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What is Sustainable Tourism?

What is sustainable tourism?


You’ve probably heard ‘sustainable tourism’ mentioned countless times, alongside confusing industry jargon. This may have left you wondering ‘what is sustainability in tourism?’

Sustainable tourism is the conscious effort to minimise – or avoid – the negative impacts associated with the sector. It requires long-term thinking about how your operations impact the environment, local communities and indigenous cultures, all while running a resilient business.

Simply put, sustainable tourism aspires to have a net positive impact and do what it says, ‘be sustainable’ in every sense of the word.


What are the positive impacts of sustainable tourism?


There’s a long list of negative impacts related to the tourism industry, from its large carbon footprint and the commodification of cultures to over tourism and everything in-between.

Let’s reframe the conversation to the positive impacts of a tourism sector that’s managed responsibly.

Sustainable tourism is a win-win situation in the long run. It asks you to zoom out your perspective for a holistic overview of the good and bad in everything you do – or don’t do. It’s designed to fast-forward the transition to renewable resources and cultivates a circular economy, climate-action mindset, and progress towards zero waste.

From an economic point of view, it enables growth by facilitating skills development and nurturing an entrepreneurial spirit, particularly within marginalised and disenfranchised communities. Sustainable tourism practices preserve local history, heritage and culture in a respectful manner that doesn’t profit from misappropriation. Perhaps its greatest impact is not (only) in the here and now, but rather the shift in our philosophy of how we’re thinking about our future in relation to travel.


Different types of sustainable community-based tourism


Local communities and sustainable tourism go hand-in-hand. Many hotels make meaningful community impact by integrating local communities into their supply and value chain through ethical and inclusive labour practices. But they may overlook their indirect community impact when partnering with tour operators or suppliers that aren’t certified sustainable. Here’s an idea of how sustainable community-based tourism should look.

Ecotourism focuses on responsible travel that minimises negative environmental impact, supports local communities, protects culture and heritage, while championing conservation.

Community tourism promotes ethical tours and experiences run by locally-owned businesses who have agency to make decisions and manage their profits.

Rural tourism engages travellers with communities in a culturally-sensitive way through farm stays, home stays and cooking classes beyond the walk-through tour.

Ethno tourism explores the cultural, ethnic and religious heritage of indigenous communities through cultural immersion. It goes beyond commercialised tours that show off people or uphold stereotypes.

Soft tourism curates real experiences that don’t make special provisions for travellers. Soft tourism is aimed at minimal impact on the environment and communities.


Taking the first step towards sustainability


The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) created the globally-recognised Hotel Sustainability Basics as a first step for hotels that want to be more sustainable. Think of it as a roadmap towards responsible tourism practices that should be implemented as a minimum.

These free-to-download toolkits outline actions that focus on embracing sustainable practices, minimising environmental impact and the ethical treatment of local communities. It’s a stepping stone for hotels that want to lead by example in their commitment to being responsible tourism businesses, as they work towards a more comprehensive sustainability certification, if they choose to do so.


What is the GSTC and how can your hotel address their criteria?


What is the GSTC?

You’ve probably also heard of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). They’re the non-profit that created universal standards for best practice in sustainable tourism. And they’ve got a stamp of approval from the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

The GSTC wants the global industry to speak the same language when it comes to sustainability in tourism, no matter where in the world you are. Their standards are the official check-list against greenwashing.

The organisation also helps build trust and increase demand for ecotourism products and services.


How can your hotel address the GSTC industry criteria?

The GSTC doesn’t enforce global standards. Rather, it accredits organisations to certify sustainable businesses. The GSTC Industry Criteria and Performance Indicators is the gold standard for sustainable hotels.

It covers four main areas:

  • Sustainable management
  • Social responsibility
  • Cultural heritage protection
  • Environmental impact reduction.

Sound familiar? Weeva’s 360 framework follows a similar structure to help simplify your sustainability journey.

If you’re interested in being GSTC-certified, you’ll need to upload your sustainability data. Once you get the thumbs up, they’ll send an independent GSTC-accredited Certification Body for a site inspection, if needed, to make sure everything adds up in the daily running of your business. If you haven’t quite hit the mark, that’s where Weeva can help.

Being a GSTC-certified hotel is so much more than placing the logo on your website or displaying it at reception. It’s about the importance of sustainable tourism to drive economic growth, protect the planet, nurture cultural heritage – and about being an industry leader. It’s about having a net positive impact and inspiring others to do the same.

We’re proud to share that in January 2024, Weeva gained GSTC-Recognised Standard status (equivalent to the GSTC Industry Criteria). So, we really understand what’s needed to get the green light for your sustainable business.


How to manage your sustainability in tourism


It may seem a little daunting, especially if you’re not sure where to begin, but we’re here to help make sense of it all. Weeva is an online platform that helps tourism businesses on their journey towards becoming certified sustainable.

We simplify the process with the help of our Weeva 360˚ Framework. It uses the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce – as focus areas.

We measure your progress according to 18 parameters across these focus areas. These are the starting blocks to your sustainability journey.


We do this by collecting your business’ data (with your help). It allows you (and us) to understand, measure, track and report your efforts towards becoming an accredited sustainable business.

The numbers don’t lie, they show us where you’re performing well and where we need to spend more time and effort to reach your future targets.

This data helps us track your progress to refine your environmental policies.


Experience this in action


Weeva offers the ultimate sustainability measuring tool for businesses globally.

Book a demo today to see how Weeva can help you become sustainable.

Ready to learn even more about tourism, hospitality and sustainability? Let’s go!

Visit our Insights Hub
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