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Sustainable Tourism, What’s that?

Sustainable tourism…what on earth is it? Before taking a 3 month course on it in school, I had a very mishmashed understanding of it myself. I knew it had something to do with doing positive things whilst traveling. But really, how vague is that idea? Thankfully my understanding of sustainable tourism was corrected by my professor, Dr. Caroline Scarles, and I hope I can share some of my insights with you.

So, it is my mission, through this blog, to step up the discussion about sustainable tourism. To talk about what it means, what it looks like, how you can get involved in it, and how it can benefit you and others.

Therefore, before I get the 2011 posts started, I thought it would be a good idea to set everyone up with a base understanding of sustainable tourism.

First off, let’s talk about sustainability in general.

Sustainability, while a seemingly modern concept, is a rather old idea based on science: the capability of an organism to sustain itself. Easy enough.

Now let’s move on to 23 years ago when the term sustainable development was defined in the Brundtland Report in 1987. Also known at Our Common Future, the Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as:

“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

To this day, this definition is still referenced.

Now, there are 3 areas, or environments, to which such sustainable development is supposed to consider: economic, environmental, and social. These are sometimes referred to as the Pillars of Sustainability or the Triple Bottom Line.

Have I lost you yet? I hope not. At this point you are probably thinking “but what does this have to do with tourism?” Well, the goal of developing sustainable tourism is to support the concept of sustainability, as referred to in the Brundtland Report, and support the Triple Bottom Line:

1) the consumption of resources in tourism should not compromise the ability of future generations to appreciate the same tourism resources


2) when developing sustainable tourism, it should take into account the economic, environmental, and social affects it will have on the area it is being developed. Some examples of these three categories in tourism are…

  • economic: does the tourism development benefit the economy of the locals in the destination it is being established?
  • environmental: how does increasing visitors to the destination affect the local environment? Can it still survive for future generations to enjoy?
  • social: is the local community’s culture and way of life positively or negatively affected by this tourism? Are they happy with it? Getting involved with it?

At this point I think I have given you enough to chew on for a bit. I will introduce more ideas in the weeks to come. Specifically, I will talk about some of the different forms of sustainable tourism that you may be more familiar with and how they fit under the umbrella of sustainable tourism, such as: Eco-Tourism, Green Tourism, Responsible Tourism, Ethical Tourism, Pro-Poor Tourism, Slow Travel, and Voluntourism.

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