While tourists are spending dollars in greater numbers than ever, delicate natural environments are wilting under the large number of visitors, and local communities are suffering from over-crowding and clogged infrastructure.
Some destinations are managing the conflicts well. Costa Rica is a country that has placed sustainable tourism at the heart of its development model. For example, visitor access to national parks is carefully managed and local communities benefit directly from tourism. In Rwanda, again, the local communities receive a percentage of the revenue from gorilla related tourism, which has led to less poaching and encroachments from agriculture on natural reserves and wildlife, and gorilla habitats.
The United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) recognize tourism’s challenges. Notably, the eighth SDG includes the following target: “by 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.”
- Is sustainability part of your strategy?
- Do you know how sustainable your underlying tourism resources are?
- Have you conducted a materiality assessment?
- Do you have a management and measurement plan?
For governments, the success of tourism depends on a balancing act. Your tourism strategy needs to consider competing types of capital, whether they be human, social or financial.
Becoming a future destination
Arguably, tourism stands at a cross road. After years of often unplanned, almost accidental growth, it is having a material impact on economies and societies. Tourism authorities and DMOs are awake to the potential benefits and challenges that they face. But governments often still need to become more aware of the value of tourism and the potential for maximizing the net sustainable benefits. Given sufficient budget, DMOs can become more active, joining with government and private-sector stakeholders to develop and implement strategies that are fashioned to the unique characters of their destinations.
Just as tourists increasingly want more than a nice beach, the challenges of sustainability also mean that tourism authorities must offer other things. For those tourist authorities that adapt, there are huge opportunities. Well-planned tourism will boost economies, provide well-paid jobs and boost tax revenues without upsetting local communities or damaging ecosystems.
Every economy must play to its strengths — not every country is a competitive tech hub or an engineering center. A country or city may instead be a natural tourist destination. And with a well-conceived strategy, tourism can generate significant – even transformatory – economic growth and social benefit.