Sustainable tourism in its purest sense, is an industry which attempts to make a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate income, employment, and the conservation of local ecosystems. It is responsible tourism that is both ecologically and culturally sensitive. Thus, Sustainable tourism activities have minimal impact on the environment and culture of the host community.
According to the World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism is tourism that leads to the 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.
The World Tourism Organisation defines sustainable tourism as tourism that meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. Rather than being a type of product, it is an ethos that underpins all tourism activities. As such, it is integral to all aspects of tourism development and management rather than being an add-on component
The objective of sustainable tourism is to retain the economic and social advantages of tourism development while reducing or mitigating any undesirable impacts on the natural, historic, cultural or social environment. This is achieved by balancing the needs of tourists with those of the destination
Responsible tourism is the closest definition to sustainable tourism; however it tends to refer to the consumers’ choice of destination and mode of transport based on their ethical, political and racial sensitivities as well as being concerned for the environment and local culture.
Historically the definition of this term has been travel which is environmentally friendly or benign that in general does not concern itself with cultural or economic elements of the destination. Current uses of the term are becoming broader to incorporate full sustainable tourism principles.
Ethical tourism has evolved as a term when one considers travelling to, or developing tourism in a destination where ethical issues are the key driver, e.g. social injustice, human rights, animal welfare or the environment. Ethical tourism is geared towards encouraging both the consumer and industry to avoid participation in activities that contribute or support negative ethical issues.
Ecotourism, also known as ecological tourism, is a subset of sustainable tourism which focuses on ecology. Ecotourism tends to be encountered in destinations where flora, fauna, and cultural heritage are the primary attractions. The industry actively works towards conserving or improving the natural and cultural heritage through managing its own operations to help conserve the environment, organising conservation projects, offering volunteering and educating visitors.
Tourism is one of the world’s fastest growing industries and an important source of foreign exchange and employment for many developing countries. In reviewing the first five years’ implementation of Agenda 21 in 1997 at its nineteenth Special Session, the General Assembly indicated the need to give further consideration to the importance of tourism in the context of Agenda 21. In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg addressed sustainable tourism in Chapter IV, paragraph 43 of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.
Tourism that focuses on natural environments is a large and growing part of the tourism industry. While it can contribute in a positive manner to socio-economic development and environmental protection, uncontrolled tourism growth can also cause environmental degradation, destruction of fragile ecosystems, and social and cultural conflict, undermining the basis of tourism.
The General Assembly in 1998 proclaimed 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism (A/RES/53/200), reaffirming Economic and Social Council resolution 1998/40, of 30 July 1998. For further information on activities related to Ecotourism, please consult the web-site of the World Tourism Organization.
As announced at the Johannesburg Summit, the World Tourism Organization, in collaboration with UNCTAD, launched the Sustainable Tourism-Eliminating Poverty (ST-EP) initiative to develop sustainable tourism as a force for poverty alleviation.
The UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) last reviewed the issue of sustainable tourism in 2001, when it was acting as the Preparatory Committee for the Johannesburg Summit. In its current work programme, the CSD will next take up the issue of sustainable development in its fifth cycle, in 2012 and 2013.
There are many ways to define sustainable tourism and below are three such attempts: