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What is sustainable tourism?

Published 18 March 2024

The concept of sustainable tourism has recently gained significant traction as travellers, businesses, and communities increasingly acknowledge the far-reaching environmental, social, and cultural impacts of their journeys. Tourism serves as a vital conduit for exploration, enabling us to immerse ourselves in diverse cultures, landscapes, and experiences.

However, it’s essential to recognise that the tourism industry ranks among the fastest-growing sectors globally, contributing a substantial 8% to the world’s carbon emissions. This stark reality underscores the imperative for the tourism sector to embrace sustainability measures that mitigate its ecological footprint and preserve the delicate balance of our planet.

What is the definition of sustainable tourism?


By reducing carbon emissions, minimising waste, and respecting local customs and traditions, we can pave the way for a more sustainable travel experience. Moreover, sustainable tourism encompasses not only environmental considerations but also social and cultural aspects. From empowering local communities through economic opportunities to preserving indigenous heritage and wildlife conservation, sustainable tourism seeks to foster a harmonious relationship between travellers, destinations, and host communities.

The call for sustainable tourism is not merely a moral imperative but also an economic necessity. With consumers increasingly prioritising eco-conscious travel options, businesses within the tourism sector stand to gain by aligning with sustainability principles. By investing in sustainable infrastructure, promoting ethical tourism practices, and engaging in community-driven initiatives, businesses can enhance their reputation, attract environmentally conscious travellers, and ultimately drive long-term profitability.

Sustainable tourism, at its core, embodies a conscientious approach to travel that seeks to balance economic prosperity, environmental conservation, and socio-cultural integrity. It encompasses a range of practices and principles aimed at minimising the negative impacts of tourism while maximising its positive contributions to destinations and host communities.

You can find out more about the meaning of sustainable tourism in our glossary, with further insight on the ways in which you can make improvements, from minimising your carbon footprint as a business and adopting more sustainable practices.

Benefits and challenges of sustainable tourism


There are many benefits to sustainable tourism, encompassing environmental, social, economic, and cultural aspects. Some of the key benefits include:

  • Environmental conservation: Embracing responsible practices such as reducing carbon emissions, conserving water resources, and protecting wildlife, tourism contributes to the preservation of natural habitats, ecosystems, and biodiversity. By minimising pollution and habitat destruction, tourism plays a pivotal role in ensuring the long-term health of ecosystems and the safeguarding of natural wonders.
  • Economic growth and job creation: Tourism serves as a catalyst for economic growth and job creation within host communities by supporting local businesses, artisans, and service providers. Through tourism-related activities, communities benefit from increased income and employment opportunities, fostering economic resilience and prosperity.
  • Community empowerment: Involving residents in decision-making processes and tourism development initiatives, tourism promotes community engagement and empowerment. This inclusive approach ensures that communities have a voice in shaping their tourism landscape, leading to improved standards of living, infrastructure development, and social cohesion.
  • Cultural preservation and heritage promotion: Tourism encourages travellers to respect and celebrate the cultural heritage of host communities, fostering cross-cultural understanding and appreciation. By preserving and promoting cultural traditions, tourism contributes to the preservation of cultural identity and heritage for future generations.
  • Education and awareness: Tourism serves as a platform for environmental and cultural education, raising awareness among travellers about the importance of conservation and responsible travel behaviour. By promoting sustainable practices and ethical tourism principles, tourism cultivates a sense of stewardship and responsibility towards the environment and local communities.

So what are the downsides?


Despite its numerous benefits, tourism faces several challenges that can hinder its sustainability. One such challenge is the lack of awareness among travellers and businesses about the importance of sustainable practices. This often leads to unsustainable behaviours such as overconsumption of resources, disregard for local customs, and damage to natural habitats.

Moreover, tourism can have a detrimental impact on the environment, particularly through the development of infrastructure and the behaviour of tourists. The construction of hotels and resorts may lead to habitat destruction and the loss of natural landscapes. Additionally, as tourist numbers increase, so does traffic congestion, resulting in higher levels of air pollution and increased energy consumption. These environmental impacts underscore the need for greater awareness and implementation of sustainable practices within the tourism industry.

