Lessons of Sustainability in Tourism

Lessons of sustainability in tourismI have been studying and working with tourism operators and their sustainability practices for more than five years.  During this time, tourism operators have taught me a lot about sustainability (and hopefully it has been mutual!!).  Below are just four things they have taught me…

Operators agree on the “big picture”

It’s easy to think of sustainability as a contentious or controversial issue, because extreme views often frame the debate – especially on climate change.  I have found, however, that tourism operators are on pretty much on the same page when it comes to the “big picture” – that the adoption of sustainable business practices is important.

Differences of opinion are often about which practices are meaningful and effective, or how tourism operators should be encouraged to adopt sustainable practices (tourism operators hate being told what to do).

Tourists don’t seek out sustainable products and services

On the whole, tourism operators do not try to appeal to ‘green’ market niche because they don’t think it exists.  Efforts to convince them otherwise are viewed with suspicion.

Research largely justifies these views – at best, an operator’s sustainability credentials are a part of the product mix, but have little influence on individuals’ actual purchasing behaviour.

This poses this question – what motivates operators? One thing that operators have taught me is that…

Tourism operators measure their sustainability against each other – not what tourists think of them

Tourism operators have a spirit of healthy competition and judge their sustainability performance not on what tourists think of them, but on what the operator down the road is doing.

Knowing where to start is the main barrier to action

Despite the efforts of well meaning agencies and organisations, many tourism operators are largely in the dark as to where to start adopting sustainability initiatives.  Most of them are doing lots of separate sustainability practices, but need advice on how to tie them together and extend their practices.

The vast majority of tourism operators couldn’t nominate a single ‘first port of call’ for information on sustainability that is relevant to them.

3 Comments

  1. Jarrod December 10, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    Cost, cost and cost seem to be one of the biggest barriers to sustainability at the moment. You pay for carbon certification, you pay into the ETS, you pay to join sustainability networks. All of which are important but there are other things that create a ‘sustainable’ business.

    Use local suppliers wherever possible. Reduce, reuse and recycle absolutely everything you can. Donate time and resources to local environmental trusts. Utilise free calculators online to measure, assess and reduce your own carbon emissions. Invest in assets with better longevity and more sustainable technologies.

    When you start to delve into it you quickly realise that ‘going sustainable’ is actually a cost-saving exercise in the long run.

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