Europe's Voice of Tourism

The general perception of sustainable tourism

Sustainable tourism, also known as responsible tourism or ecotourism, initially gained prominence due to its focus on environmental conservation and minimizing negative impacts on natural ecosystems. However, sustainable tourism has evolved over time to encompass broader social, cultural, and fairness aspects.

While there may still be a perception that sustainable tourism mainly concentrates on ecology, efforts are being made to address these other dimensions as well. In fact, sustainability in tourism encompasses also social and economic dimensions.

The social dimension of sustainability includes factors such as community engagement, cultural preservation, and the well-being of residents. It involves ensuring that tourism activities contribute positively to the local communities, respects their cultural heritage, and provide social benefits, such as employment opportunities and improved infrastructure.

The economic dimension of sustainability in tourism focuses on the long-term viability and economic benefits of tourism for destinations. It involves promoting responsible business practices, supporting local economies, and ensuring a fair distribution of economic benefits among all stakeholders.

While environmental protection is often emphasized in discussions about sustainability in tourism, the goal is to achieve a balance among all three dimensions: environmental, social, and economic. By integrating these dimensions, tourism can become more sustainable by minimizing negative impacts, maximizing positive contributions, and promoting long-term sustainability for destinations and communities.

Here are a few reasons why sustainable tourism may have historically focused on ecology and how it is evolving:

  1. Environmental vulnerability: Many tourist destinations are environmentally sensitive and face significant ecological challenges. By prioritizing environmental sustainability, sustainable tourism aims to protect these fragile ecosystems, conserve biodiversity, and minimize the environmental footprint of tourism activities.
  2. Market demand: Initially, there was a strong market demand for environmentally friendly tourism experiences. Travellers sought destinations and accommodations that offered opportunities to connect with nature and contribute to conservation efforts. Consequently, sustainable tourism initiatives focused on meeting this demand and promoting environmentally conscious practices.
  3. The complexity of social and cultural dimensions: Addressing social, cultural, and fairness aspects of sustainable tourism can be complex and multifaceted. It involves engaging with local communities, respecting cultural heritage, ensuring fair employment practices, promoting local economic development, and fostering social inclusivity. These dimensions may require more comprehensive and context-specific approaches, making them challenging to implement and monitor effectively.
  4. Increasing awareness and evolving perspectives: As awareness and understanding of sustainability grow, there is a growing recognition that sustainable tourism must go beyond environmental concerns. Stakeholders in the tourism industry, including governments, businesses, and organizations, are increasingly acknowledging the importance of social and cultural dimensions. Efforts are being made to incorporate community engagement, cultural preservation, and fair trade practices into sustainable tourism initiatives.
  5. Certification and standards: The development of certification schemes and sustainable tourism standards has played a crucial role in expanding the scope of sustainable tourism beyond ecology. Many certification programs now include criteria related to social, cultural, and fairness aspects. These programs help guide tourism operators and destinations in adopting sustainable practices across multiple dimensions.

It’s worth noting that while sustainable tourism has made progress in addressing social, cultural, and fairness aspects, there is still work to be done. Continuing efforts are needed to ensure that sustainable tourism practices actively contribute to the well-being of local communities, respect cultural diversity, and promote equitable economic benefits. By integrating all dimensions of sustainability, sustainable tourism can become a more holistic and inclusive approach to travel and tourism.

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