably
If you’re concerned about the impact of your holidays on local communities and the environment, here are some ways you can engage in sustainable tourism.
- Reduce air travel (and therefore carbon emissions) by going somewhere closer to home, or traveling by train or other transport instead.
- Choose hotels or tourism operators that have a good record of sustainable and ethical practices.
- There are some things you shouldn’t do, and places you just shouldn’t go. Climbing the sacred site of Uluru, for example, is a popular tourist activity in Central Australia that is deeply upsetting for local indigenous people.
- Educate yourself about local ecosystems, cultures and traditions, so you can engage respectfully with locals and your new environment.
- Spend your money on locally produced goods, eat at local restaurants, and spend your money where it’s going to go to locals. Why not hire a guide for a day?
- Be conscious of your resource consumption, tourists tend to overuse resources like water, because you don’t have to foot the bill.
- Try traveling in a different way. Go camping instead of staying in a resort. Visit a town nearby you’ve never been to, instead of flying somewhere far away.
- Donate to a local charity or environmental project.
Here are some great examples of sustainable tourism
Thomas Cook and the #noplaceforplastic campaign
One of Britain’s biggest tour operators, Thomas Cook, said in 2018 that it will remove around 70 million single-use plastic items from domestic operations, planes and branded hotels during the next year. A pilot scheme in its #noplaceforplastic campaign will also run this summer on the Greek island of Rhodes, where the company will work with the local community and government to improve recycling infrastructure.
Impact Tourism Social Network Project
This online search platform links ethical tourists with small local businesses offering ethical and environmentally responsible travel experiences.
Hotel Companies Eliminating Single Use Plastics
Hilton pledged last year to get rid of plastic straws in all its 650 locations and eliminate plastic bottles from its conferences. Marriott International is eliminating plastic straws and replacing small bottles of toiletries with dispensers in its North American hotels.
Gozo Island, Malte
A winner of one of the ‘Top 100 Sustainable Destination Awards’ last year, Gozo is one of the three islands of Malte. The local government has developed an ‘Eco-Gozo Island 2020’ strategy, where tourism companies, local individuals, schools and government will all work together to protect the islands cultural and environmental heritage.
Interested in a career in sustainable tourism in Australia?
Australia is home to an incredible array of culturally and environmentally significant destinations. Because of this, the tourism industry is growing every year.
In 2018, approximately 9.2 million tourists visited Australia from overseas. This marked a 5.2% increase from 2017, when 8.8 million tourists visited Australia. More growth is predicted ahead.
Many tourist sites in Australia (such as the Great Barrier Reef) are very culturally or environmentally sensitive, so government has had to play an active role in supporting sustainable tourism. For example, Tourism Australia has developed a 10-year plan in partnership with industry, laying out a strategy to minimize negative impacts and sustainably manage tourism in Australia.
Because there’s so much activity in this area in Australia (as well as a big market for eco-conscious consumption!), it’s a really blossoming industry and a great space to carve out an ethical career in tourism.
Take a look at this 10 step guide from Sustainability Leaders Project on how to make a career in sustainable tourism. Familiarise yourself with the Australian tourism industry and industry bodies such as Tourism Australia, that you can approach for work or advice.