Grade Course: Essay Example

  • Category:
  • Document type:
  • Level:
  • Page:
  • Words:

Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable Tourism


Just like the sustainable development, sustainable tourism is more of a political slogan than a problem-solving tool. This stems from the fact that different stakeholders and observers perceive the concept as a plan, a strategy, a product, or a philosophy based on their interests in the tourism industry. As Wahab and Pigram (1997) observe, much of the controversy surrounding sustainable tourism can be traced to the vague meaning of the word ‘sustainable’. In tourism specifically, the use of the term ‘sustainable tourism’ attracts support and interest from some sections, while attracting criticism from detractors in equal measure. But what exactly does sustainable tourism mean? Well, although there are numerous definitions in literature, Lane (2009) implies that the concept would include a form of tourism that was more concerned not only with the economic, cultural and environmental impacts, but also of the indirect impacts that it had on all stakeholders involved. For example, Lane (2009) proposes that tourism marketers need to be more informed and responsible in their communication to potential markets. Host populations on the other hand need to be better equipped and prepared to manage tourism, while the holidaymakers would also need to be a better-informed lot. For sustainable tourism to occur, Lane (2009) suggests that conducting a research on the sector is necessary in order to understand the issues, strengths, opportunities and challenges therein.

More specifically, Hamblin (2001) proposes that sustainable tourism must satisfy the visitors who are interested in a tourist product; it must be profitable to the entrepreneurs and investors in the industry; it must be acceptable within the host community; and it must protect the environmental resources on which the tourism industry is based.

Swarbrooke (1999) on the other hand argues that sustainable tourism goes beyond meeting the short-term needs of the current generation. Specifically, the phrase means that tourism undertaken in the present should not compromise the ability of future generation to get the same value or more from tourism than the current generation does. As such, the sustainable tourism concept goes beyond short-term environmental protection, cultural safeguards, and economic interests. In particular, Swarbrooke argues that sustainable tourism is concerned with “long-term economic viability and social justice” (p. Vii). Concossis and Mexa (2004) share this opinion by arguing that sustainable tourism is a form of development, which protects the cultural and natural resources by respecting the environment. Additionally, this form of tourism is economically equitable and socially acceptable.

Reading the different definitions, one gets the impression that sustainable tourism needs to meet the social, political and cultural needs of contemporary tourist areas, without jeopardising the chances of future tourists experiencing the same culture, environment or economic gains. Admittedly, this is not an easy thing to do considering the notion that human beings are inherently selfish, and would therefore want to get as much benefits from the environment without considering future generations. Even more challenging for the contemporary society is the issue of how to uphold the life support systems, crucial ecological processes, and cultural integrity that at times takes political significance owing to the fact that it brings benefits to some people while imposing costs on others. Overall however, Hamblin (2001) argues that with all it benefits and shortcomings, sustainable tourism cannot be separated from sustainable development since people, organisations or economies pursue the former as a means to attaining the latter.

The debate regarding sustainable development is a sensitive one. As Swarbrooke (1999) observes, there are too many issues intermeshed in the debate. Unfortunately, some of these issues are not evaluated or challenged adequately to provide the much-needed answers. For example, the notion that small-scale tourism is more sustainable than large-scale or mass tourism could be misleading. This is would especially be the case if the nature of tourism areas were not put into consideration.

Sustainable tourism and tourism impacts

According to Swarbrooke (1999), the attainment of sustainable tourism depends on the tourist attitudes, and the activities undertaken by industry players. This argument makes sense in light of tourism impacts, which cannot be moderated by public sector bodies alone. Tourism impacts relate to the consequence emerging from how resources are utilised. According to Coccossis and Mexa (2004), impacts are usually perceived in relation to the pressure put on resources because of tourism, the state of the resources, and the impact that the pressure has had on them. The tourism impacts can be either positive or negative depending on the values of the person judging the same. This means that different stakeholders may not agree on whether the tourism impacts are negative or positive. Environmentalists and cultural advocates may for example argue that the impacts of tourism on a region are negative, while their development-conscious counterparts may argue that the income, employment and wealth generated from the tourism activities are contributing to development activities in the region.

