Tourism is one of the world’s fastest growing industries and a large to almost sole source of income for a number of countries.
Like many forms of development, tourism is the cause of problems such as economic dependencies, ecological degradation, loss of cultural heritage and social issues. Ironically the natural environment that tourism in many instances relies on is also destroyed by tourism.
2020 has been the year in which, due to COVID-19’s travel bans and restrictions, many countries are struggling financially and the tourism industry has been hit extremely hard. Yet, undeniably, it has also had a positive impact on natural landscapes, resulting in cleaner waters and bringing back certain species to certain areas.
Increasingly, people are becoming aware of their contribution to some of the negative impact on the places they visit and are looking for more responsible holidays. This is where sustainable tourism has really started to shine.
Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communitiesWorld Tourism Organisation
In essence, sustainable tourism should help in conserving natural heritage and biodiversity by making use of environmental resources. It should also respect the host communities’ socio-cultural authenticity in conserving their cultural heritage, traditional values and contribute to cultural understanding and lack of prejudice. It needs to secure long-term economic functions, fair distribution of socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders (communities, tourists, NGOs, governments, employees, suppliers, education, small businesses, transport etc), stable employment and job opportunities, as well as contribute to the reduction of poverty.
Some examples of the impact of tourism when not operated sustainably in Europe are:
- Animal exploitation, e.g. tourist rides on exhausted and overworked donkeys in Santorini despite the protests of locals and activists.
- Locals being pushed out of their homes as a result of gentrification and rising rental prices in places like Girona and Barcelona.
- Locals in cities like Venice being disrespected by tourist behaviour, littering and their lack of appropriate attire such as beachwear in the city centre.
These are but a few of a growing number of problems that affect a high number of European cities and natural landmarks as well as many other places around the world.
Due to these environmental, social and economic dependency concerns, some countries and organisations have implemented sustainable tourism methods in certain cities or areas.
Within Europe, Slovenia has one of the best protected natural habitats in the world and takes great care of its biodiversity. Many of the hotels in Ljubljana offer electric scooters as well as green food in order to reduce the environmental impact.
The Eden Project in Cornwall is an educational charity that demonstrates the importance of plants to people and the vital intertwined relationship between the two.
Between 2017 and 2020, Finland has invested millions of euros into developing sustainable tourism in Lapland and has an extensive guide on their website on how to travel responsibly with lists of sustainable hotels and activities.
Many other places across Europe are paying more attention to the needs of their locals and their environment whilst still wanting to find a healthier balance with tourism. For this to work and be sustainable, three pillars of impact need to be implemented: economic, social and environmental impact.
These days, with a quick online search, it is extremely easy to find out which places nearby and overseas offer sustainable tourism, and how you can be more mindful of your impact on locals and the environment you plan to visit.
For further editorial on similar topics, visit our Environment page.
By Marijke Everts, Europeana Foundation