Sustainable Tourism Principles and Indicators

Sustainable Tourism Principles and Indicators

“Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability”. (UNWTO)

The golden triangle of sustainability tourism is represented by three dimensions. Thus, sustainable tourism should:

  1. Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural resources and biodiversity.
  2. Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.
  3. Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.

The use of indicators is an effective tool in addressing sustainability principles at programme and project levels.

In PM4ESD we recommend the adaptation of an internationally and/or nationally and/or regionally recognised set of indicators for achieving our sustainable objectives. It is possible to use them to build a sound business case.

In the global market place there are more than 60 independent certificates for “environmentally friendly” or “sustainable” tourism services, destinations and tour operators all over the world.

The World Tourism Organisation has been promoting the use of sustainable tourism indicators since the early 1990s, as essential instruments for policy-making, planning and management processes at destinations. WTO has developed together with Rainforest Alliance and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria”.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) are a set of 37 voluntary standards representing the minimum that any tourism business should aspire to reach in order to protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources while ensuring tourism meets its potential as a tool for poverty alleviation.

Over 40 of the world’s leading public, private, non-profit, and academic institutions joined together to analyse thousands of worldwide standards and engage the global community in a broad-based stakeholder consultation process.

Today, the GSTC are being used by businesses and organisations around the world to better understand the complexities of sustainable tourism and to make sustainability a hallmark methodology in the way we all travel, learn, and do business.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria are used to come to a common understanding of sustainable tourism, and represent the minimum that any tourism organisation should aspire to reach.

Criteria are organised around four main themes:

  1. Effective sustainability planning;
  2. Maximising social and economic benefits for the local community;
  3. Enhancing cultural heritage;
  4. Reducing negative impacts to the environment.

The criteria are part of the response of the tourism community to the global challenges of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability – including climate change – are the main cross-cutting issues that are addressed through the criteria.

The European Commission has also been developing and testing a list of key indicators for measuring sustainability of tourism policies Starting from the work conducted by the UNWTO on indicators, there has been an attempt to identify few indicators (the most relevant for the European market) which could have been easily used at destination level in the EU, irrespectively from the destination size. The idea is, in this case, to really downsize the many indicators existing worldwide to few indicators which would need data easily accessible at all levels, even at local level (NUTS III classification) and smaller. For this reasons a first series of key indicators were identified thanks to the help of the Tourism Sustainability Group (TSG) of the Commission, ad advisory body to the tourism unit composed of 32 experts (mainly academics, but also administrators and UNWTO officials). The TSG indicators have then been tested at 2 levels: at regional and at municipal level. At municipal level, they have been tested in 14 very small and less-known destinations (winners of the EDEN award). At regional level they are now being tested in some pilot regions among the most touristic ones, thanks to the helpful collaboration of the Network of European Regions for a Sustainable and Competitive Tourism (NECSTouR).

Finally we would like to mention other 2 specific schemes implemented by the European Commission: QUALITEST and ECOLABEL.

The QUALITEST tool has been designed for evaluating the quality performance of tourist destinations and their related services. It can be applied to any type of urban, rural or coastal destination in Europe. The tool was developed using the life cycle of a typical holiday experience. The tool therefore focuses on the service points that occur throughout this lifecycle, and incorporates them into the indicators. In principal it is relevant for any type of tourist destination and its associated tourism and transport services .

ECOLABEL is a voluntary certification for environmentally friendly tourist accommodations. The logo on Tourist Accommodation Service tells you:

  • Limits energy consumption (e.g. use of high efficiency heat generating capacities)
  • Limits water consumption (e.g. reduction of water flow from tap and shower/minute)
  • Reduces waste production (e.g. single dose packages for food service shall be avoided)
  • Favours the use of renewable resources (e.g. at least 50% of the electricity shall come from renewable energy sources) and of substances which are less hazardous to the environment
  • Promotes environmental education and communication (guests are provided with tips on how to behave in an environmentally friendly manner)

In PM4SD “Sustainable Criteria” are a pivotal aspect of the quality criteria and the planning process; they will be fundamental in order to build a sound “Business case” and to deliver long-term benefits.