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Sustainable Tourism: How it started and the challenges it faces


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Tourism is one of the world’s largest sectors with it producing an estimated 10% of the global economy and it is providing jobs to an estimated 10% of the global employed population. The industry has boomed in the last 70 years. In 1950 there were 25 million international travelers globally, which then expanded to 527 million in 1995 and to 1.4 billion in 2019. Despite covid-19 setting the tourism industry back, the number of international tourists is expected to reach 1.8 billion by 2030. That is 4 billion more people in 11 years. But the downside to this explosion of popularity is that the industry can have damaging effects on natural resources, consumption patterns, pollution, and social systems.


The main form of transport for tourists globally is by air. Out of all modes of transport, airplanes are some of the highest polluters. The pollution produced helps spur on climate change which will have wider and more damaging effects than tourism. It is estimated that 3 species of animal or plant will disappear each hour, or 150 a day. 25% of marine mammals will be pushed to extinction, while 75% of coral reefs are at risk and 90% are expected to die by 2050. By 2050, it is also expected that 30% of all species will be extinct and half of the Amazon rainforest will be lost. Currently, we are already seeing 70% of the natural world being destroyed by human beings, with 20% of mangroves already gone.


As ecotourism plays a big role in tourism popularity, the desire to protect the natural landscape is critical. This is where sustainable tourism comes in. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities”. Sustainable tourism does cover a wide range of aspects and so the term can be used loosely or inconsistently. In Rio+20, sustainable tourism was defined as a significant contributor to the three dimensions of sustainable development. The member states also recognized the need to support sustainable tourism that promote environmental awareness, conservation and protect the environment, respect flora, fauna, and biodiversity.


The movement for sustainable tourism started to grow in the 1960s and the 1970s amounting to the environmental movement that was occurring at the time. In 1973, the European Travel Commission created a multilateral effort to establish environmentally sound tourism and development. The 1996 South African national tourism policy had used ‘responsible tourism’ and refenced a main factor as the well-being of the local communities. In 2014, the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism focused on the role of business in promoting responsible tourism. A study in 2017, found that areas that had been managed tourism correctly had benefited the local communities.


While sustainable tourism is occurring across the world, there are some challenges that the industry is facing. One of the challenges is displacement and resettlement. In the goal to create ecotourism or areas accessible to tourists, some people have been displaced from their homes. For example, the Maasai Tribes in Tanzania had been displaced from their homes after conservationists had moved into the area to make it more accessible to tourists and to preserve the natural beauty. Although the basis from the conservationists had been wrong because the Maasai activities had not damaged the area, the community still had been displaced. Therefore, knowledge of the area and the local people are essential to achieving sustainable tourism and to ensure that such activities do not happen again.


Ecotourism can also be damaging to the environment. People’s desire to see the natural world outside of the cities has pushed people to pursue ecotourism. This can be damaging if done incorrectly, because the tourists could be damaging natural habitats and polluting the areas. Additionally, access to the areas is also of concern. Depending on the mode of transport, emissions are produced and some of the natural environment itself is damaged.


Ecotourism and displacement are only two of many challenges that face sustainable tourism. The best way to find sustainable tourism would be through research. Find tours that are certified and see if anyone you know would recommend any sustainable tours. To help look after our environment, support local communities while also going on a holiday, sustainable tourism is the way!


/Jacinta Baker/ ACICIS 2021-2022 Participant /



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