Having established that sustainable tourism is closely linked to sustainable development, one cannot ignore the essential components that make up the latter. According to Swarbrooke (1999) sustainable development is attained through a combination of efforts, which include the establishment of ecological limits and equitable standards; the rearrangement of economic activities and the reordering of resources; population control; preservation of basic resources; enhancing fair access to resources; exploiting resources based on sustainable levels of the same; and retention of non-renewable resources. Notably, sustainable development is not possible without community control, and established frameworks, which should be based on the combined findings of economic viability, environmental quality and environmental audit.

Sustainable tourism and market economics

Evaluating sustainable tourism in relation to market economics, one gets the impression that advocates of the concept believe that tourism longevity will contribute to their economic interests with better management. It is for this reason that Wall (1997) notes that some of the advocates seek to perpetuate tourism regardless of the costs it has on the socio-economic and cultural environment. Through their insistence, they fail to consider the specific types of tourism best suited for specific situations. Even worse is the fact that the self-seekers in the tourism industry fail to assess and ensure that tourism activities are sustainable.

Beyond the narrow interests perpetuated by some stakeholders in the tourism industry, it is worth noting that tourism is considered by most countries as an income-generating avenue, which contributes significantly to revenues and foreign exchange generated in a country. To start with, tourism acts a source of employment for people working in the tourism sector, and those working in other sectors connected to the tourism sector. Secondly, tourism kindles profit making in industry players such as transport systems, restaurants and the food industry in general, accommodation facilities, guide services and handicrafts among others. In most countries, tourism is rated among the best exchange rate earners (Cerina et al., 2010). This means that the activity serves to inject new capital into an economy. Additionally, tourism serves to diversify the local economy since the locals engage in activities that have a wider appeal among the tourists in a bid to enhance tourist spending in the local economy.

Putting tourism’s contribution in the world economy into perspective, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimated that the sector would contribute 12 percent of the world’s gross domestic product by 2010. WTTC (2002) further estimated that tourism would account for 8.6 percent of the jobs generated annually in the world by 2012. While these statistics are impressive and even beneficial to the local economies, there is a wide-ranging debate about just how sustainable they are. For example, some tourist sites that continue to be appealing to tourists now may not survive in coming years due to the large number of visitors going there. The visitors not only put a strain on the ecosystem, but they also overwhelm the local infrastructure with high consumption habits and waste generation capacity. Consequently, the short-term economic gains are rolled back by the threats posed on the biodiversity and ecosystems, disruption caused on coastlines, deforestation, water overuse, and urban problems among other negative impacts.

Sustainable tourism and mass tourism

The economic aspect of tourism is largely blamed for the emergence of mass tourism, which is a trend where a high number of visitors tour a specific area. It is argued that countries and stakeholders in the tourism sector do not always limit the number of people who can travel to one attraction site in a given period, based on the need to get optimal economic benefits from the same (Luck, 2002). As a result, the tourist destination suffers tourism-induced intrusions, which take years to reverse, and could even be permanent in some cases. An argument by (Wheeler, 1991 cited by Luck, 2002), suggests that mass tourism does indeed jeopardise the chances of attaining sustainable tourism. However, instead of advocating for small-scale tourism, the author argues that large-scale, but spatially concentrated tourism should be encouraged as a remedy for concentrated mass tourism. Luck (2002) argues that mass tourism has held and will continue holding its position in the world and it does not help to wish it away. Instead, he proposes that stakeholders in the tourism industry should take up the challenge of accommodating mass tourism in the larger sustainable debate. Specifically, Luck (2002) proposes that individual tourists have a major role to play in sustainable tourism and should therefore be informed on how best to behave while on tour. Additionally, tour operators regardless of their business size, and local communities should also be involved in the development of sustainable tourism approaches. Examples of how working with tour companies and local communities works have been given by Weaver (2006), who has written about sustainable tourism practices in different parts of the world including Australia and northern Europe among other places. The irony of tourism and tourists is that once a place has been destroyed, people who would have spent thousands of dollars to visit the place would no longer be interested in the same. As such, they look for newer, less exploited destinations, only for the same to occur. Soon, the sustainable tourism proponents argue, unexploited destinations will not remain for further exploration.

