Understand what is sustainable tourism, why it is important to create sustainable practices in tourism and meet sustainable destinations around the world.

We love to travel, to visit new places, to meet different people … but have you ever stopped to think about all of the negative impacts that our travels can cause? In this article, we will explain in a simple way the meanings of sustainability and sustainable tourism, the importance of having sustainable practices in our trips, and we will also be mentioning destinations with good sustainable tourism practices around the world.

What is sustainability?

what is sustainability and its 3 pillars
Sustainable Tourism – Elaine hugging a tree
Foto: Brenno Carvalho

To better understand what sustainable tourism means, let’s first understand what is sustainability.

In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as:

“meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Currently, when we talk about sustainability, we associate the topic with issues such as deforestation, consumerism, trash in the oceans, endangered animals, etc, and it makes sense since all of them can really compromise the well-being and even the survival of the future generations.

The 3 pillars of sustainability

Sustainability has 3 pillars that must be balanced, which are economic, social and environmental.

These pillars were identified during a United Nations (UN) event that took place in 2005.

The balance between these three pillars must be emphasized, as we often forget about it. An example:

Brazil wants to grow the exportation of meat, which is good for the country’s economy. But the consequence of this growth is the increase of negative impacts to the environment and to the communities.

Examples of the negative impacts:

  • Increase of greenhouse gases
  • Higher consumption of natural resources such as water (did you know that it takes more than 15,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilo of beef?)
  • Deforestation and ecosystems compromise
  • Higher risk of zoonoses for both people and animals
  • Misappropriation of indigenous territories
  • and others…

What is sustainable tourism?

Sustainable Tourism in Brazil
Sustainable Tourism in Brazil – Ekôa Park (PR)
Photo: Brenno Carvalho

The definition of sustainable tourism according to the World Tourism Organization (WTO) is as follows:

“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”

Note how the concept of sustainable tourism ends up being a junction of what is sustainability and its 3 pillars, but adapted for the tourism industry.

Why is sustainable tourism important?

According to a 2019 report by the World Travel & Tourism Council, tourism represents more than 10% of the global GDP, so it is an extremely important sector in our economy, which is very good!

However, what will tourism be like in the future if it is done in an unbridled way?

What will happen to local communities if large hotels hire only foreigners? Or if foreign investors exploit the locals with unfair deals and wages?

And as travelers … do we need to put wild animals at risk just because we want a selfie with them? Are we handing our hard-earned money to responsible companies? Or are our trips funding environmental and social crimes?

Do we want wonderful destinations like Maya Bay in Thailand to be closed due to the damage caused by the lack of planning and the lack of awareness of travelers? Would we like to find trash on paradise islands during our dreamed vacation?

Creating sustainable practices in our travels is as important as creating sustainable habits in our day-to-day lives, at home, at work, or anywhere else.

After all, when we talk about sustainability, we involve all living beings on the planet into the discussion.

Examples of Sustainable Tourism around the World

sustainable travel destinations in the world
Bhutan – One of the most sustainable destinations of the world
Photo: Elaine Villatoro

Some countries around the world have been putting a lot of effort to become a more sustainable destination.

In my opinion Bhutan, is the best example. Did you know that Bhutan is the only country in the world considered carbon negative? This means that the purity of its forests produces more oxygen than the country emits gases =)

Tourism in Bhutan is well controlled, in addition to requiring a visa, a daily fee of USD 200 to USD 250 is charged, which already includes a minimum of a 3-star hotel, tour, and meals. Much of this fee goes to environment preservation and social development projects.

Other examples of sustainable destinations in the world are:

  • Costa Rica: Costa Rica has 25% of its territory protected and is one of the leaders in sustainable tourism practices in the world. There they have a program called Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) that certifies hotels and tour operators that follow their recommendations.
  • Monaco: With 100% green energy, shared electric vehicles and bicycles, Monaco has been running a campaign called “Green is the new glam”.
  • Jordan: The tourism is Jordan’s main source of income, and to help to grow the local economy, the accommodations prefer to use local products such as bed sheets and towels.

A more complete list would include more countries such as New Zealand, Norway, Seychelles and others.

Sustainable Travel in Brazil

Sustainable travel in Brazil
Elaine snorkeling in Bonito (MS)

Brazil also has destinations with excellent sustainable initiatives. Among them are:

Bonito (MS): Bonito strictly controls the number of tourists who participate in each tour.

Socorro (SP): Accessibility is also taken into consideration when we talk about sustainable tourism, and Socorro has attractions and accommodations that bring inclusion in tourism to people with disabilities or special needs.

Find out the importance of Accessible Travel!

Fernando de Noronha (PE): Noronha strictly controls the number of visitors it receives and has programs to end the use of plastic on the island and reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030.

Morretes (PR): Ekôa Park in Morretes is an example of attraction with great sustainability practices. The park, located in the Atlantic Forest, offers activities and adventures for all ages, which come with a lot of environmental awareness.

How sustainable tourism came into my life

Gulhi Island - Maldives
Elaine in the Maldives

I was not always a responsible traveler, the awareness of the impacts that my travels can have on the environment and society hit my life only in 2018, during a 5-month trip that I took.

Experiences like noticing Bhutan’s respect for nature and its population, witnessing people working in extremely precarious conditions in the largest slum of India, seeing people wearing masks in Kathmandu (Nepal) to protect themselves from pollution, made me rethink my habits and attitudes.

But the key experience that made me decide to learn more about sustainable tourism was when I saw a lot of trash on paradisiacal beaches in the Maldives and I found out that tourism is one of the main responsible for this.

After returning to Brazil, I started to research about the topic and I also started to share what I was learning on my social media.

Today, fighting for this cause is part of my life’s purpose.

How about you? How sustainable tourism came into your life? And what are your questions about it?

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