Surtourism and the fight for the sustainable development of tourism

With 2017 being the United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, now is a better time than ever to take stock of the opportunities and challenges facing tourism providers as they strive to ensure long-term sustainability. Of the industry.

While tourism is important to many local and national economies, overpopulation is changing the perception of the benefits of mass tourism. Spain is a prime example of a country struggling with its popularity.

Barcelona’s relationship with tourism has been fragile for several years now. Already in 2014, the documentary “Bye Bye Barcelona” underlined the negative impact of mass tourism on the city. Locals fear being excluded from the housing market, which will eventually cause Barcelona to lose the diversity and character of its people. The local government has stopped issuing licenses for new hotels and has banned change-of-use permits required for vacation rentals.

And Barcelona is not alone. Since 2017, Santorini has limited the number of cruise passengers to 8,000 per day. Local activists in Venice have called on the government to ban cruise ships from stopping in its port, as cruise passengers have quintupled in the past 15 years. Cinque Terre on the Italian coast caps the number of visitors at 1.5 million per year. Popular attractions such as Machu Picchu and Mount Everest limit the number of visitors and require visitors to be accompanied by a recognized guide, and Zion National Park is considering proposals to limit visitors through a reservation system.

Capping tourists is a drastic step, and certainly not something that destinations would like to do. It is often seen as a last resort, and the fact that more and more tourist destinations see no other way to stay sustainable and competitive is indicative of the apparent failure of other initiatives.

Defining sustainable tourism

The development of sustainable tourism is not a new phenomenon. Already in 1992, the International Hotel Environment Initiative was launched. And since then, the willingness of tourism industry organizations to implement the concept of sustainability has led to the growth of many alternative tourism formats. From ecological to ethical, the objective of sustainable tourism is to maintain the economic and social benefits of tourism development, while reducing or mitigating undesirable impacts on the natural, historical, cultural or social environment.

Source: Euromonitor International

Governments, businesses and individuals must all take responsibility

The problem with developing sustainable tourism, like most key issues of our time, is that it requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure broad participation and establishment. consensus. As Trump’s recent insinuation that climate change is a Chinese-made hoax shows, this participation and commitment is not always easy to find. Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and corrective measures whenever necessary.

Sustainable tourism development can only be achieved if governments, businesses and individuals take responsibility for improving their behavior (and that of others). While understanding of behavior improves, accountability is often lacking.

Business case for sustainability fails

Hotel companies are a good example of what can be achieved through engagement, but also of what is still not achievable if the efforts are not concerted enough and of sufficient scope.

The corporate social responsibility (CSR) business case is one of the strongest arguments for sustainability in the hospitality industry, with many hotels implementing CSR practices to increase their profitability. Most large hotel chains have their own set of goals to reduce the negative impact on the natural environment and bring benefits to the local community. Concerted efforts such as the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) see hotel chains working together to increase influence and share best practices.

However, hotels implementing sustainability practices to reduce money cannot get us far. The same goes for airlines which seem to focus only on technological innovations to improve their environmental performance. To achieve truly sustainable tourism development, businesses will need to go beyond the business case and use truly innovative thinking around travelers’ expectations, and use sustainability practices to shape and improve experiences.

The gap between attitude and behavior poses challenges

One glaring problem here is that there is constantly conflicting data about what travelers really want. While surveys show that people increasingly feel responsible for their impact on the environment, this does not necessarily translate into actions, a phenomenon that was once called 30: 3 syndrome. While 30% of survey respondents claimed to be ethical consumers, only 3% actually purchased ethical products.

This creates a difficult situation for tourism stakeholders. On the one hand, the provision of sustainable products and services can be seen as an entry-level way for people to interact with ideas around sustainability and their personal impact. On the other hand, it promotes an increase in consumption, while in the long term, reducing consumption could be the key to the fight against climate problems. Luxury hotels, in particular, have struggled to ask their guests to cut back on consumption after paying large sums to stay in the hotel.

It starts with information

However, change is in the air and it all starts with information. One thing is clear: To get customers to change their behavior, companies must start providing better information. Without providing information, people cannot be expected to know why and how to change their current behavior.

Consider the following example: Local produce has seen a sharp increase in popularity over the past decade, and supermarkets and hotels are increasingly offering a wide range of locally sourced foods. However, when considering the environmental impact of food consumption, it is often far from clear whether it is better, for example, to buy tomatoes that are produced locally in an artificially heated greenhouse, or whether to opt for tomatoes ripened naturally, then stolen in, tomatoes from a country with a warmer climate. This means that for consumers it is often difficult to decide whether a product is really more ethical than the alternatives, or whether a company is doing “greenwashing”. The result is that consumers are wary of information provided by companies and companies subsequently provide less information on CSR, leading to a vicious cycle.

Landscape of environmental certification reduces clarity

One way to combat the fear of greenwashing is to allow the right behaviors. Environmental certification programs provide travelers with more accurate information on the environmental performance of destinations and hotels, and offer management a sure way to promote their achievements.

Again, however, there are issues here. The large number of certification programs offered and the way in which they are controlled is a matter of concern. There are over 100 sustainability certification programs for tourism and hotel organizations. The large number of schemes means they become less recognizable and less trusted by travelers, especially as each geographic region has its own certification scheme. The proliferation of different certification systems, and other programs and standards, is having the opposite effect of what it is trying to achieve. Instead of clarifying which hotels are the pioneers, the sheer number of different programs only darkens the market.

How to move forward

The terms “responsible tourism” and “sustainable tourism” indicate that this is only a part of all tourism, and today this reasoning is true. However, on the current trajectory, in 10 years, all tourism will have to be responsible and sustainable. As Fabian Cousteau said at the WTTC Global Summit 2016: “I look forward to the day when there will be no more sustainable tourism. Just tourism. This change is leading travelers to increasingly expect their airlines, accommodation providers, tour guides and attractions to be environmentally and socially responsible.

In recent decades, tourism has grown from marginal status to one of the key industries for achieving sustainable development goals. The tourism industry must take responsibility and see sustainable development as an opportunity to improve the longevity of the very product on which the industry relies. Working with all stakeholders, including local communities, regulators, employees, guests and competitors, will be key to the long-term success of the tourism industry.

Today, the main reason tourism companies implement environmental practices is to reduce costs. This “green” approach to sustainable tourism development falls short of expectations and cost-cutting practices are likely to become the norm. Hotels will have to try and stand out through truly innovative thinking about guest expectations and using sustainability practices to improve experiences. Running a successful business means involving employees, local communities and guests equally in the decision-making process.

Wouter Geerts is Senior Travel Analyst, Euromonitor International

Euromonitor International is a leading global provider of strategic consumer market intelligence, with offices in London, Chicago, Singapore, Shanghai, Vilnius, Santiago, Dubai, Cape Town, Sao Paulo, Tokyo, Sydney and Bangalore and a network of 800 analysts around the world. Euromonitor International’s analysis of the global travel industry covers a wide range of categories including tourism flows and spending, accommodation, transportation, car rental, cruises, tourism activities, intermediaries travel, online and mobile travel.


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