Sustainable tourism definitions almost always combine two big, important ideas. The first idea comes from the Brundtland Report – Our Common Future – in which they say sustainable development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” . The second big idea is John Elkington’s ‘Triple Bottom Line” that requires consideration of not only the “profits” but “people” and “planet” as well. These big ideas provide a great foundation but they also present a real challenge for anyone attempting to develop sustainable tourism.
The challenge of sustainable tourism is striking the balance between people, planet and profits – to meet the needs of the present without compromising the future. This challenge is easy to grasp – conceptually – but it is hard to know where to start. Adding to the challenge – there is plenty of scope for well-intentioned folks to disagree on what should be done and there really is no single, black and white, “right” answer.
Fortunately, there is a growing body of great advice on what to do. Practical advice on environmental practices, cultural and social tourism and even market development information. But the challenge of sustainable tourism remains because the best answers incorporate another level of thinking…
The key to arriving at the best answer lies in finding the right balance. Too often we treat element separately – addressing environment separately from social and cultural issues or economics. Sustainable tourism is more programs for people, planet and profit – it is programs that integrate all of these things together – to come to the best possible outcome for today – and tomorrow. Sustainable tourism requires looking at them all together as a whole system.
To many, tourism is an economic savior that can bring jobs and opportunity. Indeed there are tourism opportunities everywhere and markets for most any type of experience. But not all markets are the same and not all destinations have the ability to service the markets they want to attract.
I have been thinking a lot about the “human traffic jam” on Everest this week and the tourists who undertake this type of travel. The market for this type of experience is somewhat limited by all sorts of factors – money, health, access, time involved etc to name a few. This type of tourism is also limited by facilities – and it seems that we are fast approaching capacity on the world’s largest mountain.
Visitors need services and, although the opportunity to see the unique and special trumps many hardships, there is definitely a minimum threshold of services for most people. Tourism is built on a foundation of basic infrastructure . In general, as the infrastructure and services increase, the potential market increases.
Which brings me to a great article in USA Today about Afghanistan Tourism. I am sure that there is a market for Afghanistan tourism today. But it is surely limited to a brave few. So Afghan tourism has two tasks:
1. They need to identify the tourists who are prepared to visit the country today and build from this (small) foundation.
2. They need to build the infrastructure for their own communities. As that infrastructure increases so too will opportunities for tourism offers to larger markets.
It is a balancing act with great “upside” and I wish them every success !
People in the Rainforest
Thanks to Tourism Queensland for the image.
Heritage Tourism is an important way for indigenous
communities to celebrate their culture and support their communities. It is also an important way for visitors to learn and appreciate the culture of people from places we visit.
Here’s a great indigenous ecotourism toolkit developed by a team for at the Australian National Training Authority.
Thanks to RobinNunkoo at University of Waterloo for sharing it !
Deadwood, South Dakota is dealing with many of the challenges inherent in tourism today. A recent USA Today article – Ghost Town or Gambling Haven outlines the issues of balancing growth, fuelled by gaming, while maintaining the character of the destination.
Heritage Tourism “lives” on a continuum from Disney’s Main Street to the most faithful recreations of historical locations and events. As each destination struggles to balance the “here and now” with “what we were” and “what we want to be”, they need to find their place on that continuum. And the work is never finished: it is a complex, dynamic, ongoing process.