Why Sustainable Tourism is Important

We all know that sustainability is not a choice and that we must change a lot to be able to preserve the world’s unique cultures, natural landscapes and attractions for future generations.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the sustainable tourism definition, learn more about the different types of sustainable development in the travel industry, and discuss why sustainable tourism is important.

By the team at Apus Peru, Rainforest Alliance Verified travel specialists.

The Issue: Why is Sustainable Tourism Important?

Life is all about experiences. And unlike material things, each experience stays with us no matter where we go. Traveling can not only be a meaningful break from our hectic pace of daily life, but also allows us to discover new places and learn from other cultures and traditions.

Nowadays, more people are traveling than ever before, and 53% of global travelers want to travel more sustainably in the future to reduce the negative impact on local cultures and the environment. Tourism is one of the most significant sectors affecting a country’s economy, but what is sustainable tourism and why is it important?

When tourism activity increases, it can bring many sustainable tourism benefits to the travel destination by creating thousands of jobs, developing the infrastructure of a country, and planting a sense of cultural exchange between the local communities and foreigners. Unfortunately, as tourism increases without implementing a concept of sustainable tourism, negative impacts also increase. 

What is Sustainable Tourism?

What does sustainable tourism mean? According to the UNWTO sustainable tourism definition, it describes a tourism in which the needs of today are not placed before the needs of tomorrow. Since travel experiences contain a wide range of different activities and industries, all sectors and stakeholders need to collaborate in order for it to be successful.

The main goal of sustainable tourism is to make the best use of natural resources while having a positive impact on the conservation of natural heritage and biodiversity, the economy and rural communities. This means that a truly responsible tourism should provide more benefits than negative impacts, considering the needs of both visitors and residents of a destination, and resulting in a mutual “give and take” relationship.

Sustainable Tourism Principles

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) established three sustainable tourism principles with the purpose of creating a long-term balance between the environmental, socio-cultural, and economic aspects of sustainable tourism development. The following three principles formulated by the UNWTO are an applicable guideline for all types of tourism providers and segments:

  1. Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
  2. Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.
  3. Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.

A successful application of responsible tourism is only possible with the full participation of all relevant touristic actors and a well-organized sustainable tourism management.

The 3 Pillars of Sustainable Tourism

Thinking about what sustainable tourism means, people mostly link it with the preservation of the environment. But that’s only one part of the global sustainable tourism criteria. When you dive into a responsible lifestyle, you will probably come across the three pillars of sustainable tourism, also called the triangle of sustainability.

This model consists of three different aspects: environment, society, and economy. Together the three pillars are meant to work in connection to one another with true sustainability occurring.

The environmental pillar of sustainable tourism

Natural landscapes are one of the main cores of many tourist attractions.

What would a trip to Peru look like without hiking along the high Andes Mountains, visiting famous Machu Picchu, and admiring its unique flora and fauna?

Could you imagine South America without the Amazon rainforest, its biodiverse National Parks, lakes and beautiful beaches?

To ensure that future generations will be able to explore these incredible natural treasures, we must preserve our environment. Not only for future tourists, but also for the vitality of the travel destination itself.

The social pillar of sustainable tourism

The social aspect is another significant sustainable tourism indicator and refers to human capital. The living conditions of locals must be treated with the same priority as the development of tourism. Only when the citizens’ quality of life is improved and the support of locals is guaranteed in areas like education, security, labor conditions and leisure, tourism can develop sustainably.

Every provider in this sector, such as hotels, restaurants, tour operators, and other travel businesses, need to provide fair working conditions for their employees. Ideally, they should also support the local economy by investing in rural projects and education. The sustainable tourism definition implies that local people should never suffer from touristic activities, for example by destroying their heritage or having less fresh water.

The economic pillar of sustainable tourism

Economic sustainability refers to the responsible use of resources and financial profitability of a company. The pursuit of a company’s profit can never influence negatively the other two pillars of sustainable tourism development. While maximizing profits, each business must take into account the social and environmental impacts. Since companies become more aware of the significance of responsible travel, they consider social and local values while establishing their financing strategies. The integration of local institutions is important, so each service benefits sustainable tourism and supports the local economy, creating new jobs and improving the infrastructure.

Types of Sustainable Tourism

To sum up, sustainable tourism is composed of three main principles: socio-cultural justice, economic development, and environmental integrity. However, there are various types of sustainable tourism that are closely linked, to such an extent that they are often mistakenly mixed up. For example, the expression “eco sustainable tourism” implies two slightly different concepts that can be separated into two terms. It can be helpful to learn more about the aspects that these ideas have in common, as well as distinguish them. Most of these tourism concepts oppose the commercial forms of mass tourism that are more likely to increase environmental damage, cultural loss, negative economic impacts, and overtourism. 

Differences Between Sustainable, Eco & Responsible Tourism

Sustainable tourism can be considered a broad umbrella term with several layers, focusing on different aspects of responsible development. As a matter of fact, the sustainable tourism meaning refers to numerous types, such as green tourism, soft tourism, rural tourism, agro-tourism, ecotourism, sustainable tourism, and many more. However, in the tourism sector you can find two main subcategories, which will be explained below: eco tourism and responsible tourism. 

