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What is Sustainable Tourism & Why is it Important?

Buzzwords like ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable tourism’ are becoming more and more common. But they can be opaque to the average person. If you need clarity, you’re not alone. Thankfully, the concept of sustainability is straight to the point. In short, it all centers around sustaining resources or avoiding the depletion of resources — whether environmental, economic, or cultural.

That said, sustainability can be practiced across many sectors. There is sustainable fashion — where clothing is made in a way that is kind to the environment and its workers. There is sustainable development — where communities in need are given infrastructure in a way that doesn’t erode their natural resources. And then there is sustainable tourism.

Definition of Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable tourism is a way of traveling and exploring a destination while respecting its culture, environment, and people. Common sense says that this is simply the definition of travel — and that the term ‘sustainable’ is unneccessary. Unfortunately, most people do not travel this way.

Many people do travel. Now, more than ever, human beings are exploring the world around them. However, the average traveler participates in what is called mass tourism. This includes cruises, hotel tour packages, and giant beach parties.

Unlike sustainable tourism, which focuses on interacting authentically with local culture, mass tourism is a multi-trillion dollar industry that is primarily focused on generating income. Therefore, it does not prioritize local traditions, natural resources, and residents. In fact, most of the money generated from mass tourism goes to large transnational companies instead of remaining in the country you visit.

Why Sustainable Tourism?

We’ve answered the question ‘What is sustainable tourism?’ but now we want to answer why it is the better option. To do that, we’ve asked some persons to tell us why they choose to travel in this way, and why they think it’s important for everyone to participate in sustainable tourism activities.

Why is Sustainable Tourism important to you?

Charlie Merchant: Sustainable tourism is important to me because travel shouldn’t be harmful. We should travel in a way that can benefit the people and communities we’re in, and that mitigates negative impacts of travel on the environment. Sustainable travel is about showing we care – and I think that’s important.

Ellie Cleary: We have a simple choice to make. With the number of people travelling expected to increase to 1.8 billion by the year 2030, we can either destroy travel and the world through it, or we can make our travel sustainable – so that we can continue to travel. Travel and Tourism has the potential to make the world a better place – by bringing economic benefits to poorer destinations, through cultural exchange & understanding, and through self growth. It is up to us to choose to deliver on that potential.

How will the world benefit if sustainable tourism becomes mainstream?

Martina Capel: There will be more exchange between cultures and less racism. People that talk to each other, realise that we are all the same. We want a decent life and a future for our children.

Lourdes and Nicky: In one simple way: we can preserve the world where we live and the cultures that are around us.

Alexandra Elizalde Picó: Un viajero que prefiere hacer turismo sostenible, es un viajero consciente, que respeta y es solidario con el medio ambiente, con el patrimonio de nuestras comunidades y que cree en la igualdad social. Por lo tanto, si el turismo sostenible se vuelve “mainstream” el mundo se beneficiaría porque estamos evolucionando como sociedad a una más sensible y consciente y que busca vivir en armonía respetando nuestra gente y a la naturaleza. [A traveler who prefers sustainable tourism is a conscious traveler, who respects and is in solidarity with the environment, with the heritage of our communities, and who believes in social equality. Therefore, if sustainable tourism becomes “mainstream” the world would benefit because we are evolving as a society towards one that is more sensitive and conscious, and that seeks to live in harmony, respecting our people and nature.]

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