Reflecting on the tourism sector for a more sustainable future

Chapada dos Veadeiros (Goiás, Brazil) 2020, by Helena Leonel Ferreira

In recent years, the tourism sector has grown exponentially, bringing both great development opportunities and significant threats to the environment and local communities. In this sense, tourism has a dual and contrasting relationship with the territory. While the presence of tourism can seriously damage destinations, the sector is also highly dependent on them. For this reason, in recent years there has been a growing awareness of the need to adopt a more sustainable tourism model able to meet the needs of the tourism system and of the territory that supports it.

What does sustainable tourism mean?

The definition of sustainable tourism derives directly from that of sustainable development. According to the UNWTO, the World Tourism Organisation, sustainable tourism is “tourism that takes full account of current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, without neglecting the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”. This definition refers to sustainable practices both by the tourism system and in the system itself. All impacts of tourism, both positive and negative, are thus recognised, with the aim of minimising negative impacts and maximising positive ones. Negative impacts include, for example, damage to the natural environment and overcrowding, so-called overtourism. Positive impacts, on the other hand, include job creation, preservation and interpretation of cultural heritage, protection of wildlife, landscape restoration and more. Furthermore, it is important to emphasise that this definition refers to the environmental dimension in a holistic sense, i.e. not only in reference to nature but also to social, cultural and recreational aspects.

“Sustainable tourism management also means going beyond the canonical vision of the tourism sector to speak instead of a tourism (eco)system: the destination is a living organism, rooted in the territory, in continuous evolution, made up of multiple interconnected parts and functions, and endowed with its own uniqueness/identity” (Diego Gallo, Tourism and Local Development)

Chapada dos Veadeiros (Goiás, Brazil) 2020, by Helena Leonel Ferreira

Why do we need a more sustainable tourism?

Tourism contributes significantly to the climate crisis: an estimated 8% of global carbon emissions come from this sector. Furthermore, tourism has huge impacts on the degradation of natural areas, energy consumption, waste production and much more. However, tourism not only has negative effects on nature, but also on the social, cultural and recreational aspects of destinations. In recent years, globalisation has deprived tourism of its human side, distorting the identity of many cities and territories and weakening the relationship between local communities and places. In this context, we need to reflect on the relationship between tourism and territory: is it the territory that serves tourism or tourism that serves the territory? When the territory and its values are reduced to a tool to enrich an economy, they lose their identity and authenticity. However, if we reverse course by creating a tourism capable of serving and integrating with the territory, this can bring great benefits, both for the environment and for communities. Sustainable tourism seeks precisely to favour this latter approach, promoting new formulas of tourism that respect the territory and have a long-term vision. 

“We are convinced that tourism is an extraordinary vehicle for positive change: for the territory which, guided by wise hands, succeeds in fully expressing its tourism vocation and reaping multiple benefits, and for the traveller who experiences transformative experiences there” (Alessia Fiorentino, Tourism and Local Development)

How can we promote sustainable tourism?

At Etifor we firmly believe that sustainable tourism is the best model for the future of this sector. This is why we have joined the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), the international organisation for the promotion of sustainable tourism. The GSTC offers destinations and accommodation facilities the opportunity to make a commitment to the territory through specific certifications. Born from the experience of bodies operating in the sector, such as the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), GSTC certifications are the best way to guarantee the sustainability and quality of a destination’s tourism offer. Etifor’s team can accompany destinations and tourism facilities in obtaining these certifications, which are recognised worldwide. Finally, we co-create and promote strategies for the development of innovative tourism offers, which can strengthen management systems with a view to sustainability. 

“The radical changes our society is facing require us to rethink the way we do tourism. International standards such as the Global Sustainable Tourism Council can guide us in this process, putting the needs of local communities and the environment in which they live at the centre” (Federica Bosco, Tourism and Local Development)

Find out more about our services for tourism and local development here.