The Tourism Industry is one the biggest and fastest-growing industries in the world and consequently makes a huge contribution to the host country’s economy. It not only helps generate employment opportunities but is also one of the biggest sources of foreign exchange for any economy and is usually one of the biggest contributors to the GDP growth of the concerned host nation.
But it is not just about reaping the benefits of a particular industry; if we look closely, a flip of the coin may reveal a darker side of the same. One has to pay attention to the repercussions and the adverse effects an industry may have, which tend to get overshadowed in all its glory. The same goes for Tourism Industry. Amidst the shine of the forex reserve, we tend to turn a blind eye towards the impact large-scale tourism can have on our environment and society.
If you work in the tourism industry or are simply a tourist, you must familiarise yourself with the sustainable tourism practices that are expected to be followed. In this article, we will try to highlight the same while focusing on adopting sustainable tourism practices and understanding why it is so important.
Before we delve into discussing the tourism practices that can be termed sustainable, let us first understand what sustainable tourism even means. The World Tourism Organization 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”.
In simpler words, it is about adopting a holistic and all-rounded approach in the tourism industry across the globe to minimise the adverse effects it can have on the environment and society and maximise its positive attributes. Some of the practices that can be termed sustainable tourism practices are measures relating to waste reduction, reusing and recycling resources, using energy-efficient lighting systems, water conservation, etc.
The objective of this concept is that it intends to reduce the adverse impact of tourism on the environment and the overall society. It is mainly focused on long-term sustainability so that the needs of the future generation do not get compromised.
Over the years, environmental enthusiasts have introduced various terms to create awareness about the significance of adopting sustainable practices, even while enjoying travel. Various concepts and terms have been coined to create a niche within the broad tourism industry. ‘Sustainable Tourism’ is thus a broad concept that encompasses various other narrower concepts within its ambit, some of which are as follows:
During the 1980s, a term that was popularised was ‘EcoTourism’, which may genuinely be confused with Sustainable Tourism; however, one must understand that sustainable tourism is a broader and wider term geared towards long-term sustainability in the tourism industry and focused on economic, social and environmental aspects. In contrast, EcoTourism is a term with a narrow and specific focus on nature-based experiences and environmental conservation.
Ethno Tourism, also commonly known as Rural Tourism, is particularly focused on rural areas and lifestyles, where the interest of the travellers lies in discovering ethnic communities and their cultures and practices, and it is quite popular in Asian countries like India, Japan, China, etc. While it does generate a lot of income sources for rural communities, an influx of travellers also tends to disturb their rural lives and deplete their already scarce resources. Hence, there is a need to bring ethno-tourism under the ambit of sustainable tourism as well.
Community Tourism is also a type of sustainable tourism that is undertaken to enjoy a one-of-a-kind experience of living with ethnic communities and witnessing their food, culture, and customs up close. It is different from the above two categories of sustainable tourism in the sense that it intends to benefit and help the communities rather than focusing entirely on the environmental aspect of tourism.
Introduced in the 1980s, green tourism is another term that comes under the ambit of sustainable tourism. This also started with an aim to generate economic benefits and minimise the adverse effects on the environment by adopting practices such as using environmental-friendly products, promoting reusing supplies, etc.; however, the concept did not succeed in achieving its objective as the hotel industry started misusing this and indulged in what is known as “greenwashing” their business, which means they simply claimed and advertised to be promoting “green tourism” but in reality did not adopt any green tourism practices.
In light of environmental jurisprudence gaining importance by the minute, many more terms and concepts have been brought under the scope of sustainable tourism, which are not to be confused or used interchangeably with sustainable tourism. These are much narrower in concept and focus on specific aspects of sustainable tourism, whereas the latter is an umbrella term covering economic, social and environmental aspects of tourism and is, thus, quite multi-dimensional.
Now that we have discussed what sustainable tourism is let us also briefly take a look at what is the need for adopting sustainable tourism practices after all. Tourism is a booming industry worldwide and has the potential to significantly impact the host countries; however, if left unchecked, it can also have various negative impacts. Thus, it becomes quite essential to address these challenges and sustainable tourism practices have emerged as a guiding principle to cater for these concerns. Some of the compelling reasons that stress the need to adopt sustainable tourism practices are:
Tourists and travellers are more interested in exploring areas that are closer to nature, which often turn out to be ecologically sensitive areas. Furthermore, large crowds of tourists tend to contribute to gas emissions, littering of waste, and depletion of resources, amongst many other things. Thus, it becomes imperative to minimise the impact of tourism on these fragile ecosystems by adopting practices and techniques to reduce the carbon footprint of the tourism industry in order to preserve the natural beauty of our ecosystems and combat environmental pollution at the same time.
