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Consumption is a well-known issue in the tourism industry, especially as society feels pressure to reduce consumption as much as possible. As industry professionals, initiating discussions about consumption within the tourism sector to keep the industry current and thriving is essential. With this theme out in the open, tourists and industry professionals alike may be encouraged to consider their current consumption and brainstorm ways to transform unsound practices to be more safe and sustainable. One of the biggest enemies of progress is alienation; as industry professionals, we have a responsibility to direct the future of the industry, and asking tourists for their cooperation is likely to be more productive than placing the blame. After all, true change can occur only when we work together.

Being Realistic About Sustainable Tourism

In many regions of the world, tourism is a main source of income for local communities. Eliminating tourism is not a wise choice, and not only economically — it is also important for social interaction and understanding of culture and lifestyles that are different from our own. Sustainable tourism practices do not aim to completely do away with tourism, but rather take a closer look at how things are done and consider what could be accomplished more efficiently or with less waste, for example. In that sense, sustainable tourism naysayers(opens in a new tab) can be hushed; our true purpose in making tourism more sustainable is to work toward attainable goals, rather than simply considering the situation a lost cause or reaching for the stars and beyond. (Besides, we all know that perfection isn’t attainable.)

Unsustainable practices and overtourism are arguably the biggest barriers when it comes to maximizing the benefits of tourism. In a “business as usual” scenario, tourism may threaten a wide range of resources, both directly and indirectly related; some would even argue that rampant, unchecked tourism has already endangered a number of natural resources. That being said, tourism is a complex industry. It presents both threats and opportunities, which makes regulation all the more necessary. Fortunately, regulatory measures do not necessarily have to be initiated, planned, tested, and implemented from the top down (typically by governmental bodies).

The Importance of Simple Measures

In order to make progress towards more sustainable practices in tourism, there is an urgent need for direct action, and quick. Given the number of tourists and industry professionals (one in five jobs(opens in a new tab) created worldwide in 2017 were tourism-related, and as of 2018, the number of international tourist arrivals stands at a staggering 1.4 billion(opens in a new tab)), the impacts of positive change made by grassroots efforts have the potential to be life-changing. That means we don’t have to wait for lobbyists to influence public policy! We, as tourists and industry professionals, can take matters into our own hands and lead the way with simple measures. Perhaps the biggest advantage of simple, straightforward measures is that they can be modified to suit several geographic and cultural needs, since there isn’t a universal solution to the problems that tourism creates. Simple measures can be easily adapted and even improvised.

There is in fact quite a bit industry professionals, tourists, and travelers can do to make tourism more sustainable. Tour guides, hotel and restaurant owners, and other industry professionals are very well-suited to emphasize the need for sustainable, conscientious tourism. Making critical information easily accessible to guests — such as things to do, things to avoid doing, and other friendly tips — is almost standard practice at this point. This is the perfect opportunity to shed light on practices that constitute sustainable tourism and how guests can help. For example, encourage your guests to walk or cycle to destinations that aren’t very far. In the context of the amount of fossil fuels required for tourism-related transportation, something as simple as this recommendation could be the most important tip that you provide. A scientific study from 2010(opens in a new tab) notes that 72% of tourism’s carbon dioxide emissions come from transportation, making this the first area to tackle.
Alternatively, you can compile information about where your guests can find a greener form of transportation. You can help them arrange for communal transportation, such as carpools or buspools in the absence of a public transport infrastructure. As a tour operator, you are also in a unique position to educate your guests on the ecological background of your area as it relates to tourism. Alert them of issues that you have seen it cause and give them some tips on how they can help today. At the very least, you are starting the conversation about the need for change.

Proactive Regulation

If we have the right to travel, then we also have a duty to be conscientious tourists. Proactive regulation places equal emphasis on duty — it essentially means that we need to take care of the world that we travel to before it’s too late. It’s common knowledge that the fear of losing economic growth is one of the main obstacles for the transition to more sustainable living. Governments that rely on tourism for swift economic growth typically focus extensively on numbers. They actively aim to attract more and more tourists, and are characteristically averse to regulation. This not only endangers the destinations they aim to promote, but also threatens tourism itself. Excessive focus on growth is therefore self-destructive. Remember how we’re all involved in the industry? Governments will also have to deal with our unemployment if tourism becomes impossible. And there are a lot of us! And, of course, we’ll have to deal with our own unemployment. Ultimately, it really is in everyone’s best interest to make the move to sustainability.

Proactive regulation typically aims to limit either the number of tourists or when during the year they can visit a certain location. Before you disagree, think about it! An off-season can be used to make and train new hires or work those pesky maintenance tasks you’ve been meaning to get to. You could also use this time to train your current staff, colleagues, or even yourself about sustainable tourism and how you can do your part.

The Takeaway

Simple measures, such as recommending your guests take a nice walk instead of an Uber, or preventative care, like establishing an off-season, can go a long way in improving your business’ sustainability.

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