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Implementing sustainable tourism in your travel business

The tourism business contributes heavly to climate change, and implementing sustainable tourism policies is a crucial step towards improving the travel business as a whole

The travel industry is historically a heavy source of pollution, considering the energy required for so many flights, to keep big hotels running, and the waste that tourists generate. In fact, tourism contributes an estimated 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Those looking for a more measured and environmentally friendly way to operate a tourism business have adopted sustainable tourism, a form of sustainable travel that minimizes the harm caused by tourism.

Table of contents

1. What is sustainable tourism?

2. How can your business practice sustainable tourism?

2.1. Energy efficiency

2.2. Saving water

2.3. Lowering greenhouse gas emissions

2.4. Good labor practices

2.5. Preserving local culture

2.6. Tourist health and safety

2.7. Animal welfare

2.8. Responsibility statement

3. Examples of sustainable tourism

3.1. Rural tourism

3.2. Community tourism

What is sustainable tourism?

Sustainable tourism is a movement within the travel industry that tries to maintain the positive outcomes of tourism while mitigating negative impacts. The desirable impacts of tourism include:

  • Job creation
  • Preservation of cultural heritage
  • Wildlife and landscape conservation

Responsible tourism continues to promote these initiatives while reducing>

  • Damage to the environment
  • Overcrowding
  • Economic leakage, when tourism revenue goes to large corporations instead of the local community

To that end, sustainable tourism tries to create inclusive experiences bringing together tourists and community members, which benefit both groups. Sustainable tourism isn’t just about benefiting travel destinations and their residents, but also about making life better for future travelers.

Most tourists prefer visiting places which are not too overcrowded, relatively clean, and safe. Preserving local cultural sites and traditions also benefits visitors, since it keeps the travel experience authentic.

Sustainable travel is an umbrella term which also includes green travel and responsible tourism. Green travel, sometimes called ecotourism, focuses specifically on the environmental impacts of tourism. Ecotourism provides opportunities to learn about and experience nature, and to do so while having a low environmental impact. Ecotourism examples include sustainable tourism that takes place in natural areas like forests or wetlands and contributes to efforts to preserve local ecosystems.

Responsible tourism refers to the way individual travelers act. Responsible travel means doing everything you can to choose sustainable alternatives when traveling.

Several boats crrying tourists and traveling along a canal

How can your business practice sustainable tourism?

Sustainable tourism developed as a means of combating the major issues in the tourism industry, which include but go beyond the environmental impact tourism has. These issues include:

  • Economic viability: Keeping travel destinations profitable in the long-term
  • Quality employment: Making sure tourism leads to jobs within the community
  • Social equity: Ensuring the benefits of tourism spread throughout the community
  • Community wellbeing: Keeping local communities from being exploited and helping them use tourist attention to thrive
  • Biological diversity: Looking after natural areas, landscapes, and wildlife to preserve their integrity
  • Resource efficiency: Using only as many resources as necessary in your tourism business, avoiding overconsumption or exploitation

If you’re looking to meet these goals in your tourism business, there are eight elements of any sustainable travel organization.

Energy efficiency

Managing your energy usage is an essential part of any tourism business. Using fewer fossil fuels and switching to renewable energy, as well as using less energy overall, helps you accomplish this. You can cut down on energy use in your offices, hotels, and other buildings with smart heating systems, LED lightbulbs, and keeping appliance use to a minimum.

Saving water

Waste management is essential to sustainable operations, and water is a very common source of waste. Good water management is crucial in your facilities, especially so that the surrounding community does not experience a water shortage. Encourage your customers to use water sparingly in their rooms as well.

Lowering greenhouse gas emissions

Policies like renewable energy use and saving water help you manage your greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to these sustainable tourism initiatives, your business can mitigate its net greenhouse gas emissions by contributing to carbon offset programs, such as reforesting schemes.

A woman working on a farm in the sun, planting crops

Good labor practices

Making sure you have a good human rights record and a favorable relationship with the community are important for any sustainable tourism business. Employ community members to make sure that the revenue you generate benefits locals, and treat workers fairly. That means training them properly, giving them enough time to rest, and keeping their work hours reasonable.

Preserving local culture

Ensuring local cultures remain intact and respected provides visitors with a better, more unique experience, as well as helps communities continue living as they were. You can incorporate locals and local attractions into your business easily by:

  • Serving locally grown and/or seasonal food
  • Offering visits to community sites and participation in local traditions
  • Hikes and walks through local nature
  • Local art and culture shows

Tourist health and safety

Any tourism business needs to make sure guests stay healthy during their stay. Clearly define your sanitation and cleaning procedures, and make sure your staff maintains things regularly. Avoid exposing travelers to any health risks or hazards within the hotel.

Animal welfare

The impact of tourism on local wildlife is a big concern for sustainable tourism businesses. If your business offers wildlife tours or visits, make sure to keep the animals protected and establish correct traveler behavior. There’s also been controversy surrounding zoos and other attractions that treat their animals poorly; do your research to make sure any organizations you work with are ethical.

Responsibility statement

Tourists interested in sustainable travel want to see that you are committed to reducing your environmental impact, that you treat employees well, and that you are a valuable community partner. To that end, it makes sense to draft a responsibility statement, where you detail the steps you take towards all the various sustainable initiatives.

You can put this statement on your website and use it in your marketing, to attract new business. In addition to stating what you are doing, outline what you are working towards, and though it seems obvious, don’t lie or exaggerate.

Examples of sustainable tourism

Though sustainable tourism has only recently become more popular, in light of the climate crisis, there are several examples of sustainable tourist businesses. These examples commonly fall under one of two types of sustainable travel.

Rural tourism

As the name implies, rural tourism takes place outside of an urban area. Rural tourism frequently includes living a rural lifestyle, which makes it a good example of ecotourism too. Visitors stay with locals, learn about local lifestyles, and occasionally help with tasks.

Rural tourism qualifies as sustainable tourism because in addition to preserving local culture and benefiting locals, it avoids heavy resource use and overcrowding.

Community tourism

Like rural tourism, community tourism involves travelers staying in the community, and thus the money they spend on their trip continues to benefit locals. Community members offer visitors a place to stay, as well as promoting local activities and experiences.

Though it is a form of sustainable tourism, community tourism doesn’t always focus on nature. It can involve wildlife, but it is more about empowering communities to have a bigger stake in tourism where they live. That helps the travel industry remain mutually beneficial for all parties.

Making your tourism business more sustainable is easy when you have a digital checklist app like Lumiform. With a premade or customized checklist template, you can measure things like your water and energy usage, and you can codify processes and schedules, so your employees always know what is expected of them.

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