As discussed earlier, tourism is one of the major contributors to the economy of the host country and contributes significantly to job creation, thus in income generation. By adopting sustainable tourism practices, we can ensure the long-term sustainability of our natural and cultural resources, which can further ensure long-term economic viability. It also helps in distributing these economic benefits equitably amongst the local communities and, thereby, helping in reducing poverty.
Though economic tourism can prove to be a boon for any economy, but there are hidden adverse effects of the same as well. There is an unequal distribution of these benefits, which the least developed countries aren’t even able to reap effectively. Hence, there is a need for the implementation of sustainable tourism practices to improve the livelihoods of the local and ethnic communities of the developing and least developed nations.
Tourism effectively contributes to cultural exchange and infusion, thus helping in promoting different cultures; however, unsustainable tourism can threaten the integrity of these cultures due to a lack of understanding of the significance of the heritage and culture of the host country or other stereotypes and this inadequate cultural integration can have adverse social, political and economic impacts.
The United Nations (UN) and the World Tourism Organisation have time and again stressed the need for sustainable practices to be adopted in and by the tourism industry. UN declared 2017 as the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.” In its Sustainable Development Goals Report, the UN has set targets to formulate and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism by 2030, which will contribute to creating more jobs and endorse local culture and products.
This concept of sustainable tourism practices, when discussed from the Indian perspective, becomes even more important because of the high contribution of tourism towards the growth of our GDP by enhancing our forex reserves and employment opportunities. Apart from this, there are various other benefits of embracing sustainable tourism practices, such as:
The primary focus of sustainable tourism practices is on the preservation and conservation of the natural environment and our ecosystems. This includes preservation of natural resources, waste reduction, reduction in emission of greenhouse gases, preventing the depletion of existing resources, promoting the use of renewable energy & resources, reusing and recycling resources, etc.
As discussed earlier, unregulated tourism can have adverse effects on the cultural heritage of the host country; therefore, by promoting sustainable tourism practices, we can endeavour to develop cross-cultural understanding and thereby create more opportunities for the exchange of cultures, which will further help boost the economy.
The economic component of sustainable tourism practices is concerned with the financial contribution of the tourism industry towards the nation’s economy, and by promoting such ethical practices, the tourism industry can actually prove to be a boon for helping economically smaller countries to thrive. These measures can prove to be helpful for the promotion of local arts and crafts industries as well.
Apart from these environmental, social and cultural benefits, being certified and labelled as a sustainable tourism business helps you gain a competitive advantage in the market as it sends out a message to the socially and environmentally conscious customers that you understand these values and issues and are contributing your share to mitigate the negative and adverse effects and at the same time, consciously taking efforts to maximise the impacts of sustainable tourism practices.
A very close example of a country sincerely realising the significance of sustainable tourism practices is our neighbour Bhutan, which charges a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF). This SDF was recently increased from USD$65 to USD$200 per person per night, which is then used to fund development projects such as free education, healthcare, afforestation, labour welfare, etc., in Bhutan. Our own nation has developed community-based tourism projects such as the Village Tourism project in Kerala and has also implemented a Code of Conduct for safe and Honorable Tourism.
So, with nations across the globe realising the significance of adopting sustainable tourism practices and thereby implementing and enforcing policies to achieve that, it becomes even more necessary for us, especially the ones involved in the tourism industry or simply even those who like to travel, to understand what all constitutes as sustainable tourism practices that can be adopted to further this goal. Some of these are as follows:
When it comes to planning your travel, one of the most exciting decisions is regarding your accommodations or lodging that you will be staying in. Sustainable Tourism Practices require you to choose and prioritise accommodations that are eco-friendly and that embrace practices such as using green materials, indulging in water conservation and waste reduction and promoting recycling of resources. All this allows you to reduce your carbon footprint while enjoying your travel.
If you are in the tourism industry, or a hotel owner or even a traveller, you must realise the significance of utilising natural resources judiciously and efficiently. Make an effort and take measures to conserve non-renewable resources, such as water, electricity, and fuel.
