The topic of sustainable tourism is a popular one in Belize. In April of 2010 the Belize Tourism Board concluded the first phase in the development of their National Sustainable Tourism Master Plan. Â But what exactly is Âsustainable tourismÂ? For the un-initiated, here is a fairly concise article that simplistically presents the basic tenets of sustainable tourism. It is, after all, meant to be more than a catchy tourism sales pitchÂ
For any given tourism, development, or other endeavor, there are three criteria that must be met to qualify as a Âsustainable tourismÂ project.
Article by Amanda Williams Â Owner of a Dangerous Business, a Travel Blog
In recent years, the term ÂsustainableÂ has been increasingly paired up with words like ÂtravelÂ and ÂtourismÂ to denote a desired way of operating. Hotels want to be Âsustainable.Â Tour companies want to be Âsustainable.Â And travelers are increasingly concerned with only spending their money on ÂsustainableÂ ventures.
But what exactly does Âsustainable tourismÂ mean?
To most people, ÂsustainableÂ is synonymous with Âeco-friendly.Â They think of geothermal-powered hotels, conservation efforts, and companies concerned with their carbon footprints.
And itÂs true that being environmentally-conscious is a big part of being sustainable. But itÂs not the only thing to consider. An attraction or destination can be as ÂgreenÂ as green can be, and still not be sustainable.
When it comes to sustainability, there are actually three ÂpillarsÂ to consider: environmental, economic, and socio-cultural. Tourism has to be sustainable in all three areas to truly be considered Âsustainable tourism.Â
The environment is obviously important to tourism. Both the natural environment (such as beaches, forests, waterways) and the built environment (such as historic buildings and ruins) must be preserved for an area to be environmentally sustainable. Environmental sustainability means making sure resources in an area (whatever they may be) can be preserved for use by future generations. ItÂs much more than just being Âgreen.Â
When an area starts being visited by tourists, there are bound to be some social and cultural impacts of those tourists on the host community. Locals may see increased congestion and overcrowding in towns and cities, perhaps an increase in crime, the introduction of new languages and values, and perhaps even an influx of migrant workers to be employed in the tourist industry. Socio-cultural sustainability, then, means minimizing these negative impacts and focusing on more positive ones, such as promoting cultural exchange and preserving local traditions. This can usually be achieved by getting the locals involved in the tourism industry. Having the community involved will not only offer visitors a more genuine experience, but the locals will be more likely to see tourism in a positive light because they will be proud of it.
The last pillar of sustainability revolves around perhaps the most important part Â the money. Many people donÂt take into account economics when thinking about sustainability, but itÂs really the key to making a tourism venture sustainable. Economic sustainability means building linkages and reducing leakages Â essentially, keeping the money local. A hotel or company owned and operated by a foreigner is not likely to contribute much to the local economy Â the money will likely leak overseas instead. This is not sustainable. Not only should the community be involved in tourism, but they should also all share in the financial benefits gleaned from it.
Why Does it Matter?
So why should we care about sustainability?
Well, the fact is, sustainable tourism actually benefits everyone involved, and not just one half of the equation. Unsustainable tourism might be fine from the point of view of the tourist, but itÂs unlikely to benefit or gain support from the host community.
And, at the end of the day, tourism should not be a one-way street. Everyone involved should be benefiting from it in one way or another.
So, the next time youÂre torn between two attractions or destinations or hotels or tour companies, consider these points: Which one is locally-owned? Which one is more eco-friendly? Which one employs local people? Which one contributes the most to the local economy? Which one is more sensitive to its impacts on the host community?
Basically, which one is more sustainable?
Considering these points just might change the way you travel.