Why is it important to be a sustainable hotel?


Introducing sustainable practices into the hospitality industry, specifically within hotels, has become increasingly significant in today’s tourism landscape. A sustainable hotel actively prioritises corporate social responsibility, striving to minimise its environmental impact while maximising its positive contributions to the community. This commitment is particularly crucial in an industry known for its substantial consumption of natural and man-made resources.

Examples of eco-friendly initiatives adopted by sustainable hotels include the implementation of energy-efficient lighting, intelligent water management systems to reduce water waste, and the installation of solar panels to decrease carbon emissions. Other measures may include the use of eco-friendly cleaning products, encouraging guests to reuse linens and towels, and eliminating single-use plastics through the adoption of recyclable and biodegradable alternatives. 

So, why are sustainable hotels the future of the hospitality industry?


Beyond the evident environmental benefits, there are compelling reasons tied to business growth and development. By integrating sustainable practices into revenue management strategies, hotels can realise three significant advantages:

1. Enhanced reputation: Demonstrating a commitment to sustainability not only aligns with evolving consumer preferences but also enhances the hotel’s reputation as a responsible corporate citizen. Guests increasingly seek out environmentally conscious accommodations, making sustainability a key differentiator in a competitive market.

2. Cost savings: Sustainable initiatives often lead to cost savings in the long run. By reducing energy and water consumption, minimising waste, and implementing efficient practices, hotels can lower operational expenses and improve profitability over time.

3. Future-proofing: Embracing sustainability ensures resilience in the face of evolving regulatory landscapes and shifting consumer expectations. By proactively addressing environmental and social concerns, hotels can future-proof their operations, positioning themselves for long-term success in an increasingly sustainability-focused industry.

What are the first steps towards becoming a sustainable hotel?


  • Appoint a sustainability projects coordinator to plan, coordinate, implement and measure all your sustainable business activities.
  • Conduct a sustainability assessment to identify your current operations and areas for improvement. Consider areas such as energy consumption and water usage, carbon emissions and community engagement.
  • Develop a sustainability policy that outlines your commitment to a more sustainable tourism business. Clearly define your goals, objectives and targets and communicate them to your staff, stakeholders and customers.
  • Measure and report on your sustainability efforts. Consider digital software like our sustainability management platform to monitor and measure the sustainability in your business.

By embracing sustainability as a core business principle, hotels can create shared value for stakeholders, encourage innovation and growth, and contribute to a more sustainable and resilient tourism industry. For more insight, take a look at our blog post on The benefits of a sustainable business.

What are the goals of sustainable tourism?


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was agreed by world leaders at the United Nations in 2015, when they created 17 goals as a call to action for industries to help end poverty, fight inequality and mitigate climate change. With tourism recognised as a key sector to contribute towards the goals, it’s a significant industry within the 2030 Agenda.

The 17 goals include:

Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable tourism business examples


From wildlife conservation to data reporting and sustainability measurement, businesses are making changes to how they operate.

Cempedak Private Island, an adults-only ‘barefoot luxury’ resort in Indonesia, is one hotel that is using Weeva to track, monitor and report on the island’s water, waste and energy usage. Gathering and analysing data enabled them to find ways to make sustainable improvements, which in turn made the business more commercially viable. Read their impact story.

Sustainable Sri Lanka, a sustainability consulting group that assists tourism businesses to make improvements on their own sustainable operations, changed the way in which they report on their sustainability efforts. Using our platform to gather reports and insights quickly, sustainability managers were able to see live data and implement meaningful changes effectively. Read their impact story.

Small changes like this soon add up, especially with simple steps that can make your tourism business more sustainable.

Sustainable tourism is a holistic approach to travel that seeks to protect and preserve destinations for future generations. By embracing principles of environmental conservation and cultural preservation, travellers, communities and businesses alike can make changes to reduce their impact on the planet.

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Through education, awareness, and collaboration, sustainable tourism has the potential to create a more responsible and resilient tourism industry that benefits both people and the planet.

If you’re looking to embark on a more sustainable tourism journey, why not get in touch to find out more about how Weeva can support your sustainability efforts.

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