What is sustainable tourism
May 24, 2022

Unpacking Sustainable Tourism



In the first part of our sustainability series, we explored sustainable travel and sustainability efforts across the industry. Here, we’ll focus on the values of sustainable tourism. Whether you’re a hotel or an OTA, you’ll find resources to guide you on your journey, plus key insights on connecting with your guests.

What is Sustainable Tourism?

The UNWTO defines sustainable tourism as, “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 communities.”

The key here is the goal of helping a destination thrive perpetually. As a travel organization, your team can help travelers increasingly understand these values and incorporate them into every aspect of their trip. For many travelers, the word sustainability may immediately bring to mind remote landscapes or eco-friendly travel gear – all of which are important. But the rhythms of one’s trip are just as essential.

For example, to travel sustainably may mean not traveling during certain times or to certain locations, in order to protect communities and historic sites from overcrowding. As vaccine distributions continue to roll out globally, health and safety must be top of mind for travelers. Travelers who respectfully adhere to COVID safety protocols can help guard their own health and the locals they’re engaging with. Also, a mindful mode of travel can ease strain on world wonders, ensuring historic destinations can be enjoyed for years to come.

Sustainable tourism

Organizations who seek to walk the walk on sustainable tourism will reflect its values throughout their messaging, recognizing their role in encouraging responsible travel. The UNESCO World Heritage Canopy provides comprehensive resources on their sustainable development projects across the globe, offering valuable insights to travel organizations.

Sustainability in the Hotel Industry

If your organization lands in the hospitality sector, there are many opportunities to amplify your space and engage your guests with environmental programming. But where to start? The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance provides extensive information for organizations in need of guidance. You’ll find resources to evaluate your current endeavors, map out your goals, and discover best practices to achieve and maintain them.

From tranquil sanctuaries to savvy city destinations, there are many locales across the globe offering optimal accommodations for environmentally-focused guests – like the UK’s Thyme Hotel. Nestled on a 150-acre farm, the hotel is home to orchards and vegetable gardens, and oversees on-site recycling and composting. And in addition to its nourishing landscapes, Thyme is working towards eliminating all single-use plastics throughout its operations, and donates portions of its gift shop revenue to its conservation partners.

Even a hotel located in a big city can reflect sustainable design and educational programming. For example, the Fairmont San Francisco hosts nine beehives in its culinary and rooftop gardens, each home to about 20,000 honeybees. The hotel not only offers bee tours, but guests can enjoy honey harvested from the hotel in their teas, desserts, and salad dressings.

This is sure to be sweet news indeed for guests en route to a city. Recent research from Booking.com revealed that though travelers are keen on sustainable travel, 40% don’t believe it’s possible to find such options in a city or tourist destination. (Keep this in mind when creating city-based content!) Your travel audience will be delighted to know that even in a cosmopolitan setting, they can find an eco-friendly retreat. 

Unpacking sustainable tourism

OTAs Can Help Eco-minded Guests Sort Through the Noise

OTAs have become a one-stop shop for many travelers engaged in the planning process. Along with the possibility of cheaper fares – and digital ease of use – many OTAs offer the full spectrum of bookings in one place, from flights and accommodations to excursions.

With this in mind, OTAs are prime hubs for connecting travelers to sustainable tourism. In addition to transportation and accommodations, OTAs can help travelers plan their trip with sustainability in mind. Outdoor explorations are, of course, always the best way to enjoy and celebrate nature. Museums, aquariums, and botanical gardens are also wonderful choices, with proceeds directly benefiting a destination’s conservation work.

Along with featuring excursions and educational institutions, your OTA’s social or blog content can also play a key role in reflecting the values of sustainable travel. From engaging in voluntourism to discarding waste properly, your creative content can illustrate best practices for responsible travel and help guests incorporate these values into their vacation rhythms.

Kind Traveler is one OTA that’s weaving sustainable tourism throughout its operations. The hotel booking platform provides guests with the opportunity to give back with every booking, by offering exclusive perks with a $10 donation to one of Kind Traveler’s charity partners. Partnering organizations include wildlife sanctuaries, hospitals, and food banks.

Sustainable Tourism is Nourishing for Both Travelers and Destinations

The EUROPARC Federation describes sustainable tourism beautifully, as a mode of travel that “provides a meaningful quality experience, safeguards natural and cultural values, supports local livelihoods and quality of life and is economically viable.”

Studies continue to show that travelers seek to make an impact for good, but aren’t quite sure where to start. As a trusted travel partner, your organization can help steer them in the right direction. A couple closing insights from Kind Traveler’s 2022 Impact Tourism Report:

  • 96% of respondents agree it’s important to them – voting from slightly to very – that travel spending helps sustain the destinations visited
  • 48% of respondents said finding sustainable accommodations was their greatest challenge in traveling sustainably, while 37% chose reducing one’s carbon footprint as their greatest challenge

Sustainable tourism protects communities, wildlife, resources, and ancient destinations. It encourages a rhythm of travel that’s woven with appreciation and stewardship. And it’s an enriched approach to travel that truly does a world of good.

Along with your organization’s own sustainability initiatives, consider how – through innovation, creative content, and partnerships – you can inform and support your travel community with the inspiration they need to plan trips that are aligned with their values.

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