Is Sustainable Tourism Sustainable?

Tourism represents one of the top five exports for 83 percent of all countries and is the main source of foreign currency for 38 percent of countries. The industry continues to experience growth even in poor economic times. As consumers become more aware of the environmental impact of their actions, a trend toward “sustainable tourism” has become more popular, and many even take the Sustainable Tourism Pledge. But what is sustainable tourism? And is it actually sustainable? There are several types of sustainable tourism. In general, sustainable tourism is the concept of visiting a place as a tourist while trying to make only a positive impact on the environment, society and economy.

  • Responsible tourism is any form of tourism that can be conducted in a more responsible way. This term is often used by industry in place of sustainable tourism, as the term is not as overused and is more easily understood and more broadly defined. A hotel in a metro area such as the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona that adopts greener programs can fall under this category.
  • Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy, study and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features past and present), that promotes conservation, has low visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations
  • Voluntourism is a form of travel where one volunteers on projects which give back to the community.

Sustainable tourism has the potential to reduce the threats posed by conventional tourism to natural areas and to the people who live in and around them. But how sustainable is it, and how can we track its impact? Balancing the costs and benefits is not easy, but there are some ways we can use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to help.

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