Ecotourism is a niche segment that focuses on tourism in natural regions. According to the UNWTO’s definition, it implies all touristic activities in which the major motivation of visitors is the appreciation of natural environments and cultures. The travel experience itself focuses on experiencing and learning more about nature.

Eco tourism and sustainable tourism both focus on the minimization of negative impacts of the destination’s natural environment, culture and economy, but ecotourism also contains the additional purpose of actively supporting the maintenance of environmental areas and wellbeing of the host communities, involving ecological conservation, interpretation and education. Besides, ecotourism tends to be operated by specialized and locally-oriented companies, providing their services for smaller target groups.

Responsible tourism and sustainable tourism have the same goal. The major difference between both concepts is that, in responsible tourism, the behavior of each individual must take responsibility for sustainable development. Everybody involved in tourism must stand up for the impact of their actions – not only the individual tourist, but also each touristic organization, business, product owner, operator, industrial association and the government. A responsible individual makes decisions based on what is best for the natural environment and host communities in the long term, making sure to contribute to a positive impact during the trip.

A Look Back at Why Sustainable Tourism is Important

The history of sustainable tourism goes back to the early 1990s. For the first time, the debate about negative impacts caused by tourism gained more attention, implying the need for intervention to protect people, economic systems and the environment. Even though the negative effects of tourism were recognized, there were only a few tourism management initiatives, and the need to change the nature of tourism did not seem to be urgent.

Today we know that sustainable tourism for development is essentially needed, and the travel industry is dependent on management of socio-cultural compatibility, the environmental and economic constraints. As the tourism sector is expected to grow continuously, present tourism habits are going to become unsustainable. This makes sustainable tourism marketing an essential asset for the maintenance of tourism.

By prioritizing sustainable travel, governments, travel businesses, airlines, hotels, touristic institutions and tourists can make a change and ensure tourism is still possible in the future. Only when we actively provide benefits and minimize the negative impacts caused by touristic activity, will it become a force for good in the world. Sustainable tourism statistics clearly show that responsible travel must no longer be a niche part of tourism. Eco tourism and sustainable tourism has become increasingly popular throughout the years, and 83% of international travelers believe in the importance of sustainable tourism.

What are the Benefits of Sustainable Tourism?

Learning more about the positive impacts for each actor of the tourism industry helps to find an answer to this complex question. While tourism can harm natural environments, cultures and local communities, it can also provide significant benefits. The sustainable tourism approach has the purpose of maximizing the positives and minimising the negatives, while preserving opportunities for the future.

Very often there are great disagreements between host communities and tour companies due to their conflicting opinions and goals. However, the implementation of a sustainable tourism model creates a dialogue between both parties, building a more beneficial relationship. So, why is sustainable tourism important? And what are the benefits of responsible travel for each touristic actor?

Benefits for Local Communities

One of the greatest economic aspects of sustainable tourism activities is the creation of fair working conditions for local employees. Minimum wages with an adequate level ensure a decent standard of living for local workers and their families, and equitable labor rights ensure health protection and safety for them. In addition to improving the economy of the host country, it also enables an enhanced infrastructure and increased standard of living for locals.

Due to the growing impact of sustainable tourism, travel companies invest in rural projects and collaborations, protecting ecosystems, preventing deforestation, helping conserve energy and water, and much more. Besides, conscious travelers are willing to pay more to support responsible and green tourism, which contributes to the execution of these projects as well. Also, the travel industry can be an incentive to improve education with the implementation of an effective sustainable tourism framework.

Besides, tourism can be a source of cultural preservation and maintenance of traditions. Due to the increased awareness of responsible development, travelers are more interested in learning and getting to know the authentic life of host communities. Thereby local residents identify themselves with their own culture and sustain their cultural heritage, showcasing their traditions and sharing their history.

This phenomenon also leads to encouraging sustainable wildlife interactions and conservation. Community-led tours teach visitors about the ecosystems and wildlife, which raises global awareness about the significance of regional environmental preservation.

Benefits for Tourism Companies

Sustainable tourism companies profit from responsible development as well. Sustainable destinations attract a different type of traveler, who is aware of climate change and wants his or her visit to be a positive impact in the world. This target group is constantly growing and willing to pay a higher price for an authentic and conscious travel experience.

Even though tourism companies must invest a lot in a greener way of travel, they benefit from these sustainable tourism trends. That’s because conscious travelers are less price sensitive and spend around 50% more money during their stay than standard visitors. Besides, they tend to take longer holidays with fewer flights to reduce carbon emissions. This means that sustainability has the advantage of being a competitive differentiator – instead of offering similar services at a similar price, the added value brings greater income, too.

All in all, with sustainable tourism development, tourism companies can establish mutually beneficial relationships with host communities. The happier local workers and communities are, the better is the quality of their provided services, which has a positive impact on the visitor’s experience as paying client.

Benefits for The Individual Traveler

Sustainability is no longer a trend, but a lifestyle embraced by more and more people. Travelers seek to learn more about how to travel sustainably and want to have an authentic experience off-the-beaten-track.

