Why Sustainable Travel and Tourism

Sustainable Travel International

by Brian T Mullis

Tourism is arguably the world's largest industry. It generates about 10% of total world GDP (gross domestic product) and employs over 10% of the global workforce, and it's on the verge of tremendous growth. In 2004, there were 760 million international tourism arrivals - an increase of 10% over 2003 and a figure that the World Tourism Organization expects to reach one billion by 2010.1

In recent years, the negative environmental and socio-cultural impacts of tourism have become obvious. There is ample evidence to support the fact that transportation impacts global climate change. Host communities face resource use conflicts, land-use disputes, and the loss of their indigenous identity and values. Pollution, deforestation, and the alteration of ecosystems can result from shortsighted tourism development.

The purpose of sustainable tourism is to allow tourism to develop in a way that is fair and equitable for host communities. Sustainable tourism is economically viable in the long-term, and it avoids damage to tourist attractions and the physical environment.2 By focusing on the triple bottom line, it adds socio- cultural and environmental dimensions to the traditional economic benchmark for measuring success.

A positive triple bottom line means a net improvement in conservation of the natural environment, social benefit for local communities, profit for shareholders, and gain for national or regional economies.3

A Broader Market Appeal

Successful travel companies offer quality service, new and exciting destinations, frequent traveler discounts, etc. to secure the loyalty of the clients they serve. But now customers are demanding more. 58.5 million Americans say they would pay more to use a travel company that strives to protect and preserve the environment. The majority (61%) of those who would pay more to use such companies would pay 5-10% more.4 Responsible travelers are attracted to travel companies that employ sustainable business practices, and this target market represents a huge profit arena.

The estimated number of LOHAS (Lifestyles of Heath and Sustainability) consumers is 63 million strong and growing and is in line with the number of responsible travelers. These consumers represent a market conservatively estimated to represent more than $226 billion in annual sales in the U.S. and more than $540 billion worldwide. 5

Improved Profitability

Systematically integrating sustainable business practices into your operations also lowers costs through resource productivity and waste reduction. The Sandals Hotel Group, for example, achieved savings of $1.375 million and a significant reduction in solid waste and freshwater consumption since introducing an environmental management system to meet Green Globe 21 sustainable tourism certification standards over a period of four years.6

Exodus, a UK-based adventure tour operator, developed a "Responsible Tourism Policy" in 2000. The policy formalizes the company’s commitment to environmental, social and economic sustainability and applies to its entire operations. Since the policy was implemented, Exodus has derived a number of benefits, including but not limited to increasing bookings, attracting positive publicity in the media as well as industry recognition, and supporting destination stewardship.7

Enhanced Quality

Sustainable tourism emphasizes contributing to the well being of local people by partnering with communities in the regions in which you operate. Such partnerships can create benefits for local communities by employing people living in or near the areas being visited and purchasing products and services from local businesses. Travel providers who take this participatory approach frequently enjoy greater community support and more genuine interactions between their clients and locals. This increased product authenticity often results in improved customer satisfaction and positive word-of-mouth marketing.8

Case in point, the Hotelplan Swiss Group has gained competitive advantages among their staff and clients by improving the sustainability of their products, supporting environmental conservation, and increasing local communities’ awareness of environmental issues. They’ve achieved these benefits by contributing about $3 per customer to an Eco-Fund they’ve developed, representing 20-25% of their annual sales.9

Enhanced Quality

Approximately $30,000 is raised annually. The money helps preserve the quality of the surrounding environment and open space.10

Sustainable Tourism... An Opportunity

Once we accept the fact that travel and tourism is, essentially and inescapably, destructive, we can begin to determine how to take advantage of the benefits of pursuing sustainability.

About Sustainable Travel International

Sustainable Travel International (STI) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, membership-based organization whose mission is to promote sustainable development and eco-friendly travel by providing programs that help travelers and travel- related companies protect the environmental, socio-cultural and economic needs of the places they visit, and the planet at large. For more information, contact Brian T. Mullis 720-273-2975 or brianm@sustainabletravel.com.

©Copyright 2005 Sustainable Travel International

  1. World Tourism Organization, World Tourism Barometer
  2. Tourism Concern, Tim Forsyth, 1996
  3. Environmental Inputs and Outputs in Ecotourism: Geotourism with a Positive Triple Bottom Line?, Ralf Buckley, International Centre for Ecotourism Research, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia
  4. Geotourism: New Trend in Travel study, TIA, National Geographic Traveler October 2003
  5. LOHAS, Fall 2001, p. 13, Natural Business Communications and the Natural Marketing Institute
  6. Green Globe 21, www.greenglobe21.com
  7. Exodus: Development of a Responsible Tourism Policy, Tour Operator’s Initiative
  8. Ecotourism Development – A Manual for Conservation Planners and Managers Volume II: The Business of Ecotourism Management and Development, The Nature Conservancy, 2004
  9. Hotelplan: An Eco-Fund to Support Sustainability, Tour Operator’s Initiative
  10. Aspen-Snowmass, 2003-2004 Sustainability Report, Fifth Edition

For more information about green travel tips, read these articles:
Consumers Seeking Green Hotel Eco-labels
Why Environmentally Friendly Hotels
Why Sustainable Travel and Tourism

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