Welcome to this short presentation on environmental sustainability and tourism.
Environmental sustainability and tourism – how do they fit together? What challenges arise and how are they met? This presentation provides a rough overview of the often difficult relationship between environmental sustainability and tourism.
How to define the terms environmental sustainability and tourism? Entrix Consulting describes environmental sustainability as “the long-term maintenance of ecosystem components and functions for future generations“. The World Bank says it‘s about “ensuring that the overall productivity of accumulated human and physical capital resulting from development actions more than compensates for the direct or indirect loss or degradation of the environment.“ Those are only two of many definitions and their perspective will change depending on whom you ask. A large amount of definitions also exists for the term tourism. Mathieson and Wall describe it as “ the temporary movement of people to destinations outside their normal places of work and residence, the activities undertaken during their stay in those destinations, and the facilities created to cater their needs.“
Since a few years environmental sustainability has become the buzzword of public discussions and study groups. However, in terms of policy implementation little has been done. Looking at the EU context, Carlo Ruzza (2000) describes this as “ the discrepancy between public speaking and private deciding on public issues“. In 2000, environmental sustainability was declared a UN Millenium Goal, together with poverty alleviation. But how can effective action take place if there is no consensus about what exactly sustainability means? Should we thus wait for top-down definitions and regulations or rather take a pro-active bottom-up approach? Many organisations – especially in tourism – have started to rethink the way they operate. But it‘s also clear that only if world economy as a whole makes an effort towards sustainable practices, environmental sustainability – not least the often claimed measures against climate change - will have a chance.
Let‘s quickly look at the idea of sustainable tourism. The New Zealand tourism agency on its websie describes it as “the protection and enhancement of the natural environment and resources for future generations, whilst at the same time ensuring long-term economic viability for businesses, and providing socio-cultural benefits to the wider community. It involves all stakeholders, especially operators and visitors. The later making choices and taking actions to minimise the environmental impacts associated with their travels“. New Zealand, in fact, is a real outrider in reconciling tourism with the protection of the environment. But then again they don‘t really have another choice, with tourism generating nearly 20 % of the country‘s export earnings and being the largest industry on the islands.
Affecting not only New Zealand but all tourism destinations is the resource paradox. Miller argues that natural environments are the principle draws for tourists acting as compelling backdrops for the production of tourism experiences. At the same time, the very natural environments that tourists experience are simultaneously exploited and compromised to satisfy the visitor’s consumptive desires. Indeed, because consumption and production in the tourism context occur simultaneously (the experience IS the product) and often in a limited geographical area, environmental consequences of tourist activity are more immediately evident than, for instance, with an imported manufactured product. This explains the industry‘s eagerness to promote environmentally sustainable tourism developments.
So what is a sustainable tourism development? The Forum for the Future (a London based think tank) makes an effort to define what sustainable tourism development includes. Related to the environment they come up with those points, most of which – in my opinion - should be common sense anyway.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria are another effort to figure out what sustainable tourism involves, providing a list of minimum requirements that any tourism business should aspire to reach. The criteria were presented by the tourism industry as response to the UN Millenium Development Goals.
Aditionally, the Green Globe Programme was introduced as a worldwide benchmarking and certification system for the tourism industry. Industry leaders like Choice Hotels International, travel literature publishers, NGO and UN institutions alike take part in this programme. Run by an international organisation dedicated to furthering sustainable travel and tourism, the Green Globe Programme gives travellers an idea about what company or destination is really committed to sustainable practices.
So what makes environmental sustainability and tourism such a difficult couple? A lack of binding definitions, different worldviews and the long-term balance between appropriate tourism use and overuse continue to be a fundamental question confronting travel destinations and their stakeholders. At the same time there is no questioning about the fact that tourism development requires a significant course correction – especially in terms of environmental sustainability.
How to define...
“Long-term maintenance of ecosystem components and functions
for future generations”
“The temporary movement of people to destinations outside their
normal places of work and residence, the activities undertaken
during their stay in those destinations, and the facilities created to
cater to their needs”
(Mathieson and Wall, 1982)
• Effectively managing our natural resources so they
are available for the use of future generations.
• UN Millenium Goal
• Discrepancy between public speaking and private
• Top-down or bottom-up?
What operators can do:
• Energy, waste, and water efficient business practices
• Community involvement in decision making
• Identifying and managing the environmental effects associated with
• Identifying opportunities to market a business as sustainable
• Identifying key partnerships
• Making choices and taking actions to minimise
the environmental impacts associated with their travels
(New Zealand Tourism)
Resource paradox at intersection of tourism and environment
Natural environment draws tourists and is part of tourist experience
At same time nature is exploited to satisfy visitors‘ consumptive
Consumption and production exist simultaneously
Environmental consequences of tourist activity immediately evident
Environmentally Sustainable Tourism Developments...
...are zero carbon and ready for a ‘low-carbon economy’ where
people see carbon as a valuable currency that is in short supply.
...protect and enhance local biodiversity.
...ensure that materials are responsibly sourced – where possible
knowing their provenance from the bottom of the supply chain.
...protect water resources and water quality – abstracting less water
from fresh supplies than is replaced naturally, and do not impact on
the ability of local communities to meet their water needs.
...are zero waste – they do not send any waste to landfill.
(Forum for the Future, 2008)
Sustainable Tourism Criteria
Waste management plan
Wildlife in captivity
Interactions with wildlife
Different definitions and worldviews
Long-term balance between appropriate tourism use and overuse
remains fundamental issue
Tourism exploits and requires protection of environment at the same
time = resource paradox
Consumer demand - make the right choice
Lack of collective leadership towards sustainability
First promising initiatives are on the way!
“Tourism is like any other industry, in that it can truly make a
positive contribution to the environment and to communities but
it can also be a negative element with respect to them“
(Jarkko Saalinen, 2006)
Entrix Consulting (www.entrix.com/resources/glossary.aspx). [Accessed 15 February 09].
EC3 Global (www.ec3global.com). [Accessed 15 February 09].
Hunter, C. (1997) Sustainable Tourism as an Adaptive Paradigm. Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 24, No. 4, pp.
Mathieson, A. and Wall, G. (1982). Tourism. Economics, Physical and Social Impacts. Prentice Hall.
McCool, S., Morsey, R., Nickerson, N. (2001). What should tourism sustain? The disconnect with industry
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Miller, G. (2003). Consumerism in sustainable tourism: a survey of UK consumers. Journal of Sustainable
Tourism. Vol. 11, pp. 17–39.
Mowforth, M. and Munt, I. (1996) Tourism and Sustainability - New Tourism in the Third World. London:
Nelson New Zealand (www.nelsonnz.com/sustainable.tourism/). [Accessed 14 February 09].
Paradise Found (2008) Forum for the Future www.forumforthefuture.org.
Ruzza, C. (2000) Environmental Sustainability and Tourism in European Policy-Making. Innovation, Vol. 13, No.
Saalinen, J. (2006). Traditions of sustainability in tourism studies. Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 33, No. 4,
Sharpley, R. (2000) Tourism and Sustainable Development: Explorin the Theoretical Divide. Journal of
Sustainable Tourism, Vol. 8.
Sustainable Tourism Criteria (www.sustainabletourismcriteria.org) [Accessed 14 February 09].
Tourism Authority NZ (www.tourism.net.nz/community/environmental_sustainability). [Accessed 14 February 09].
Williams, P.W. and Ponsford, I.F. (2009) Futures. Doi:10.1016/j.futures.2008.11.019.
Worldbank (web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTOED/EXTENVIRONMENT) [Accessed 15 February 09].