Sustainable Tourism: A Challenge Within Reach

By Patricia Lee

Godfrey (1998) believes that tourism has adopted the notion of sustainability through somesignificant initiatives, such as environmental management practices including the use ofsustainable materials, water and energy-saving, improving waste management and invitingtourists to have a more environmental-friendly attitude. Although, the tourism industry iscomplex as it is composed of different type of businesses and practices that are difficult toregulate.

In a time when the effects and impacts of climate change are considered a global threat, there are increasing opportunities to encourage more sustainable behaviours towards all forms of activities in the hospitality industry.

Tourism is continuously growing and changing; it is a force for economic growth. The benefits of tourism can be seen in the improvement of livelihoods, the celebration of heritage and cultures around the world. Socio-culturally, tourism provides employment opportunities; economically, it brings revenue generation and continuous earnings – diversifying the economy.

The call for inclusive and sustainable economic growth and consumption is more than ever needed. Reducing the adverse effects of tourism activities alone is more significant than ever and brings the potential to deliver a positive economic, social and environmental outcome. The challenge is to implement the right measures, practical strategies and initiatives to achieve sustainability whilst managing the delicate balance between tourism development and environmental sustainability. Enhancing future sustainability opportunities coupled with reducing the adverse impacts of tourism is a challenging but achievable task.

This article discusses and analyses the concept of sustainable tourism and its significance to achieving sustainable development, while identifying the challenges for governments and society in the adoption of more sustainable practices.Tourism has been considered one of the fastest-growing industries in the world and is recognised as one of the world’s largest and most active industries (WTTC 2009; WTO 2012, Cooper et al 2005). Its strong links to development and its impact on the economy make it the primary income source for many developed and developing countries. Considering that some of the most important economic tourism is regarded as a critical driver for socio-economic progress and a contributor to accelerated development. The tourism sector comprises a wide range of industries ranging from accommodation and transportation to food and beverage, retail, culture, sports and recreation (Cukier, 2002). Comparing the GDP growth by sector, in 2018, travel and tourism are placed behind manufacturing with a staggering 3.9% growth (WTTC, 2019).

Tourism has many positive socio-economic impacts; nonetheless, the rapid growth of the tourism industry and its activities has brought numerous adverse effects particularly on the environment. Unplanned and uncontrolled tourism growth is a cause of environmental degradation; for example, some of the adverse effects on the environment are waste generation, water and energy shortages, degradation of water supplies and ecosystems due to weak and poorly enforced environmental regulations associated with tourism. Yet, tourism itself is dependent on the natural environment and cultural heritage of a place, therefore, to minimise any negative impacts that may arise from tourism activities, more sustainable practices should be enforced.

In 1972, the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) produced a plan for the environment and laid the foundation for the Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The Conference addressed sustainable development for the first time, declaring that issues like population growth, developing economies, and technological & industrial advancements also have a negative impact on the environment (UN, 2019).

In 1983, during the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) – The Brundtland Commission discussed and developed the link between environmental protection and sustainable development.
By 1987, the Commission had published ‘Our Common Future’ which defined sustainable development: Sustainable development is development, “that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987). The report had considerable impact and influence on governments, international organisations, NGOs, and industries including tourism, communities and academics. Moreover, the report identified the components to sustainable development: environmental protection, economic growth and social equity (UN, 2018).

Considering the great economic, social and cultural impact of the tourism activity, it is then indispensable to achieve a balance between rapid development and the pursuit for sustainability.

The concept of sustainable development has become widely accepted as a theoretical concept (Counsell, 1998). Sustainable development is defined by the United Nations (2019) as the “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” continuing to use the WCED definition years on.

Godfrey (1998) believes that tourism has adopted the notion of sustainability through some significant initiatives, such as environmental management practices including the use of sustainable materials, water and energy-saving, improving waste management and inviting tourists to have a more environmental-friendly attitude. Although, the tourism industry is complex as it is composed of different type of businesses and practices that are difficult to regulate.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (WTO, 2001) defines sustainable tourism as:”Sustainable tourism development meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO, 2019) refers to the three interconnected aspects/pillars of sustainable tourism: environmental, socio-cultural and economic.1) The environmental aspect. This refers to the use of a range of natural resources, for example, the destination’s clean air, land and water. Other resources include natural forests, mountains and wildlife; also, the built environment such as buildings and structures, villages and towns infrastructure regarded as cultural heritage.2) The socio-cultural aspect. Meaning the positive or negative impacts of other cultures upon the host community. If the strength of the local society and culture is not strong enough, or the host population has a low level of economic and social development, the impacts of tourism may have a negative impact.3) The socio-economic aspect. Considers the economic growth a result of tourism activities, such as the creation of jobs, the injection of income to the local economy, the growth of local businesses, infrastructure development and foreign direct investment. The economic side of tourism includes the appropriate use of resources, including biological diversity, minimisation of ecological, cultural and social impacts.

