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What is Sustainable Tourism?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated: May 23, 2024

Sustainable tourism is a form of tourism which involves being conscious of the potential economic, environmental, and cultural impacts of tourism. Sustainable tour companies and tourists who support the idea of sustainable tourism make extra efforts to ensure that their impact on the places they visit is positive, rather than simply neutral or negative. Several certification agencies inspect and accredit tour companies which offer sustainable touring packages, with the goal of creating an industry-wide standard which makes it easier for tourists to select companies to do business with.

The concept of sustainable tourism is closely related to ecotourism, a form of tourism which focuses on environmental and ecological issues associated with tourism, but sustainable touring is wider in scope. While sustainable tours are designed to address environmental issues related to tourism, other considerations such as the impact of tourism on the local economy are also incorporated into the sustainable tourism philosophy. In addition, this industry is very aware of the cultural impacts of tourism, especially on indigenous people.

Companies which offer sustainable tourism typically address the concerns of their customers in a variety of ways. Many try to create tours with a minimal environmental impact, sometimes purchasing carbon offsets to compensate for the energy used in travel, for example. These companies also invest in the local economy, and encourage their patrons to do the same, promoting visits to local businesses, native craftspeople, and so forth, to ensure that more funds reach the local community.

The cultural impact of tourism is often addressed with sensitive travelers in seminars and classes before the trip. Such courses discuss religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and other issues which tourists may encounter. The goal is to allow people to witness and participate in traditional cultures without altering them.

Sometimes, sustainable tourism also involves an active contribution to the community. For example, tourists might volunteer with local organizations and help provide health care, housing, and other services to needy people in the community. Others might participate in environmental cleanups or donate to nonprofits and charities which serve the area.

You may also hear sustainable tourism referred to as conscious or responsible tourism. This philosophy recognizes the fact that economic, social, and environmental change can be very subtle, gradual, and sometimes irreversible, placing the focus on modifying potentially harmful behaviors before it is too late.

WiseTour is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseTour researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By submariner — On Apr 22, 2011

@Babalaas- Sustainable tourism development has been taking off in the past few years, becoming a multibillion-dollar industry. This has also led to a problem with ecotourism that is rife with green washing. Tours simply play lip service to being environmentally friendly without actually doing much that is environmentally or socially beneficial.

My advice would be to plan an Eco tour of your own. Plan a trip to a place that you enjoy and immerse yourself in the culture. Be sensitive with your transportation choices, opting to be a pedestrian or travel through mass transit. Leave good tips and do not push too hard of a bargain for souvenirs. Try to spend money at places where preservation of a natural or cultural resource is the purpose of the attraction.

By GlassAxe — On Apr 19, 2011

@babalaas- there are a number of different eco-tours that keep sustainability in mind. You can find food centric eco-tours, eco-adventure tours, environmental stewardship tours, photography tours, and more.

Costa Rica has a number of different eco-tours, including quite a few for foodies. I have also heard about a great permaculture tour that is in Ethiopia. This tour involves staying at an eco-lodge in Ethiopia with a working farm. You get to explore the countryside, eat sustainably produced food, and take seminars on ecological agriculture and resource management.

If you are more adventurous, there are eco-tours that take you through the Australian outback. You can also find tours that take you on hiking treks across the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal or animal watching in Estonia. You can find an eco-tour in almost any place you can imagine, even right here in the United States

By Babalaas — On Apr 18, 2011

What are some sustainable tourism destinations? I have been hearing a lot about environmentally friendly tourism the past few years, and I was thinking that would be a great way to spend my next vacation. If anyone has any ideas, I would appreciate it. The type of climate, and the place does not matter much, I would just like to know what some of the possibilities are. The only thing I do not want to do is spend thousands of dollars at an all-inclusive resort that does not allow me to sample the local culture. Been there, done that.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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