Sustainable tourist industry

14. How to make the tourist industry more sustainable

I strongly believe that the tourist industry can still be made more sustainable through several achievable measures. Some people look to technological solutions so we can continue business as usual. Others highlight conscious consumerism and ideas like slow travel. In a world in with expanding populations, endless consumer demands, and an economy that’s based on continuous growth, we need more than good ideas and intentions to save our fragile environment. An important condition for success is mutual cooperation.

In terms of sustainable tourism and the importance of local community effort, the Swedish city of Gothenburg deserves an honorable mention. Until the mid-1980s this former industrial port town wasn’t very environmentally conscious. But after Sweden’s minister of the environment visited Gothenburg and called the decaying and dirty blue-collar city “a courtyard to hell”, things improved quickly. After this strong negative comment, political and business leaders vowed to transform the gritty 17th-Century city into a beacon of urban sustainability. With the help of widespread community support and engagement, they kept their word. The past three years Gothenburg has been elected the most sustainable tourist destination in the world! This was only possible due to strong mutual motivation and working together on all fronts.

Ideally, all governments around the world will implement policies that foster sustainable development by overcoming the growth fetish. Tourism then should be developed only within those sustainable development parameters. Where governments are failing, non-governmental organizations can play an important role in keeping an eye on the tourist industry. They can help with reporting on the abuses of tourism, including land grabs, human rights abuses, community opposition, and corruption.

Consumers in tourism need to be educated about responsible travel choices. For example, few tourists realize what their economic and environmental impact is. An all including environmental education at schools should not only include information about saving energy and recycling waste but also about the environmental impact of daily life decisions. We should be taught more about the impact of our daily consumption, transport, and travel habits.

14.1 The responsibility of the tourist industry

Tourism tipsUntil all the governments around the world are going to set up and enforce the right laws and regulations to protect the environment, the tourism industry as a whole needs to assume greater responsibilities. This isn’t only better for our environment, but also for their business, especially in the long term. A recent article in the New York Times shows how the tourist industry is trying to improve its image. The article mentions a variety of travel agencies that offer social and ecological tours and excursions. Several of them offer their clients a ‘feel good tourist experience’ at a rather steep price. They promise that sometimes even half of that price will be donated to local projects. Of course, these intentions are good, but sustainability isn’t really about just donating money. To be sustainable as a company and society requires a lot more.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is an independent, non-governmental organization it establishes and manages global sustainable standards, known as the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria. There are two sets: Destination Criteria for public policy-makers and destination managers, and Industry Criteria for hotels and tour operators. These are the guiding principles and minimum requirements that any tourism business or destination should aspire to reach in order to protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources while ensuring tourism meets its potential as a tool for conservation and poverty alleviation. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council does not directly certify any products or services. Through its partner Assurance Services International, its criteria form the foundation Accreditation for Certification Bodies, which certify hotels and accommodations, tour operators and transport providers, and destinations for having sustainable policies and practices in place. Their sustainability lists include general recommendations for business owners about selecting a location; how to build more sustainable; the importance of good relationships with the local community; the importance of training for employees; equal treatment and even about the importance of providing adequate information to your clients. I used part of their recommendations, together with information from other websites including Green Hotelier and personal experiences to provide the recommendations written in the book and on this website.