Europe's Voice of Tourism

Sustainable tourism: it’s not only about ecology

Responsible and sustainable tourism is not solely focused on the environment because it recognizes that tourism has impacts beyond just ecological aspects. While the environment is a crucial component of sustainable tourism, there are several other dimensions that need to be considered for tourism to be truly responsible and sustainable.


There are several examples of unsustainable tourism practices. Here are a few:

  1. Over-Tourism: Over-tourism occurs when destinations become overwhelmed by an excessive number of visitors, exceeding their carrying capacity. This leads to overcrowding, strain on infrastructure and resources, degradation of natural and cultural sites, and a decline in the quality of the visitor experience. Examples of over-touristed places include popular cities like Venice, Barcelona, and Dubrovnik, where the influx of tourists has caused significant challenges for locals and the environment.
  2. Ecological Damage: Unsustainable tourism can cause ecological damage by putting stress on natural ecosystems. Activities such as unregulated hiking, off-road driving, coral reef destruction through snorkelling or diving, and wildlife exploitation (e.g., illegal wildlife trade or wildlife encounters that disregard animal welfare) can harm habitats, disrupt delicate ecosystems, and threaten the survival of vulnerable species.
  3. Water and Energy Consumption: Tourism often leads to increased water and energy consumption in destinations, which can strain local resources, especially in areas with limited infrastructure. Large-scale resorts and hotels may have excessive water usage, and energy-intensive activities like air travel contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. In regions where water scarcity is already a concern, tourism can exacerbate the problem.
  4. Waste Generation: The tourism industry can generate significant amounts of waste, including plastic bottles, food packaging, and other disposable items. Improper waste management practices can result in pollution, littering, and harm to ecosystems, particularly in coastal and natural areas. Additionally, cruise ships are known for producing large quantities of waste and contributing to marine pollution.
  5. Cultural Exploitation: When tourism does not respect local cultures and traditions, it can lead to cultural exploitation. Examples include disrespectful behaviour towards sacred sites, disrespectful clothing or behaviour that disregards local customs, or the commercialization of cultural practices without providing benefits to the local communities. This can lead to the erosion of cultural identity and the loss of traditional knowledge and practices.
  6. Economic Leakage: In some cases, the economic benefits of tourism do not adequately reach the local communities. Large international companies or tour operators may dominate the industry, with a significant portion of the revenue flowing out of the destination, rather than benefiting the local economy. This can lead to an imbalance in the distribution of tourism wealth and limited opportunities for local entrepreneurship and development.

These examples highlight the negative impacts of unsustainable tourism practices, emphasizing the importance of transitioning towards sustainable approaches that minimize harm and maximize the benefits for destinations, communities, and the environment.

This is the first article of a series focused on the more complex aspects of sustainable (or responsible) tourism.