Sustainable Tourism: The past, present, and future
As told by WTTC’s Tourism For Tomorrow Awards
With one eye on the upcoming International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development in 2017, WTTC has taken a look through the lens of our Tourism for Tomorrow Awards to see how sustainable tourism has changed over the years.
Urban destinations are increasingly focusing on sustainability
With the growth in urban tourism around the world, and the very direct interactions between visitors and residents, it is not surprising that urban destinations are increasingly focusing on sustainability. Encouraging visitors to walk or use public transport, renovating unused industrial buildings for tourism purposes, creating a sense of place through design, culture and cuisine, and engaging residents in tourism planning and promotion are all increasingly on the agenda for urban destinations.
Addressing climate change is an increasing priority
Addressing carbon emissions is now a critical part of any credible sustainable tourism initiative, whatever its overall focus. Reducing carbon emissions be it through retrofitting buildings, sustainable transportation, offsetting initiatives, or using renewable energy is now part and parcel of any sustainable approach.
The rise of social enterprises in tourism
Tourism and social entrepreneurism are increasingly going hand in hand. This is partly driven by the opportunities offered by mobile technology and social media in terms of connecting people and making mainstream markets more accessible, as well as being a result of NGOs and charities needing to find new and sustainable income streams. We have seen an evolution from government and NGO driven community-based tourism projects, and community initiatives within privately owned companies to social enterprises.
It’s all about people
Sustainable tourism has always been about balancing the needs of people, the environment, and businesses. Tourism which engages and directly benefits those who live around and work in destinations, hotels, and other businesses is a key element of a sustainable approach, however it is increasingly apparent that encouraging people to work in tourism and training them appropriately is vital for sustainable tourism development as well.
Biodiversity is still a top priority
Although many things have evolved over the years, there has been one constant and that is the continuing commitment from sustainable tourism initiatives to conserve and protect biodiversity.
The bar is increasingly high
Measuring, monitoring, and reporting impact has become of the most important ways for companies that are committed to sustainability targets to win over sceptical stakeholders and enhance their global reputation. Just doing the basics or having a general sustainability goal is simply not enough anymore; data driven evidence with targets and monitoring is now embedded into the sustainability activities of those at the forefront of sustainable tourism.
Sustainability is more than just the environment
Sustainable tourism has its roots in environmental conservation and community engagement, but it is increasingly incorporating a broader spectrum of initiatives. Sustainable tourism has gradually evolved from being a niche segment of the overall product to companies realising that for all tourism to succeed it needs to be sustainable. Some of the emergent trends we are seeing include: a focus on accessibility for both employees and tourists; initiatives to engage consumers; and use of innovative technology.
As said by Fabien Cousteau at the WTTC Global Summit in 2016, we “look forward to the day when there is no sustainable tourism. Just tourism.” But in order to really redefine tourism in this way, in the future we’re going to need:
1. More innovative initiatives being driven at scale.
2. Projects that cross the different tourism industries, and using the expertise of those outside of Travel & Tourism to deal with issues that companies themselves cannot solve alone (e.g. overcrowding).
3. Sustainability that is core to the business mode of an organisation, not part of a philanthropic effort.
4. Media engagement in and coverage of sustainable tourism issues and initiatives, to press for improvements, share success stories and promote best practice.