What Is Sustainable Tourism?

Defining Sustainable Tourism
Sustainable Tourism Defined
A turtle hatchling near North Island safari lodge in the Seychelles (courtesy Andrew Howard/North Island Lodge)

The GSTC's 37 criteria are written for tourism providers such as hotels, tour guides, and retail shops. In other words, you don't need to know them all—but it helps to understand the three main categories that affect travelers, and how they apply to the real world. These practices can be concisely summarized as the Three P's: planet (read: the natural environment), people (read: cultural heritage), and profit (read: local, rather than global, economies).

"Maximize benefits to the environment and minimize negative impacts."
Translation: Providers should, at every possible turn, conserve energy, reduce their carbon footprint, save water, and make certain not to harm wildlife or degrade the natural environment. As GSTC executive director Harms puts it, "A hotel may use reclaimed water for its native plants, but you need to know if the stones around the pool were taken from pyramids." According to GW's Lamoureux, Ritz-Carlton hotel's Community Footprints program is among the more impressive in this category. "They're amazing," she says.

"Maximize social and economic benefits for the local community and minimize negative impacts."
Translation: Providers should hire people of working age, at livable wages, and otherwise abstain from exploiting workers. Your REI Himalayan expedition, with its locally hired guides and locally purchased foods, meets this requirement.

"Maximize benefits to cultural heritage and minimize negative impacts."
Translation: This category can be viewed as an extension of the keep-it-local category above—but with a focus on arts and culture. The outfitter Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy, for example, pairs its clients with Quechua women in the Peruvian Andes to help them bolster their weaving businesses. Short of volunteering to build a weaving facility, however, you can do your part by buying from locals and frequenting locally owned establishments. On Intrepid Travel tours, for example, groups make pit stops at restaurants that promote local traditions and cuisine.

These broad categories are just another way of saying the Three P's. Do as little harm—and as much good—as you can in the interest of local people, local profits, and the local environment. "No one's advocating that you stay home," says GWU tourism professor Lamoureux. "Sustainable tourism just means celebrating and preserving the place you're visiting so that it—and its people—can be remain intact for our children to visit."

Published: 22 Mar 2011 | Last Updated: 1 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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