Sustainable Tourism? Of course we're interested... but do we really care?

Mike Hayes, 11 Feb 2013 14:34

Flicking through TV listings on any given day, it’s clear that the preservation of the environment is a hot topic.

Unfortunately, when it comes to making our travel plans, worthiness on a global scale can’t compete with issues such as PRICE, CONVENIENCE and SAFETY.

Against those primary factors, sustainability is nothing but a long word.

To make matters worse, it has a somewhat confusing bedfellow in responsibility. In fact, if you put the two together and point them in the direction of an average tourist, his or her response is likely to be “What was the price again?”

Terms such as sustainability do seem pretty vague, and I can’t help thinking they’re supposed to be, much like the even more inaccessible CSR (corporate social responsibility).

To be fair, sustainable tourism’s stock has been rising over the past decade or so, thanks largely to organisations such as the UNWTO, WTTC, Tour Operators Initiative and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

These are just some of the prominent initiatives undertaking research, hosting forums and aiming to introduce clearer standards and protocols with which travel firms can realistically implement sustainable measures – without putting themselves out of business.

Unfortunately, sustainability is unlikely to get to the very front of the queue until travel and tourism professionals are persuaded there is a cogent business argument for changing their approach to it.

In other industries, we are more or less shamed into aligning ourselves with the prevailing social righteousness.

When food shopping, for example, we feel the pressure (more or less) of the GDA (guideline daily amount) numbers for saturated fats, sugar, salt, etc.

So shouldn’t we be doing the same for tourism? If, for example, we put ECF (estimated carbon footprint) figures against holiday packages, wouldn’t that go some way towards putting this incredibly important issue at the forefront of travel?

Of course, it is in the nature of travel to damage the environment. To be considered bona fide environmentalists, we should actually wander no further than we can comfortably walk.

We know that but, hey, we love to travel. And with some 1.5 billion of us predicted to be at it by 2020, the multi-acronymed bodies attempting to keep us on the right side of all this sustainable, responsible, ecotourism stuff seriously have their work cut out.

By the way, I think I’m going to copyright the ECF standard, if someone hasn’t already. And if they have, I do apologise for pinching it.

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