Sustainability is an increasingly important issue. Most people are aware that we have an ecological footprint on the earth, that we need to reduce greenhouse gases and that we are still consuming limited resources.

What is the state of sustainability in tourism?

Many hotels are already moving in the direction of sustainability, for example by only changing towels on request or providing large packs of shower gel. In the future, the megatrend of sustainability will become even more pronounced in tourism.

Current situation in tourism

Tourism is responsible for the global depletion of valuable resources. However, certain destinations are popular precisely because of these resources. Tourists travel long distances to experience certain landscapes, sites, regions or cultures. It is precisely the popularity of these tourist highlights that contributes to the increase in greenhouse gases. For example, previously unspoilt landscapes are being developed and fresh water is being used for tourism. In many regions outside the EU, there is a clear shortage of water (OECD, 2015).

Despite these drawbacks, many people depend on tourism to function well. Tourism is an important economic sector that creates jobs and finances the conservation of (cultural) sites and features. Those responsible are caught in a dilemma between sustainability and economic aspects. One thing is clear at this stage: the government needs to work closely with tourism, business and academic representatives to develop an appropriate strategy for sustainable tourism (Kim, Uysal & Sirgy).

Sustainability is about more than protecting the environment. Some important trends are already emerging:

  • Urban tourism will continue to boom. Governments are aware of the potential and are focusing on expanding the urban offer. Sustainable concepts are already being developed to make tourism fit for the future. For example, public transport or walking tours in cities are being promoted.
  • The protection and preservation of the ecosystem is becoming increasingly important. Awareness of one's own ecological footprint is increasing and measures are being taken to reduce greenhouse gases. This should go hand in hand with the preservation of existing ecosystems.
  • The social aspect of tourism is also becoming increasingly important. Socially responsible and sustainable projects are becoming increasingly important in tourism. Not only large companies need to promote social issues, but also SMEs in tourism will increasingly look for social investments and projects.
  • Focus on people: Soft tourism strikes a balance between people/local communities, the environment and the economy. Involving local people in tourism, for example by creating jobs, is particularly sustainable. After all, employees are an important factor in the success of a tourism destination. More education and skills also increase the prosperity of entire regions.

Impact on tourism

Tourism as we know it will change significantly in the coming years (OECD, 2019). The effects of climate change will be clearly felt. Extreme weather events are already being experienced. They will shape the future of tourism. The climate of the coming years will be characterised by long heat waves and periods of drought, floods, storms and the absence or reduction of snowfall. Those who adapt their destinations and tourism products now will have a clear advantage. In the future, tourism and government will work closely together to develop a regional, national and international strategy. The focus is clearly on sustainability.

Tourism will be even more influenced by increasing internationalisation in the future. By 2030, international guest arrivals will increase to over 1.8 billion and domestic arrivals to four times that number. The biggest challenges lie in a cross-sectoral approach to sustainability. Big concepts need to be developed. They need to be conceived from the moment you leave your home, through the journey, the stay, the departure and the arrival at home. Currently, tourism is responsible for a large part of the climate impact, accounting for 5% of greenhouse gases (UNWTO, 2017b). There is a need to reduce these emissions, to develop comprehensive sustainability policies and to develop a carbon neutrality strategy for each individual tourism enterprise. Only in this way will tourism have a chance to become fit for a sustainable future.

It is important that each individual's contribution counts and that the tourism industry takes its responsibility towards the environment seriously.

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