The awareness that, like any human activity, tourism can have (and has had) a negative impact on the environment and communities, has led to the birth of a new sensitivity not only in travelers but also in operators in the sector.
The premise can only be this: traveling without causing damage to the environment and supporting the communities you visit must be the future of tourism.
And interest in the topic of sustainable tourism has grown considerably in recent years.
But what is sustainable tourism?
A tourism based on criteria of sustainability and respect for the environment, which is economically viable and ethically and socially fair for local communities.
A tourism that allows us to travel responsibly and at the same time aware: feeling responsible towards the environments we visit without damaging the places, supporting the economies of the communities with the awareness that our behaviors in the past have contributed to causing enormous damage.
Attention to this issue took its first steps already in the 90s and exactly in 1992 when during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, the international community officially acknowledged that it was necessary to act for the survival of the planet, taking actions against the deterioration of ecosystems and the economic imbalance between countries.
The result was the planning of actions to be taken at global, national and local level, in every area where human activities have an impact on the environment, namely Agenda 21.
The key points of Agenda 21
• Host communities must be protagonists in the construction of projects
• Responsible use of available resources while respecting cultural heritage and biodiversity
• Respect for the socio-cultural authenticity of the host communities
• Ensuring socio-economic benefits for operators
• A high level of tourist satisfaction
The first World Conference on Sustainable Tourism was held in 1995 in Lanzarote and was attended by representatives from all continents. The work dealt with fundamental themes that were summarized in the Charter of Sustainable Tourism. The charter of Lanzarote, in a nutshell, brought attention for the first time to the impact that tourism has on the natural and social environment while recognizing its potential as a tool for development.
A second World Conference on Sustainable Tourism was held in 2008 in Rimini reconfirmed the theses of Lanzarote identifying the need to promote sustainable tourism even in mass tourism destinations to minimize the impact that mass tourist flows have on the territory, to contain the impact on the territory and maximize social well-being making tourism development lasting.
The guidelines identified to achieve these results were:
• seasonal adjustment, for a more uniform distribution of tourist flows, thus contributing to employment stability;
• diversification, in order to attract different groups of tourism;
• the building redevelopment of accommodation facilities, energy saving, use of renewable energy, optimization of the water and waste cycle;
• the incentive of public transport and car sharing to improve mobility conditions.
The tourism industry is today one of the most important economic activities in the world, for many countries it is a significant item of GDP and for some developing countries it is even the main item of the state budget; an industry that creates jobs.
And despite the years of Covid 19 pandemic and the consequent restrictions on travel, the tourism industry is growing. But it is estimated that only about 30% of the earnings generated by this sector remain with local communities, a percentage too low.
Also because the growth of tourism corresponds to a proportional growth in pollution linked to this item: currently in Europe the tourism sector is the fourth source of pollution.
The tourist phenomenon has an ambivalent nature: a reason for personal enrichment for tourists and an instrument of economic development for the areas concerned on the one hand; but on the other hand it is a cause of environmental degradation and cultural flattening.
It is clear how important it is to put in place actions that lead to containing the negative effects of the increase in tourism on natural resources and local cultures.
A new approach is needed leading to the creation of tourism products aimed at preserving the integrity of habitats and biodiversity and minimising tourism pollution.
The European Institutions, supporting the need to support initiatives concerning sustainable tourism, have promoted the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (CETS) which has several objectives, including:
1. the protection of valuable landscapes, biodiversity and cultural heritage;
2. support for conservation through tourism;
3. the reduction of the ecological footprint, pollution and waste of resources;
4. strengthening local economies
5. the provision of training and skills development.
But also the associations have tried to give answers to consumer expectations regarding sustainable tourism.
For example, the European network EARTH (European Alliance for Responsible Tourism and Hospitality), is committed to the promotion of tourism according to the principles of social and economic justice and in full respect of the environment and cultures, recognizing the centrality of the local host communities and the right of these communities to be protagonists in the sustainable and socially responsible tourism development of their territory. And operating by promoting the positive interaction between the tourism industry, local communities and travelers.
Seize market opportunities, identify potential innovations to orient and adapt the offer, thus increasing the competitiveness of tour operators, but above all monitor and measure the demand for sustainable tourism.
The association was founded in Belgium in 2008, is present in several European countries, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland and Germany. Learn more: www.earth-net.eu
In Italy, sustainable tourism is represented by an association the AITR, or (Italian association of responsible tourism) whose intent is to promote tourism that is fair in the distribution of profits, respectful of local communities and with low environmental impact. To learn more and to know the trips proposed by the association https://www.aitr.org/
Hotels, accommodation and restaurants are making eco-sustainable choices such as reducing the consumption of heating, energy, water but also increasing recycling, using less chemicals and sourcing from companies with low environmental impact certifications.
It is essential to develop a sensitivity towards behaviors that lead to the choice of structures and travel destinations attentive to sustainability.
Facilities and destinations as we have seen, but also some types of trips can have a low environmental impact: traveling on foot, by bicycle or by sailboat!
Sailing on a sailboat is a unique experience to get in touch with the element of water and nature, a sustainable way of traveling and capable of empowering the consumption of resources and the marine world.
Traveling by sailboat you learn to manage resources on board, you become more aware of what you use, you learn to discern between what is necessary and what is not.
The sailboat is a green and zero-emission vehicle that allows you to move using only wind energy.
On www.boatsandgo.com you can find the best offers of sailing holidays.
A project that we really liked is Sailing for blue life, a combination of sustainable tourism and scientific research.
Tourists and sea enthusiasts who sail the shores of the Mediterranean on a sailboat together with biologists and researchers.