The UN recently announced 2017 as the ‘International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development’, but independent news and views media outlet The Conversation, have stated that “sustainable tourism is not working”.

The Conversation recently highlighted the opinion of George Monbiot, a British environmental activist and Guardian journalist, who believes that the term ‘sustainability’ has been “mutated” over the last 25 years and, as a consequence, the concept has been distorted.

Monbiot stated that when the world leaders signed up to ‘sustainability’ at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, they were unaware of what the concept actually entailed.

Since that date, the term has jumped from ‘sustainability’ to ‘sustainable development’, and is now referred to as ‘sustainable growth’. Monbiot argued that little had been done, bar dialogue, to resolve the issue and that although environmental crisis requires us to limit the demands we place on it, our economies require endless growth.

Tourism and its impact

‘Sustainable tourism’ comes from the concept of ‘sustainable development’ (mentioned in the aforementioned paragraph), as set out in the 1987 Brundtland Report.

The World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) define sustainable tourism as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities".

Currently, economic growth trumps environmental limits, so sustainability remains elusive. The UNWTO stated recently that the tourism sector accounts for 7% of worldwide exports, 1 in 11 jobs and 10% of the world’s GDP. International tourist arrivals have increased from 25 million globally in 1950, to 1.18 billion in 2016, with a forecast of 1.8 billion by 2030.

As no place on earth is exempt from tourism and many countries rely on it for their economies, tourism grows with few limits. The issue here is that although there are positives, there are also significant negative impacts when a number of visitors in one place is greater than the environment’s ability to cope with it. Some of the consequences include the destruction of habitats, poorly paid jobs and the erosion of a country’s culture and traditions as outsiders arrive.

The Solution?

The Conversation has proposed several “achievable measures” on ways to make tourism more sustainable, such as appropriate education on travel choices for consumers, and reporting on the abuses of tourism by non-governmental organisations. You can find the full list of achievable measures on The Conversation’s recent post titled ''Sustainable tourism' is not working - here's how we change that'' in their Politics + Society section

Colleges such as the UKCBC provide a specific module on sustainable tourism in their Travel and Tourism Management HND. You can find more information about the courses available on the UKCBC website.