Ramukumba et al. (2017) describe the numerous types of environmental impacts derived from the implications of a large volume of tourists such as waste generation, energy and water consumption. Engaging in environmental practices to protect, preserve, care and maintain the natural environment could potentially minimise the challenge of making tourisma sustainable activity. Better management and control of natural areas is needed, the reduction of over-consumption and waste, respect of ecological limits and scientific research is required (Ramgulam, et al. 2013).
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (2019), sustainable tourism should:- Make optimal use of environmental resources- Respect the socio-cultural authenticity- Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders.

It has been suggested by Niedziólka (2012) that the interdependency of tourism and the environment needs to be acknowledged and to succeed, it needs to be economically viable without presenting a threat to the resources on which the future of tourism will depend. Tourism needs to be integrated to the environment and not the opposite.

This is supported by Bramwell and Lane (2012) who emphasise that evidence shows that tourism is becoming less sustainable, and there is “limited progress towards implementing more environmentally friendly operations on a global scale”. Hence, the development of policies that encourage society to adopt sustainable practices is critical.
For tourism, the socio-cultural sustainability is achievable by minimising the negative impacts of tourism and focusing on promoting cultural exchange and preserving the local traditions and cultural heritage. Environmental protection becomes indispensable.

For tourism to be more economically sustainable, more needs to be done to balance the use of resources. Making tourism ventures sustainable means contributing to the local community, sharing the financial benefits from tourism. Moreover, Bramwell & Lane (2010) suggest that for tourism to be more economically sustainable, more needs to be done to balance the use of resources. Making tourism ventures sustainable means contributing to the local community, sharing the financial benefits from tourism. Adopting sustainable tourism practices is a significant improvement to the competitiveness and sustainability of a tourism destination.

Governments around the world need a better implementation of international, national and local sustainable strategies to address sustainable tourism. Cooperation between government, tourism industry, consumers and local communities is indispensable to avoid adverse effects on the environment. Current travel behaviour is unsustainable. Reducing the environmental impact of tourism is not an easy task. More needs to be done to encourage and sustain individual behavioural change and promote the adoption of sustainable travel choices.

Tourism is a resource-dependent industry; as such, it must recognise its responsibility for protecting and improving the natural environment. Identifying alternative ways to encourage changes in travel behaviour is crucial. In order for sustainable tourism to succeed, the continuous monitoring of tourism impacts, as well as the imposition of both preventative andcorrective measures become indispensable.

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List of Figures:Figure 1. 2. 3 and 4.
Recommended reading:Howarth, C.C. and P. Polyviou (2012). Sustainable travel behaviour and the widespreadimpacts on the local economy, Local Economy 27 (7) 764 – 781.Editorial. Understanding behavioural change: An international perspective on sustainabletravel behaviours and their motivations (2013). Transport Policy 26, 1-3.Robbins, D., J. Brackstone and J. Dickinson (2011). Planning approaches to achieve a moresustainable travel industry for tourism in the UK – a case study, 11 (3), 320 – 333.Bruns-Smith, A. and V. Choy (2015). Environmental sustainability in the hospitality industry:Best practices, guest participation, and customer satisfaction, Cornell Hospitality Report, 15(3), 6 -16.
Recommended Web:“6 Ways to Be a More Sustainable Traveler” Costas Christ, National GeographicAvailable from:
“40 Green Travel Tips (The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Travel”)Green Global TravelAvailable from:
“The Five Commandments of Sustainable Travel”The UpsiderAvailable from:
“Sustainable Travel: A guide to understanding your impact on the environment and how toreduce it”The Globe and MailAvailable from:
“Global and Regional Tourism Performance”UNWTO Tourism DashboardAvailable from:
“Sustaining Tourism’Resources for a Global Sustainable Future
“Sustainable Travel International”Available from:

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