Instead of just exploring touristic highlights, visitors are becoming more conscious of their actions, avoiding mass tourism and appreciating the time they have to the fullest. This change of travel style has a huge positive impact on sustainable tourism.

The quality of the travelers’ experience has been enhancing enormously due to the constantly growing demand for sustainable tourism products. The idea of traveling has changed incredibly – instead of visiting a country for a limited period of time, the individual has the chance to explore a place from the perspective of locals, and at the same time contribute to a better world for future generations.

Sustainable Travel in Peru

Traveling responsibly is a major concern in almost every part of the world. In Peru, one of the most diverse countries worldwide, and with the second largest land area of Amazon rainforest on the planet, the number of sustainable tourism organizations is constantly growing.

There are plenty of sustainable tourism examples in Peru that can offer a life-enriching experience for visitors, as well as an opportunity to help foster positive social, economic and environmental benefits.

Ecotourism in the Amazon Rainforest

Deforestation is the main threat of Peru’s ecosystem, which also shows us why sustainable tourism is important. Farming, logging, mining, oil extraction, and illegal coca farming are negative consequences caused by the travel industry. Mass tourism leads to environmental mishaps like water shortages and mudslides, and affects the Indigenous communities in a negative way.

Regarding the development of sustainable tourism history, the Peruvian Government has been making great progress the last few years, by setting up Natural Park Reserves, such as the Pacaya-Saimiri National Reserve, Tambopata National Reserve, and Manu Biosphere Reserve. 

The Ministry of Environment enforces tourist restrictions and ensures better education about ecotourism in the Amazon for both locals and travelers in order to promote preservation and conservation of these natural environments. With the implementation of responsible management and local projects, the sustainable tourism industry can conserve these areas and bring benefits to the residents of these local communities.

Pachamama as Sustainable Tourism Example

To the Andean communities, Mother Nature (pachamama) and the mountains (apus) are very powerful, which is why they must be nurtured and cared for as well. Locals respect their natural environment and perform traditional ceremonies to show gratitude with the purpose of maintaining balance between nature and human beings, applying the principle of giving and receiving.

Today, many sustainable tourism companies in Peru want to share this spirit of pachamama and offer authentic travel experiences that create a positive impact in this world. Responsible and conscious travelers seek to learn more about the ancient principles of Andean cosmology that they can apply to their own life. Getting back to your roots, living in balance with yourself and your environment is part of a new lifestyle and a trend in sustainable tourism.

Apus Peru: Adventure Travel Specialists

Apus Peru: Adventure Travel Specialists is a sustainable tourism company specialized in unique outdoor activities and adventure travel.

Founded in 2005, Apus Peru decided to actively make a change and contribute to a greener tourism, committing to keep the three pillars of sustainability in balance by giving back to local communities and investing in community development projects. Apus Peru was also the first trekking operator in Peru to receive independent verification of its sustainability practices by the Rainforest Alliance.

Unlike so many tour operators, Apus Peru has implemented a sustainable tourism policy that insists on the payment of fair wages and benefits to the locals with whom they work. Apus Peru also donates USD $20.00 per passenger to Threads of Peru, a social enterprise dedicated to sustaining Andean weaving traditions and providing economic opportunities to Indigenous artisans, constituting about 15% of Threads of Peru’s annual budget.

Challenges for Sustainability in the Tourism Industry

Why is sustainable tourism important?

Worldwide tourism accounts for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions – a significant proportion. And a study published by Nature Climate Change shows that the global tourism industry is rapidly expanding.

This makes the sector a bigger polluter than the construction industry and shows that we urgently need to apply a sustainable tourism concept to make a change. But how to achieve sustainable tourism?

It seems to be almost impossible to convert theory into praxis – we have heard enough ideas about sustainable tourism planning but not enough proven advice on how all these models work in real life. For travel to be greener, a lot more must be done than just defining a theoretical approach on how to keep these 3 pillars of sustainable tourism in balance.

Governments and travel institutions need better communication and effective implementation of a sustainable tourism plan at international, national and regional level. Our current travel behavior is unsustainable despite the progress and positive development – managing sustainable tourism is not an easy task at all.

Is Sustainable Travel Possible?

Coming back to the question of why sustainable tourism is important, it is obvious that tourism, as a resource-dependent industry, needs to take responsibility in order to be available for future generations.

One of the greatest sustainable tourism challenges is the successful implementation of theory, which can only be managed with continuous monitoring of tourism impacts, strong political leadership and efficient coordination between all touristic stakeholders. There are no one-size fits all solutions, as the application of sustainable tourism models always vary, depending on the diverse features of sustainable tourism destinations. 

It is certain that we cannot achieve complete sustainability, but we can certainly try to constantly improve, step by step, increasing our positive impact on this planet. Adopting a sustainable tourism strategy is an essential action for tourism to succeed, and there are so many opportunities for it to develop and grow into something more beneficial for visitors, locals and the whole world.

Everybody has the power to become more responsible and make their contribution to positive change.