A contribution by Lea Faaß,
student in Business Economics/ Human Resource Management
at the Hochschule Pforzheim, Germany,
on exchange at ESSCA in 2018.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the world-wide Travel and Tourism sector accounts for 10% of the world’s GDP and 9,9% of the global employment. The sector is expected to be constantly growing over the next years (average about 3.8% per year), as air transportation is expected to get cheaper and even more people will be able to afford it. At a time, when flying is cheaper from Germany to Spain (flights from Frankfurt to Barcelona start at about 30€) than taking the train within Germany, it is hard for me to believe that there is an efficient concept of sustainable tourism in today’s world.

So many tempting destinations! (source: pixabay).

The world-wide Travel and Tourism sector is mainly growth-oriented, and profit-driven. Through its short-term orientation, the focus lies on generating return on investment. Therefore, both private funds and tax money are used to attract travellers and visitors.

The yearly increasing number of people travelling has of course negative impacts on the environment and on the society. For instance, through travelling, the emission of greenhouse gases (the sector is responsible for about 5 % of the global CO2 emission) and the waste generation at touristic destinations increase. Furthermore, the UNWTO estimates an increase in tourism flights of 23 million on average each year over the next twenty years. This will lead to an even higher CO2 emission over the next decades. Additionally, building big hotels and creating artificial landscapes and infrastructures leads to a clear cutting and destruction of forests and mangroves areas. This leads in the long term to a damage and change of the environment, such as erosion and flooding of areas (to name only two impacts).

The money tourists spend for their vacation is mostly spend for a short-term economic development of the regions concerned. Governments spend tax money to build bigger airports, railways, ports and tourist attractions, in order to attract even more people. And yet, they don’t take the impact of mass tourism on the local society into consideration. Of course, through touristic development, a lot of jobs for the local population are built. But what kind of jobs are they? For most of these jobs, only low qualifications are needed. Therefore, the jobs are badly paid and there are not too much opportunities for advancement.

Mass tourism. (source: pixabay).

Moreover, this system creates conflicts between visitors and residents. Public services and the infrastructures are often overstrained by too many tourists, which decreases the quality of life of the residents. The availability and prices of housing for tourists, as well as for residents are strongly affected by mass tourism. Additionally, tourism causes direct pollution, such as waste, congestion and noise, only to name a few impacts. Those circumstances do not only affect the residents, but also do the effect the whole experience for the travellers. Therefore, there are more and more places, which limit the number of the yearly visitors, introduce taxes and fees per visitor or completely ban visitations. Examples for this kind of policies in Europe are main touristic areas like Venice, Barcelona and the Cinque Terre.

However, on the other hand, a sustainable tourism movement clearly can be seen now on the international, as well as on the national and local level. Three of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are linked to sustainable tourism and all of the 17 goals can be promoted by sustainable tourism development. Furthermore, the United Nations designated the year 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

According to the Sustainable Tourism Index published in 2017 by The Economist, France and Germany have already developed a strong commitment to sustainable tourism. For example, the German government has already identified the potential of sustainable tourism for reaching the 17 SDGs. There are already some research and pilot projects, which should help implementing sustainable tourism at a national level. Nevertheless, even for those two leading countries of the Sustainable Tourism Index, the implementation of the developed strategies is patchy.

The goals of the sustainable tourism movement are to combat the negative effects of tourism. Therefore, lives of the local society should be improved, natural and cultural places should be protected, and authentic experiences should be offered to the tourists. Those ideas are a good starting point, but again there are problems in the implementation. For the biggest tourism companies, sustainable tourism is rarely an important point, because in most cases it bears higher costs. Therefore, mainly small businesses and organizations try to implement sustainable tourism with authentic experiences. However, how it is always within profit-driven economies, there is a lot of competition within those small businesses and organizations. The operational and organizational practices are not changing. Therefore, the impact of the acting businesses is relatively small.

However, it is not only the responsibility of the governments and travelling organizations. The main responsibility should lie with the travellers. Everyone who enjoys travelling should be aware of the impact their vacation has on the environment, the society and the economy of the countries he/she is visiting. It is true that sustainable travelling can be more expensive than not caring about the environmental and social impacts of your vacations. But I am sure, if you think about how to travel, you can enjoy the trip more in the end. Therefore the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) offers recommendations for travellers, what each and every one of us can do for helping to advance the SDGs and Sustainable Tourism.

In a nutshell, I would say that today’s situation in the Travel and Tourism sector is far away from what could be called sustainable tourism. Nevertheless, I would not go so far as to claim that sustainable tourism is a contradiction in itself. It is true, that there is still a lot to do to reach real sustainability. Every individual in our society can contribute to this goal. The most important thing at the moment is to raise the awareness of the impact of our behaviour. Furthermore, it is of extraordinary importance that our governments start treating this topic on a serious basis. In this case, Germany and France already laid a good foundation. But when it comes to the implementation of all those ambitions, even the two governments still have a long way to go…

Still a long way to go… (source: pixabay)


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