By the day, tourism is spreading across the globe. Once just the preserve of the relatively rich from developed countries, increasing prosperity in countries like India and China having meant that now far more people are on the move, finding ways to enjoy their leisure time.
Tourism is an important part of the economy for many countries. It contributes more than a tenth of the global GDP and employs over 200 million worldwide. In countries like Nepal, tourism is a vital source of hard currency.
However tourism can have its negative impacts. Too much pressure on tourist destinations can lead to their deterioration, both in environmental and cultural terms. Short-term profit can destroy local ecosystems and make a place unsustainable in the longer term.
There is Increasingly the understanding that while it is fine to enjoy tourism and its financial benefits, more care is needed to ensure that this should be done in a way that is sustainable. Obviously, if we damage cultures and natural environments in tourist destinations, no one is going to want to go there in the future. This is simply not good business.
It makes a lot of business sense. By saving on resources like energy and water, businesses will save money. Many guests are attracted by companies with a good sustainable image. Costs are reduced by sustainable management of resources. There can be more job satisfaction working for a company that takes its social and environmental responsibilities seriously. Sustainability has almost become a brand-name in its own right and more and more guests demand it. Sustainable policies can not only preserve but enhance local situations, whether by encouraging traditions and customs or by conservation of old buildings and fragile environments.
How can we make tourism, sustainable?
There are many organisations promoting sustainable tourism. AITO (the Association of Independent Tour Operators) is a British organisation that represents over a hundred of the country’s leading tour operators working in countries worldwide. Members aim to protect the environment (flora, fauna and landscapes), respect local cultures (traditions, religions and heritage), benefit local communities (socially and economically), conserve natural resources, and minimise pollution (noise, waste disposal and congestion). They fulfil these responsibilities by establishing policies and involving staff, informing clients about sustainable tourism and where appropriate, encouraging them to participate. Tour operators should work with their suppliers and partners to achieve sustainable goals and practices and spread the word by publicising good practice to encourage and spread awareness about sustainability. In the USA, The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) follow the same principles, representing a diverse and global membership that includes UN agencies, leading travel companies, hotels, country tourism boards, tour operators, individuals and communities working all around the world.
Measurement and recognition for meeting sustainable tourism criteria however can be more challenging. However, a number of organisations have come up with different systems whereby companies can be assessed and monitored.
The industry needs a common platform, that is recognised everywhere. One such organisation is Travelife, which is a subsidiary of ABTA, (formerly called the Association of British Travel Agents, now known as ABTA, The Travel Association). Travelife is supported by major European trade associations and tour operators like Thomas Cook, TUI and Kuoni and provides a web-based certification system that can be used by tour companies and accommodation providers to monitor and self-assess their sustainability performance. Launched in 2007, it is widely recognised within the travel and tourism industry as a comprehensive and credible tool.
Walking the talk, leading by example, spreading the word and behaving in a responsible way, sustainability is something that can be seen to benefit everyone.