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Tourism and Sustainability: An unlikely couple?

August 28, 2019

August 28, 2019

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Tourism and Sustainability: An unlikely couple?

It’s unlikely that you’ve ever thought of sustainability and tourism in the same realm, let alone working symbiotically. But, like most things in life, even a holiday can leave a lasting impact on others. And not just others, but the very earth that sustains us. It’s no secret that as the population continues to grow, we’ll continue to see rises in tourism all around the world. In 1960, there were around 25.3 million international tourists –fast forward to 2008 and that number blows out to 982 million. It’s not surprising when we’re welcoming over 228,000 new faces to our planet every single day. 

It’s unlikely that you’ve ever thought of sustainability and tourism in the same realm, let alone working symbiotically. But, like most things in life, even a holiday can leave a lasting impact on others. And not just others, but the very earth that sustains us.

It’s no secret that as the population continues to grow, we’ll continue to see rises in tourism all around the world. In 1960, there were around 25.3 million international tourists –fast forward to 2008 and that number blows out to 982 million. It’s not surprising when we’re welcoming over 228,000 new faces to our planet every single day.  

This rapid rate of increase in international tourism is entirely responsible for the birth of sustainable tourism. The movement swiftly rose to fame in the early 2000s when the United Nations declared 2002 as the ‘Year of Ecotourism’. This sparked a chain reaction of events held in the proceeding years, including; the first international conference on climate change and tourism (Tunisia, 2003), the first world conference on tourism communications (Madrid 2004), and the first meeting of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics (2004).

Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development. A suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability. In its simplest form, sustainable tourism revolves around the idea of leaving nothing but footprints and taking nothing but pictures.

There are many reasons why one might choose to travel sustainably. Firstly, and arguably most commonly, eco-friendly choices, both at home and holiday, are becoming not just the social norm, but also the expectation. There’s more and more pressure on the everyday person to continually work towards reducing their carbon footprint, and it doesn’t stop once you’re on holiday. In fact, it’s not just the moral obligation that seems to be changing mindsets – but people are actually wanting to. One in three travelers now look for a company that is classified as ‘sustainable’, and according to Green Key, 94% of hotel guests are willing to stay in a property with energy-saving light bulbs, 89% in one with HVAC units that only run while you’re in the room, and 80% are happy with low flow showerheads.

On top of travelling sustainably from a sense of moral duty, tourists are also becoming more involved in wildlife protection, as well as helping to drive the local economy. Wherever you travel, you’re going to have some sort of effect on your environmental footprint. Travelers are now being more mindful about avoiding places that can potentially be harmed by the presence of too many people (e.g.; Machu Picchu in Peru etc) so as not to contribute further to its degradation. In terms of helping boost local economies, think of places like Bali. A beautiful country where when money is spent in the right places, helps individuals who run the restaurants, cafes, and guesthouses, and subsequently strengthens the economy of the island and Indonesia as a whole.

But sustainable tourism is not just being implemented on an individual level – big airlines, hotels, and tour groups are starting to pull their weight. Air France-FLM held the number one spot for the world’s most sustainable airline for 12 consecutive years until 2017, when ANA took their spot. In 2018, they took initiatives like promoting sustainable biofuel flights by signing a Green Deal commitment in France and reducing CO2 emissions by reducing the weight carried on their planes. Air France introduced a digital reading app to reduce wastepaper by 360,000 kilos per year, as well as the introduction of lightweight trolleys and other equipment.

In the hotel realm, since the UN announced 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, sustainable hotels are focusing on five key areas:

  1. Sustainable economic growth
  2. Increased employment and poverty reduction
  3. Resource efficiency, environmental protection, and climate change
  4. Cultural values, diversity, and heritage
  5. Mutual understanding, peace, and security

This is most commonly implemented through reducing water pressure, asking guests to reuse items, installing leak detecting water systems, dual-flush bathrooms, greywater systems, and water bead laundry systems. Global hotel brands are already getting on board, with companies like Marriott, Hilton International, and AccorHotels all doing their bit. Marriott, for example, has the following goals:

  • Reduce environmental footprint from a 2016 baseline by 15% for water | 30% for carbon | 45% for waste | 50% for food waste across the portfolio by 2025
  • 100% of MI hotels will have a sustainability certification, and 650 hotels will pursue LEED certification or equivalent by 2025.

So, whilst world population and tourism numbers might be on the rise, that doesn’t mean popular holiday spots have to be feeling the effects. There is something that everyone can do – on an individual level and also on a grand scale. Whether it’s choosing to ride your bike whilst on holidays instead of hiring a car, or a major airline deciding to change what fuel they use, we are all responsible to leave the places we visit in a better condition than which we found them in.


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