Sustainable tourism and values

Debates on the values that tourism stakeholders have always emerged especially because critics usually argue that entrepreneurs within the industry are interested in the quick gains at the expense of social, cultural and environmental concerns. According to Kontogeorgopoulos (1999) for example, the Thailand government launched a campaign that sought to attract 17 million visitors to the country in just one year. This occurred despite the government knowing that such an influx of people would pose a risk to the environment, and local service provision. At the time, Kontogeorgopoulos (1999) notes that the Thailand government was hard-pressed for foreign exchange and tourism was the only easy way to attain the much-needed capital. As such, the government forfeited its values for short-term gains.

According to Sofield (2003), the values and ethics used in the interpretation of sustainable tourism depend on the political, cultural and social position of will of the different stakeholders. Overall, the values and ethics should enhance equity and justice; public accountability; decentralisation; democratisation; local empowerment; inclusive decision-making; local ownership; and benefit sharing (Edgell, 2006). On environmental considerations, the values should strive to protect and respect the environment; promote responsible actions by the tourists; manage pollution and solid waste responsibly; use non-renewable resources optimally; conserve and enhance resources; and use common resources sparingly (Rauschelbach, Schafer and Steck, 2002). The social values relating to tourism sustainability involve respecting local cultures; empowering local communities; protecting local cultures and using the resources therein within limits.


Sustainable tourism seeks to satisfy the needs of the host community, the guest tourists, the entrepreneurs and governments, and the future generations. As has been witnessed in countless scenarios the world over, striking a balance on just how best to attain longevity in tourism without sacrificing the enticing short term economic, social and cultural gains has proven a hard nut to crack for many researchers, tourism analysts and governments. Notably, there is no easy answer on how to go about attaining sustainable tourism. However, it is worth noting that with proper planning, proper management of the natural resources, measurement and control methods, stakeholders in the tourism industry would be capable of gauging the capacity of the tourist-environment continuum, hence gaining the knowledge needed to institute measures that would lead to sustainable tourism.


Cerina, F., Markandya, A., McAleer, M. (2010). Economics of sustainable tourism. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Concossis, H., & Mexa, A. (2004). The challenge of tourism carrying capacity assessment: theory and practice. London: Ashgate Publishing.

Edgell, D. L. (2006). Managing sustainable tourism: a legacy for the future. New York: Routledge.

Goslling, S. (2009). Sustainable tourism futures: perspectives on systems, restructuring and innovations. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Hamblin, J. (2001). “The sustainable growth of tourism to Britain.” Retrieved June 2, 2011 from:

Kontogeorgopoulos, N. (1999). “Sustainable tourism or sustainable development? Financial crisis, eco-tourism, and the ‘amazing Thailand campaign’.” Current Issues in Tourism. 2 (4), 316-332.

Luck, M. (2002). “Looking into the future of ecotourism and sustainable tourism.” Current Issues in Tourism. 5(3 & 4), 371-375.

Rauschelbach, B., Schafer, A., & Steck, B. (2002). Cooperating for sustainable tourism: proceedings of the forum international at the reisepavillion. Heildelberg: Kasparek Verlag.

Shah, K., McHarry, J., Gardiner, R. (2002). “The tourism briefing paper.” United Nations and the Stakeholder Forum. London: United Nations Foundation.

Sofield, T.H.B. (2003). Empowerment for sustainable tourism development. Bradford: Emerald Group Publishing.

Swarbrooke, J. (1999). Sustainable tourism management. New York: CABI Publishing.

Wahab, S., & Pigram, J.J. (1997). Tourism development and growth: The challenge of sustainability. New York: Routledge.

Wall, G. (1997). “Sustainable tourism- unsustainable development,” in Wahab, S., & Pigram, J. (eds). Tourism, development and growth: the challenge of sustainability. New York: Routledge.

Weaver, D. B. (2006). Sustainable tourism: Theory and practice. London: Butterworth-Heinemann.

WTTC (2002). “The Impact of Travel & Tourism on Jobs and the Economy – 2002.” Retrieved June 2, 2011 from: .