Table of Contents
2. Towards Sustainable Tourism Development
3. “Sustainable Tourism Development” an empty promise or measurable way into a better future?
4. References p
The world’s resources are limited and will sooner or later come to an end. This is an undeniable fact as the consequences of decades of reckless exploitation are painfully being brought to our eyes by countless reports on continuing ozone depletion, growing desertification, fatal meltdown of the polar caps and inexorable global warming. Yet the plain realization does not always go hand in hand with immediate action. While there is a new global consciousness towards ecology and the preservation of nature there is still a long way to go in order to avert the earth’s destruction. The tourism sector - being described by the UNWTO (2012, p. 2) as one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries – plays a crucial role in this context. The enormous growth not only in the transportation sector holds a major responsibility for increasing CO2 emissions worldwide. But it is not only the environmental destruction that the tourism industry needs to fear and assume responsibility for. Negative impacts of Globalization are being excellerated as the tourism sector continues to grow. The rich become richer on the expense of the poor, local communities are being exploited as tourist attractions, and traditions and social structures get lost due to increasing intercultural contacts. If the tourism industry does not take immediate action it will destroy its most important resources: beautiful nature, traditional culture and the hospitality of local people.
But is it really this easy? Are all globalization effects negative? Do the poor always have to be the losers in this process? Is it exploitation, when local communities show their traditions to foreigners? Or is it a welcome opportunity to generate new income and improve the well-being of the people? Who decides what is good for the world and on what basis? For many tourism businesses the the term “sustainable development” has become a keyword. Can this concept show a way out of the dilemma? Or is it just an empty shell used to improve one’s reputation and boost sales? These are some of the questions that will be addressed in this paper in order to evaluate the future of the concept of “sustainable development” for the tourism industry.
2. Towards Sustainable Tourism Development
The growing awareness of the earth’s fragility has led to a challenging of the long time accepted equation “development = economic growth”. A search for alternatives began and gave rise to the concept of “sustainable development”. One of the first reports to call for sustainable development as a means of breaking out of the vicious circle connecting economic growth and resource destruction was the so-called Brundtland Report “Our Common Future” by the World Commission on Environmental Development (WCED) in 1987. It defines sustainable development as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987, p. 41). According to the UNWTO & UNEP (2005: p. 9) this simple but meaningful definition is still the most widely used and has evolved into an elaborate concept especially after the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. From merely considering impacts on nature in the 1980s it now focuses on three distinctive pillars: environmental sustainability, socio-cultural sustainability and economic sustainability.
The tourism industry has quite readily embraced the wider understanding of sustainable development as it needs to ensure its own long-term survival. According to UNWTO figures (2012, p. 2-3) in 2012 international tourism arrivals for the first time reached the one billion mark. This denotes a quadruplication in less than thirty years. Emerging economy destinations are growing twice as fast as advanced economies and are expected to have a market share of 57% by 2030. While on a global scale tourism is the number four export category, in many developing countries it ranges on first place, providing important opportunities for development but at the same time implicating a major challenge, that could easily turn into a threat if not managed well. In 1980 R.W. Butler developed his “destination lifecycle model”, arguing that unrestricted tourism development in any specific region will eventually lead to self-destruction of the destination as impact exceeds carrying capacities (Butler in Weaver & Lawton, 2010, p. 296-297). This would not only mean the end for tourism in that region but considering the above figures in many cases also the end for the local economy, which in turn would have negative impacts on the social, cultural and environmental situation. For the tourism industry - selling social, natural and cultural environment as its product - the protection of these assets through sustainable development then should have a profound significance.
It is important to note that sustainable tourism is not a type of tourism (as i.e. ecotourism) but rather an overall concept that addresses all different types and sectors of tourism anywhere in the world. Its goal as described by UNWTO & UNEP (2005, p.2 ) is to maximize positive environmental, economic and socio-cultural impacts and to minimize negative ones. In doing so, they say, it has great potential to benefit local communities, contribute to the alleviation of poverty, and raise awareness and support for environmental conservation. The World Tourism Organization has come up with a definition specifying the three above mentioned pillars of sustainable development for the tourism sector. It states that
“Sustainable tourism should:
1. Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural resources and biodiversity.
2. Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.
3. Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contribution to poverty alleviation.“ (UNWTO & UNEP, 2005, p. 11)
The widespread acknowledgement of the importance of sustainable development for the tourism industry can be seen in the great number of publications, many of them published in the newly founded “Journal of Sustainability” and the “Journal of Ecotourism”. Most tourism sectors have established institutional mechanisms for sustainability. Some of these are the “Tour Operators Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development” (TOI), the “International Tourism Partnership” for the accommodation sector and the “Cruise Industry Charitable Foundation”. Furthermore an increasing number of international organizations promote sustainable tourism i.e. the “Center for Responsible Travel”, “The International Ecotourism Society” or “Sustainable Travel International”. Numerous international policy statement serve as guidelines concerning sustainability matters, as for example: