3 The Tourism Company - Sustainable Tourism
The Tourism Company
Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable tourism is not a form of tourism but rather an aspiration for the industry. In The Tourism Company we believe that all tourism should be as sustainable as possible and we have played a leading role in work towards this end.

Our involvement in this area goes back to the production of the first UK government report that recognised the wider impacts of tourism – Tourism and the Environment, Maintaining the Balance, in 1991. Since then we have been closely involved in relevant policy making and action internationally and within the UK. In 2005 we wrote a definitive publication for the UN World Tourism Organisation and UNEP called Making Tourism More Sustainable, A Guide for Policymakers. This set out an agenda of 12 aims for more sustainable tourism, considered the best structures for governments and others to work together to deliver this, and then looked at a whole set of tools that can be used to influence the impact of tourism. In this publication, we put forward a short definition of sustainable tourism as: 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.

In 2006 we were appointed by the European Commission to facilitate their Tourism Sustainability Group and write its final report, Action for more sustainable European tourism. It forms the basis for a new EU policy statement in 2007. We are delighted that this work in Europe has been reflected very closely in the UK government’s tourism strategy for 2012. Based around our work on the above reports, we suggest that key challenges for tourism sustainability include:

  1. Reducing the seasonality of demand – which is seen as the root cause of much economic fragility and inefficiency of resource use in tourism.
  2. Addressing the impact of tourism transport – as a significant environmental challenge for our industry, calling for a combined set of responses from offsetting emissions to a shift in travel modes and patterns.
  3. Improving the quality of tourism jobs – as a social equity issue with attendant implications for labour supply and recruitment.
  4. Minimising resource use and the production of waste – focussing on challenges relating to water, energy, litter and pollution.
  5. Maintaining and enhancing community prosperity in the face of change – with challenges varying from poverty alleviation and indigenous community rights in developing countries to the rapid spread of second home ownership in Europe.
  6. Conserving and giving value to natural and cultural heritage – gaining more support for conservation through tourism while addressing land use and management issues.
  7. Making holidays available to all – being conscious of how sustainability concerns may lead to elitism, and meeting the needs of people with physical disability and economic disadvantage.

In our work for UNWTO and UNEP we set out a comprehensive framework of tools than can assist in making tourism more sustainable. The Tourism Company has been active in shaping and applying a number of them.

Indicators and monitoring. Our report for the EU TSG contains a set of 50 indicators that can be used at a destination level as measures of tourism impact and sustainability. We have also conducted workshops on sustainability indicators in Saudi Arabia, Montenegro and elsewhere.

Land use planning and development control. We see sound planning systems as fundamental to the sustainability of tourism in the long term. We have prepared guidelines on planning for tourism for the UK government and addressed the link between tourism strategies and land use planning policy in a number of locations – from South Wales to the Albanian coast.

Voluntary certification. We believe that certification schemes can provide a valuable incentive for the sustainability of businesses and information for consumers, provided they are practicable and well promoted. We have advised on their application in the UK and on links to European schemes.

Guidance and training. We helped to prepare the Green Audit Kits for tourism enterprises in the UK and subsequently undertook a monitoring study which showed that they had been instrumental in influencing businesses, when promoted as part of a package of measures, including training. We have also helped to identify and promote examples of good practice.

Financial instruments. In the face of uncertainty over the application of compulsory charges and taxes to influence behaviour and raise revenue for conservation, we pioneered the concept of integrated schemes to stimulate voluntary giving by tourists. In an action research project for the EU on this subject, The Tourism Company introduced the term ‘Visitor Payback’, which has been widely taken up round the world.