Welcome everyone to Episode 24 in this series and today we look at the term Sustainable Tourism. Tourism is a very large industry globally and many aspects of tourism have been unsustainable for a long time. We will look at the various categories of tourism that include consideration of at least some of the principles of sustainability. I am pleased to have Catherine with me to help with this episode.
Hello everybody, like all large industries which create jobs and generate income, tourism brings its share of problems with it. The term for large-scale, conventional, organised tourism is mass tourism. Much of this can be environmentally damaging through over development such as high rise hotels along beautiful coastlines or it can cause social disruption through insensitivity to local customs and traditions. These negative impacts have resulted in some people seeking out tourism destinations and packages that are more sensitive and sustainable in practice. Allied to this many local tourism regions are trying to develop the industry in a manner that is more strategically sustainable through better planning, education and promotion. We will explain some of the different types of approaches to sustainable tourism.
There are many names used to describe slightly different approaches to alternative tourism. Many of these terms relate to models of tourism development that involve small-scale, slow growth and local control.
Sustainable tourism is concerned with the balancing of the long term needs of the tourists, the industry and the host communities. This reflects an ethos or attitude that underpins the tourism. Generally, mass tourism is packaged to be delivered to large numbers at the lowest price. The goal of much of Alternative tourism is for individual experiences which meet the needs of all stakeholders in the process. Many tourists want to have what they call an authentic experience – meaning one that is unique to the individual – and this is very different to the experiences available through mass tourism packages.
Green or Eco Tourism – is chiefly concerned with addressing negative ecological or environmental impacts of tourism. These impacts can take the form of large scale building development or damage to an area through too many tourists accessing a place of interest. The focus is on protecting the natural environment to which the tourist is attracted and is the main reason for the travel. The tourist providers are concerned with protecting their long-term income and everyone is seeking to do the least amount of damage to the environment.
Another associated term used is nature-based tourism which focuses on outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, bird watching etc. This tourism sector has been around for decades and was often the impetus for the establishment of the national parks in many countries. However, this type of tourism also includes fishing and hunting which some eco-tourists would disagree with.
Tourism can also have negative impact on the local culture or social inclusion. Often the development is by non-local or even international businesses which control the investments and take the profits. The locals may only be hired to clean the hotels in minimum wage jobs. The majority of tourists arrive and do not engage with the community in any way and the entertainment is brought in from elsewhere. These concerns have given rise to what is called Cultural & Heritage Tourism which refers to type of engagement which the tourists have with the local communities. Cultural and Heritage tourism also focuses on museums, galleries and theatres which may limit personal interactions with locals but is an educational engagement.
The issues and concerns around tourism development are global problems because it is such a big industry and all indications are that it will continue to grow. This has given rise to the term Responsible Tourism which focuses on the attitude of the traveller to the social, cultural and physical environment they are visiting. The responsible tourist carefully considers the mode of transport, the choice of destination and the activities involved when planning a trip. When the single goal of the individual tourist is to have their tourism experience regardless of the impact on others or the environment then there will always be associated problems.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation has published a booklet called ‘Tips for the Responsible Tourist’ which cover such principles as honouring your hosts, supporting the local economy, protecting the environment and being a respectful traveller. The term Ethical Tourism is about tourism involving countries or regions where there are specific ethical issues such as human rights, social injustice, animal welfare or environmental concerns.
A real problem undermining the sustainability of all tourism is the carbon emissions associated with this travel. This is what would be called ‘the elephant in the room’ – that is the big issue that isn’t really being addressed. For an island country, like Ireland, which has a very large tourism industry, it is hugely reliant on air travel for overseas visitors. This represents a major obstacle to any ‘sustainable tourism’ strategy. Once people arrive in Ireland they can drive an electric car, choose an environmentally aware hotel, eat local food etc but the carbon footprint of the return flights greatly outweigh any low-carbon choices they make throughout their visit. This is a global issue for tourism as almost three quarters of all tourism emissions come from the associated travel and tourism numbers are expected to grow over the coming years. There are a lot of international organisations now addressing the various concerns within the tourism industry such as the UN World Tourism Organisation, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and The International Eco-tourism Society and many others. The year 2017 has been designated as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
That concludes this episode of the series which I hope you found enjoyable and useful. My thanks to Catherine for the help with this episode and to you for listening. We look forward to you joining us again on future episodes in the series.