What is sustainable tourism?

Ok, step by step. Let’s slow it down and start from the beginning. You probably have an idea of what sustainable tourism could be or have heard about it somewhere. Maybe you already have done it or contributed to it before through participating in related projects. However, if people hear the word “tourism” either in a documentary or in the news they typically think about these mass-tourism destinations or nature and people who are suffering due to over-consumption through tourism activities in their countries. Means, you probably don`t have positive associations with the word “tourism”. So far, so true.

Nevertheless, what if I tell you that in most cases people who are involved in tourism planning are aiming to achieve sustainable goals.  I studied Tourism and Destination Management and the main topic during my Bachelor and Master studies were “Sustainable Tourism Development Strategies in Destinations”. Especially nowadays it is more important than ever – as tourism is seen as a key driver in solving destination-specific problems such as poverty, employment, well-being and most importantly the protection of nature and local cultures. On the other hand, if planned wrongly, commodification, (the art of selling the unsaleable) of a place and exceeding capacities through tourism, will destroy all of the above. It is not profitable in the long-term and will harm nature in particular.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) 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”.

Why is it important?

So, if international hotel chains are building their hotels, for example in Thailand, they should agree to the policy of employing at least 60% local Thai people in middle and upper management. Moreover, it is important that food, beverage and other needs are purchased from local suppliers to make sure money stays within the local or national economy. In this way Thai people really benefit from tourism in their country.

As well as that, sustainable tourism can also take place in the form of nature protection programmes. The main advantage is that it can be started anywhere. Especially in local community projects, “doing good” can be quickly achieved though tourism on a small-scale. If this way of thinking were applied to tourist destinations, development strategies and it were sustainable, then the tourism projects would be planned according to the specific needs of a place, locals and tourists and have the chance of helping to preserve this world and its stunning nature, landscapes, its peoples and their cultures. Let’s call it a typical win-win situation. I`ve chosen the Dominican Republic as an example to show you what I`m talking about:

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Also, this post talks mainly about the supply side, meaning what communities can do to benefit from tourism and to protect their destination. In the next post I will explain what you as a traveler can do to support the destination you visit and how to get a much more authentic local experience as a foreigner. The magic phrase is: Responsible Traveling. And now it’s your turn: Have you ever participated in sustainable tourism or do you have good examples to share?