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Can tourism be sustainable? Part 1: What is sustainable tourism

Can tourism be sustainable? Part 1


Somehow I have completed my first year of my MSc and now have time to absorb everything I studied, write some blog posts and implement my knowledge where it is needed.


One of my assignments this semester was the question ‘Can tourism be sustainable?’ - this questions every thought I have had on sustainable tourism - of course it can, every business and destination should be doing it yet there is so much depth and discussion on what is sustainable tourism and do we need to go beyond this to a regenerative tourism approach? I’ve broken down my essay and will pull more thoughts into my next few blog posts. Starting with an attempt at defining sustainable tourism…



Tourism is an attractive industry used for economic growth for both private business and governments. Yet very few businesses monitor the other two pillars of sustainability - the environmental and social impacts.


Sustainable tourism is a process and concept that will continue to evolve. Sustainable tourism is derived from the general idea of sustainable development. Definitions of sustainable are plentiful; some suggest that there are over 200 meanings, with most of them being idealistic and unattainable. The World Tourism Organisation’s definition that can be used across tourism sectors and identifies “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” Although the meaning of sustainable actually doesn’t mean making things better but sustaining the current situation. This is why we are seeing a move towards a regenerative tourism approach.


Sustainable tourism is often attributed to a style of tourism rather than a strategy; segments such as adventure tourism and ecotourism are grouped as the sustainable tourism sector. Alternative tourism operators and destinations have had sustainable practices, such as supporting conservation and engagement with local communities, embedded in their products and marketing. These businesses have it in their DNA and values that tourism must be a force for good.


Yet it is imperative that all segments, including mass-tourism, play a role in a sustainable future. Mass tourism has constraints to being sustainable, many nations and businesses have adopted this approach for economic gain, this then accentuates the negative impacts tourism has on the environment and the local communities. These large businesses and mass tourism destinations will focus on the cost benefits of sustainable practices that will in turn bring positive impacts.


The impacts of tourism can be positive; with robust strategies from tourism businesses and destinations, the host communities, environment and the tourist can enjoy the benefits of tourism without removing any of the fun. We have seen the devastating effect of switching off tourism in destinations during the COVID-19 crisis, in destinations where tourism has become a monoculture change is required.

Sustainable tourism development is a conceptual idea, targets can be set and goals measured but with an understanding that these targets and issues will develop. The journey to sustainable tourism is endless; an increased understanding of the impacts of tourism and issues that arise from it will set new policies, goals and expectations from the consumers.


If you are a small tourism business and need guidance on starting your sustainable tourism journey, or need so help to hone in on what you want to achieve contact me on emily@justourism.co.uk


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