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The Sustainable Tourism Context

The Importance of the Tourism Industry and the Sustainable Tourism Context

Tourism represents the third largest socio-economic activity in the EU after the trade and distribution and construction sectors; globally it ranks fourth after fuels, chemicals and automotive products. The contribution of tourism to economic activity worldwide is estimated at some 5%, while it is estimated it generates 10 % of the European Union’s GDP providing approximately 12 % of all jobs.

Tourism is an economic activity capable of generating growth and employment, contributing to development and economic and social integration. It has the power to boost destinations development and prosperity; it plays a significant role in sustainable development.

“Sustainability” is a concept which inspires policy makers and tourism planners, but it is still quite difficult to implement sustainability.

The concept of sustainable tourism (ST) has grown out of the concept of sustainable development (SD), with the most popular definition has come from the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission, 1986). They defined SD as:

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

Literature is filled with numerous definitions of sustainability. Many dimensions of sustainability have emerged; the tourism dimension is given in the World Tourism Organisation definition:

“Sustainable tourism development meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support systems.”

According to the World Tourism Organisation three fundamental concepts underpin current approaches to sustainable tourism.

  1. Tourism should be more sustainable in the way that it is developed and operated.
  2. Sustainable tourism strategies and policies should reflect a two-way relationship: Impacts on tourism and Impact of tourism
  3. Sustainability and competitiveness are interdependent.

Tourism is a quite complex sector, it involves many actors and is linked to many other sectors (such as environment, culture, transport), it relies on public-private partnerships, it strongly impacts on host communities, and it includes intangible aspects.

We assume that the main tourism products are “destinations” which offer to visitors the opportunity to experiment a variety of experiences.

PM4SD refers to the concept of destination defined by the World Travel Organisation, as follows:

“A local tourism destination is a physical space in which a tourist spends at least one overnight. It includes tourism products such as support services and attractions and tourist resources within one day’s return travel time. It has physical and administrative boundaries defining its management, and images and perceptions defining its market competitiveness. Local destinations incorporate various stakeholders often including a host community, and can nest and network to form larger destinations.”

Starting from the destinations we can distinguish 4 main types of stakeholders who are part of the tourism economy, and whose collaboration is a key point to deliver successful initiatives.

The Public Sector: which includes local, regional and national authorities; tourist boards; public attractions (national and regional parks, archaeological sites, museums), transports, local development agencies, European networks.

The Business Sector (the tourism industry), which includes tour operators and the travel agencies, the hotel and catering sectors, private attractions, trade associations, chambers of commerce.

The Knowledge Community, which includes International Organisations, Academies, Training Organisations, Research Centres, Think Tank, Media.

The Host Community which includes local citizens.

Each tourism product as well as each tourism initiative is the result of the above stakeholders’ interaction.

A good coordination among all these actors contributes to make destinations sustainable, to maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction ensuring a meaningful experience.

The sustainable development of tourism requires a sound planning and management process, which needs to be knowledge based, to include the management of key sustainability principles and to put in action sustainable policies, guidelines and recommendations.