Businesses, or the hotel industry in particular, can use renewable energy such as solar or wind power to generate electricity, use energy-efficient electrical appliances, use fewer vehicles with combustion engines, monitor their energy consumption regularly, etc., to adopt sustainable tourism practices. These small efforts can go a long way in making sustainable growth of the industry.
Have you seen those videos of long lines of vehicles causing heavy traffic jams doing rounds during vacation time? Imagine the amount of pollution they cause to our favourite vacation destinations where we love to run off to escape the polluted life of metro cities. Instead, we can choose to embrace the local or public transport that is often more eco-friendly and thereby reduce our carbon footprint.
Keeping your waste generation low while you travel is crucial for sustainable tourism. Promoting the three Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) by the business and hotel industry involved in tourism can make a significant impact. You can have proper waste management systems in place to segregate the biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste and, more importantly, have effective systems to discard and dispose of the hazardous waste, as required by the law. If you are unaware of how to do that, you may seek expert advice or hire professional services to guide you through these legal and environmental requirements.
Respecting the cultural heritage and the local customs of the host nations or the host states is an equally important aspect of sustainable tourism practices; after all, you are there to experience that and enrich your travel experience and your soul at the same time.
Sustainable Tourism Practices also involve promoting and making a conscious effort to support local businesses and communities, for instance, by purchasing local handicrafts and art, trying local cuisines, etc., thereby contributing to the economic well-being of the host community. As a business owner in these tourist places, you can also discharge these responsibilities by hiring staff from local communities and paying them a fair wage.
The Sustainable Tourism Criteria for India (STCI) is one of the vital strategies implemented under the National Strategy for Sustainable Tourism, launched in April 2022. It is a certification for assessing and approving all activities related to tourism on the basis of the international benchmarks and standards adopted for sustainable tourism in India. It works as a guiding framework for service providers in the tourism industry to develop sustainable tourism in the country and to ensure adherence to the same.
STCI Certification helps the service providers in the tourism industry to self-assess and monitor the effects of their business on the environment and society. This allows them an opportunity to have sustainable tourism management systems in place and thereby contribute towards the sustainable development goals of the nation. This certification has been introduced currently for accommodation units (11 categories), tour operators (3 categories) and destinations. The tourism service provider can either apply for a Gold, Silver or Bronze Certificate.
Some of the important benefits of obtaining this STCI Certification are as follows:
Here is a step-by-step guide for you to obtain STCI Certification:
Adopting sustainable tourism practices is not only an ethical obligation to drive tourists toward green behaviour but also a smart business strategy. With the growth of environmental jurisprudence across the globe, the world is becoming environmentally conscious, and people are choosing environmentally friendly and sustainable options. Therefore, by promoting and adopting sustainable tourism practices, businesses in India can attract more environmentally conscious tourists and, at the same time, enhance their reputation, which can give them an added competitive advantage. Getting your business unit licensed and certified has many advantages, as discussed earlier; however, if you are still not sure and need expert guidance, you may consult an expert or seek professional guidance.
The three main focuses of sustainable tourism are social, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development.
The 3P’s refer to the three Principles of Sustainable Tourism, which are the concerned social responsibility, economic viability and eco-friendliness.
In its agenda for sustainable tourism, the United Nations identified 5Ps, People, Plants, Poverty, Prosperity and Peace, that need to be focused on for achieving the objective of sustainable development by 2030.
The three basic principles of sustainable tourism are environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability.
The four main components of sustainable tourism are Effective Management of resources, Maximising Social and economic benefits of the local communities, Preserving and Promoting Cultural Heritage and Conserving Environment by minimising the adverse effects.
The main purpose of sustainable tourism is to maximise the benefits and positive impacts and to reduce the adverse impact of tourism on the environment and the overall society. It is mainly focused on long-term sustainability so that the needs of the future generation do not get compromised.
The 5Cs of sustainability are known as Clean, Care, Culture, Community and Corporate Governance.
The 12 principles of sustainable tourism, as recognised by the UNWTO, are Economical Feasibility, Local Prosperity, Employment Quality, Social Equity, Local Control, Cultural Prosperity, Visitor Fulfillment, Physical Integrity, Resource Efficiency, Biological Diversity and Environmental Purity.