Skift: Sustainability key to combating overtourism

Tourists pose for a photo in a flooded St. Mark’s Square. Venice has become the poster child for overtourism. Credit: Manuel Silvestri, Reuters

The tourism industry must take responsibility and see sustainable development as an opportunity to improve the longevity of the very product the industry relies on, according to a new report from Skift.

Overtourism and the Struggle for Sustainable Tourism Development takes stock of the opportunities and challenges faced by tourism providers trying to ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry in this, the United Nations’ International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Written by Euromonitor International’s senior travel analyst, Wouter Geerts, the report claims that in an era of mass tourism, the “drastic measure” of capping access to many locations and landmarks being seen as the only way to remain sustainable and competitive shows an apparent failure of other initiatives.

Sustainable tourism takes many different forms but the shared objective of sustainable tourism is to retain the economic and social advantages of tourism development, while reducing or mitigating any undesirable impacts on the natural, historic, cultural or social environment.

However, the problem is that it requires “the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building” – and this isn’t always easy to find.

Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and corrective measures whenever necessary.

This, it says, can only be achieved if governments, businesses and individuals take responsibility for improving their (and others’) behaviour.

“While understanding of behaviour is improving, taking responsibility is often lacking,” it says.

The report states the business case for sustainable tourism, whereby hotels for example, adopt corporate social responsibility practices to increase profitability, has fallen short.

Hotels implementing sustainability practices to reduce money and airlines which are seemingly focusing solely on technological innovations to improve their environmental performances “can only take us so far”.

“To achieve genuinely sustainable tourism development, companies will need to go beyond the business case and use truly innovative thinking around traveller expectations, and use sustainability practices to shape and improve experiences.”

It acknowledges there are challenges including the “attitude- behavior gap’ whereby travellers identify as ethical but this does not necessarily translate into action.

This provides a difficult situation for tourism players. On the one hand, providing sustainable products and services can be pushed as an entry-level way for people to interact with ideas around sustainable development and their personal impact.

On the other hand, it promotes increased consumption, while in the long run reducing consumption might be the key to combating climate issues.

However, it maintains that change is in the air and “it all starts with information”.

Without providing information, it says, individuals cannot be expected to know why and how to change their current behaviour.

Click here to read the full report.

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