Sustainable tourism is a rising trend in tourism, defined as tourism which makes as low an impact on the environment and local culture as possible, while helping to generate future employment for local people, providing the three main pillars for sustainable tourism.
Mass Tourism vs. Sustainable Tourism.
However it is no surprise that mass tourism is currently operating in an unsustainable manner due to the fact (as the name implies) that it is geared to the masses. Meaning that local communities are faced with a number of tourists that is far above their capacity to cope and as a result cannot preserve their cultures, traditions or the environment. This all leads to the degradation of the natural environment and the erosion of traditions and culture of the local people.
As a result of which, local communities are disenfranchised from the economic benefits from the influx of tourism to their local community. Over 80% of tourist group fees go to airlines, hotels, tour operators and not the local community and most international hotel chains prefer to employ foreigners in managerial positions or to import supplies from abroad reducing the amount of income generated by tourism reaching the local community.
On the other hand, sustainable tourism addresses these issues by being based on the pillars of 1) economic prosperity and continuity, 2) social well-being and equity, and 3) environmental protection and resource conservation. However, sustainable tourism as of yet is not geared to the masses; it is being marketed as a niche product to wealthier consumers deliberately so due to economies of scale and to not overburden the local environment and community.
The benefits of sustainable tourism - when implemented properly - are multifaceted, as it provides a more enriching experience for the responsible tourist, while also preserving the environment and local community. However, some criticize the sustainable tourism movement as being nothing more than greenwashing the destinations to make them appeal to tourists looking for sustainable trips, while all that is sought after would be economic gain. A good example of such a case would be Costa Rica, which is one of the first sustainable tourism destinations globally with strong sustainable tourism legislation and policies which however in practice are not effectively applied due to lack of resources, economic gain being prioritized and in some cases, corruption,
Another question on the topic of sustainable tourism is as the niche market that it is today could it provide a solution and replace mass tourism? The answer is clearly no. The niche market approach does not provide sustainable tourism options for the masses but with approximately 1 billion tourists in 2012 and signs that the number will only double by 2020 there is a clear need to take sustainable tourism to the mainstream to truly make the desired change.
Sustainable Mass Tourism
How to reach the point of Sustainable Mass Tourism is yet to be clear. There are three proposed manners of how we can eventually reach this point: Organic growth; spontaneous market-led growth, Incremental growth; regulation driven growth where carrying capacities are gradually increased to accommodate higher numbers, and Induced growth; a hybrid approach where mega resorts are built with sustainability already embedded from the design phase and not as an afterthought.
Additionally, there are a few challenges standing in the face of the successful integration of sustainability into mass tourism and implementation of Sustainable Mass Tourism policies, which include the following
- Prioritizing of short term economic return over long term social and environmental benefits.
- Lack of coordination between government bodies in implementing sustainable tourism policies
- Lack of stakeholder support, involvement or awareness about Sustainable Tourism.
- Inefficient use of resources, where they are dedicated to marketing the destination rather than building sustainable practice.
- Lack of integration of sustainable tourism policies into the wider tourism sector; it is not linked with economic growth or other supporting industries.
- "Eco Certication Program". Ecotourism Australia, 2012.
- Organic, incremental and induced paths to sustainable mass tourism convergence, David B. Weaver, 2012
- UNWTO Press Release
- Barriers to implementing Sustainable Tourism Policy in Mass Tourism Destinations, Rachel Dodds & Michael Butler, 2009