Tourism can be made more sustainable through several achievable measures. Some look to technological solutions so we can continue business as usual. Others highlight conscious consumerism and ideas like slow travel.
But in a world in which growing populations with endless consumer demands are pitted against a fragile environment, we require more concerted effort.
1) Governments must implement policies that foster sustainable development by overcoming the growth fetish. Tourism then should be developed only within sustainable development parameters. Governments must tackle the environmental limits to growth and climate change challenges we confront. Tourism development requires integrated planning. So, we need the government tourism authorities – such as Tourism Australia or state tourism commissions – focused equally on integrated planning as the marketing they currently emphasise.
2) Consumers should be educated for responsible travel choices. For example, few realise that all-inclusive resorts result in economic benefits from tourism leaking out of the host economy back to the home economies of the big multinationals and corporations that often own such resorts (think Club Med). Civics education in schools could educate for responsible travel.
3) Local communities, often treated as only as one stakeholder among the many, must have a right to participate in tourism decision-making and have a say on if and how their communities become tourism destinations.
4) Workers of tourism must have their rights respected and given decent conditions. Tourism should not be allowed to continue as a low-wage and precarious source of employment.
5) The tourism industry needs to assume greater responsibility, submitting to local tax regimes and regulations so its presence builds thriving communities, rather than undermining them. This is increasingly essential as a social license to operate. The industry should also educate its clients on responsible tourism.
6) Non-governmental organisations are essential for reporting on the abuses of tourism, including land grabs, human rights abuses, community opposition and corruption.
Harnessing these essential stakeholders in a rigorous agenda for sustainable development, rather than sustaining tourism, would make the UN’s “year” more meaningful.
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