The COVID-19 Pandemic Presents an Opportunity to Make Tourism More Sustainable
By Bronagh Loughlin
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a halt in the tourism industry with hotels and restaurants not being allowed to operate indoor dining and airports and planes being forced to stop operating. This presents an excellent opportunity for us to take this time that the tourism industry is not operating to become more sustainable.
Tourism is one of the world’s fastest growing industries and a vital source of employment and foreign exchange while being closely linked to the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of many countries, in particular developing countries.
As more countries and regions develop their tourism industry, it has significant impacts on natural resources, consumption patterns, pollution and social systems. The need for responsible and sustainable management and planning is imperative for the industry to survive as a whole.
Sustainable tourism is essentially tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.
Achieving sustainable tourism will of course be a continuous process and it will be a process that needs constant monitoring of the impacts of the tourism industry on the planet. It is all about change, re-adapting and re-designing our current tourism models.
In the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), target 8.9 addresses the tourism industry and how it is an essential sector to become more sustainable. The goal reads, “by 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”.
The importance of sustainable tourism is also highlighted in the SDG target 12 b. which aims to “develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”.
It is certainly not impossible for us to devise sustainable tourism options. Sustainable tourism development management practices and guidelines are applicable to all kinds of tourism in all different kinds of destinations, including both mass tourism and the various niche tourism segments.
What does sustainable tourism look like? Sustainable tourism should make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural biodiversity and heritage.
In addition, it needs to respect the socio-cultural authenticity of the host communities, conserve their living and built cultural heritage and traditional values, and make a contribution to inter-cultural tolerance and understanding.
Finally, it must ensure viable, long-term economic operations that provide socio-economic benefits to all relevant stakeholders that are fairly distributed. This includes income-earning opportunities and stable employment as well as social services to the host communities and contributing to alleviate poverty.
Sustainable tourism development will require the informed participation of all the relevant stakeholders along with strong political leadership to reinforce consensus building and wide participation.
Achieving sustainable tourism will be a continuous process and it will require constant monitoring of the impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and corrective measures when necessary.
Sustainable tourism also must maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and it needs to reinforce a meaningful experience for the tourists. It should raise their awareness of the sustainability issues and promote sustainable tourism practices among them.
The solution? We need to find a balance between usage and limits so that continuous changing, planning and monitoring will ensure that tourism is being managed. This will require long-term thinking and realising that change is often gradual, cumulative and irreversible.
Economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainable development must include the interests of all stakeholders including local communities, indigenous people, industry, government and visitors.
Citizens, Governments and world leaders can all adopt sustainable tourism. The things Governments and world leaders can do are more centred around the impact of the travel industry as a whole such as the carbon emissions, use of single-use plastic, pollution and much more.
In relation to what citizens can do, they can become responsible tourists and look into who they are travelling with, who they are staying with and eating out with and much more to ensure their values match those providers.
You can also minimise your environmental impact when you travel in terms of choosing other eco-friendly travel options. There is also the option, though not a solution, to offset your carbon with an NGO which helps the communities most affected by climate change.
In the sustainable transition, tourism is a key area we need to target and as we are in a pandemic whereby the tourism industry has taken a halt, it is the perfect opportunity to begin thinking about how we can build back that industry better with sustainability and the protection of the environment at the forefront of our minds.
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