So you can't define Sustainable Tourism - don't feel bad. As is the case with many types of tourism out there, there is often confusion with overlapping terms. Most commonly, Sustainable Tourism is confused with Ecotourism, and for good reason: there are many similarities. Just to confuse you some more, Ecotourism is almost always a form of Sustainable Tourism, but not all forms of Sustainable Tourism are necessarily Ecotourism*.
There . . . okay, moving on . . . wait, what's that? That didn't clarify it for you? Ok, lets look at it a different way.
Think of Sustainable Tourism as an umbrella set of criteria that, theoretically, nearly every shape and size of other tourism can potentially fit under. Just by its very nature, Ecotourism happens to fit nearly every bit of criteria, and thus the common confusion between the two. Remember, the types of tourism below CAN meet the criteria, but often times do NOT. Lets paint a picture for you:
The final important piece of this puzzle is to define what the generally accepted, industry-wide criteria of Sustainable Tourism actually are. This, fortunately, is relatively easy.
"NEARLY ANY specific type of tourism development can be Sustainable, as long as it meets the criteria and spirit of Sustainable Tourism development."
UNESCO's Founding Criteria
UNESCO's World Conference on Sustainable Tourism held in Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain in 1995 developed a specific framework for sustainable tourism to grow from. Here are the highlights of those criteria:
- Tourism development should be based on the criteria of sustainability. It should be: ecologically bearable; economically viable; and ethically and socially equitable for local communities.
- Tourism should contribute to sustainable development and be integrated with all aspects of the environment, respecting fragile areas and promoting the assimilation of impacts so that these lie within capacity limits.
- Tourism must consider its effects on the cultural heritage and traditions of local communities.
- Participation of all actors in the process is essential.
So here you have the three major stakeholders emerging - the local economy (businesses), the local community (residents), and the local ecology (environmental resource managers). These criteria are very important, because they do not specify required motivations for the tourist, just guidelines for the destination.
So how does this apply to tourism in my area?
Every local community, small or large, domestic (U.S.) or international, has some form of each of the three major stakeholders involved in Sustainable Tourism Development.
Local businesses, local residents, and local environmental / cultural resource managers are not always organized or involved in development, but they are there. And they have incredible potential to help create long-term, sustainable tourism plans as long as they are brought to the table and allowed to participate.
Educational links can be found here
* Ecotourism has the added property that it specifically promotes travel to enjoy and protect the natural environment in a destination - this is very important in differentiating it from other types of tourism. Ecotourists are therefore primarily travelling to protect and enjoy the unique natural resources of their target destination.
I would like to spend my whole life traveling, if I could borrow another life to spend at home.
- William Hazlitt