Exploring sustainable tourism: What you need to know

In a world where environmental concerns and ethical considerations are at the forefront of our global consciousness, sustainable tourism has emerged as a pivotal force for change within the travel industry. Beyond the allure of exotic destinations and thrilling adventures, travelers and businesses alike are increasingly seeking ways of minimizing their environmental impact on the planet while maximizing positive contributions to local communities.

If you want to work in the hospitality industry, there is great potential for encouraging eco-friendly change. In this article, we’ll look at what sustainable tourism is and the steps hospitality is taking towards it.

What is sustainable tourism?

Sustainable tourism involves travel that preserves nature, supports local cultures and contributes to the community. It doesn’t curtail exciting experiences or prevent companies from providing a great hospitality experience, but it encourages mindful exploration that respects the destination and its traditions while reducing the environmental footprint of travel.

What is the goal of sustainable tourism?

Sustainable tourism aims to harmonize tourism development, environmental protection and community development. Its primary goals include addressing sustainability by preserving resources through activities that uphold natural and cultural heritage while minimizing negative impacts. This approach ensures future generations can continue to enjoy destinations and cultures by fostering positive interactions between tourists and locals and conserving customs.

Sustainable tourism also generates economic gains for all stakeholders, making a tangible impact on local economies. It’s a pragmatic approach to achieve a harmonious balance between tourism satisfaction, community welfare, entrepreneurial growth and environmental health, making ‘sustainable travel’ not just a phrase but a conscious choice with lasting effects.

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What is the difference between responsible and sustainable tourism?

Responsible tourism focuses on travelers’ behaviors and attitudes towards the destination, promoting respectful interactions with locals and the environment.

Sustainable tourism goes beyond individual actions, addressing industry issues such as economic viability, social equity and environmental protection and requires collaboration among travelers, businesses and governments.

Both have great importance in tourism management. As an example, reusing towels reflects responsible travel behavior, while reducing a hotel’s total water consumption through recycling systems demonstrates a sustainable approach.

Both ideas are interconnected but distinct, contributing to better travel experiences for tourists, communities and the environment.

Understanding these terms can increase consciousness of global resource use and lead to eco-conscious vacations that still embrace rich experiences and exciting exploration. It’s a balance between adventure and responsibility, shaping respect for humanity and nature.

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Sustainable tourism includes a range of options catering to diverse interests. Some travelers are attracted by nature offers in ecotourism, while others immerse themselves in community life and  rural or ethno-tourism (see below). With some types of sustainable tourism such as ‘soft tourism’, all can benefit from a more mindful approach towards their surroundings while still enjoying excellent customer service.


This prioritizes responsible travel interaction with nature, focusing on biodiversity-rich places such as rainforests or marine parks. Activities including guided treks and supervised snorkeling ensure enjoyment without harming ecosystems.

Community tourism

Tourists engage in local events, contributing to socio-economic growth and cultural exchange. Staying in local accommodation and participating respectfully in traditions support the community and enrich travel experiences.

Rural/ethno tourism:

This immersive style of tourism often involves stays in remote settlements and enjoying rustic living. Activities such as food gathering and hiking offer insights into rural life, fostering connections between travelers and locals.

Soft tourism

This emphasizes light-footprint travel to reduce impact and supports conservation projects. Tourist flow can be developed through off-seasons via clever marketing to relieve pressure on resources in high seasons.

What are the advantages of sustainable tourism?

Sustainable tourism offers many benefits for tourists, local communities and natural environments. Below, we examine five primary advantages that highlight why sustainable use of natural resources is important in tourism.

Looks out for wildlife

Sustainable tourism can include a focus on minimizing negative effects on animals and their habitats. This ensures their well-being and also supports environmental conservation efforts, leading to less pollution, preventing introduction of invasive species and reducing environmental damage. For nature lovers, choosing sustainable tourism is a re­sponsible and ethical option.

Protects the environment

By choosing sustainable travel, we can actively contribute to prote­cting our environment and prese­rving our planet’s natural beauty and balance. Sustainable­ travel helps combat issues such as deforestation, pollution and erosion and supports biodive­rsity conservation. This ensure­s future generations can continue to appreciate and enjoy these natural resources.

Supports local people

Sustainable tourism brings economic benefits to local communities, promoting inclusivity and cultural exchange. Top hotel brands can also make responsible contributions to the community by respecting local heritage, conserving resources and creating employment.

Attitude shift

Vacations that prioritize e­thical practices have a powerful impact on both travelers and local communities. These experiences raise awareness about environmental stewardship and encourage positive changes in behavior and lifestyle choices that favor sustainability.

Long-term focus

Sustainable tourism aims for e­cological balance and socio-economic equity. It seeks to ensure present e­njoyment does not come at the expense of future depletion, meaning green tourism must be a long-term commitment for tourists and hospitality professionals.

Examples of sustainable tourism

Sustainable tourism means more than just reducing your carbon footprint or recycling waste. It permeates every aspect of travel, from where you stay to how you get there. Let’s dive into nine examples of sustainable tourism that embody this principle.

Feynan Ecolodge – Jordan

With a strong emphasis on local community involvement and environmental protection, Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan stands out as one of the strongest examples of sustainable traveling. The lodge itself runs predominantly off solar power and has a zero waste policy to ensure further sustainability. This approach is similar to the sustainable tourism model encouraged by many national parks throughout the world.

Sustainable tourism in Bhutan

Bhutan has implemented an innovative ‘high value-low impact’ method of managing tourists. The nation focuses on attracting travelers who respect the cultural values and national heritage, promoting a meaningful experience for visitors without compromising the country’s pristine environment.

Luxury sustainable safari tours

Safaris where high-end tourism is used to fund the conservation of wildlife. By championing eco-conscious travel practices and supporting anti-poaching initiatives, they pave the way for responsible interaction with Africa’s precious animals while enhancing tourists’ understanding of why ecotourism is important. This fusion of luxury and sustainability offers an exclusive experience and also contributes to preservation of the natural world. Such tours are frequently promoted through luxury marketing, where exceptional experiences are promoted alongside conservation efforts.

Sustainable hostel in South Africa

South Africa’s Once in Cape Town hostel sets an enviable standard among hostels worldwide with its strict adherence to green practices such as efficient energy usage, recycling and promotion of low-carbon transportation methods.

Sustainable transport on the Water

Water-based transport means such as gondolas don’t usually spring to mind when considering sustainable tourism examples, but they are an ideal representation of non-motorised natural resource use. Their operation leaves ecosystems intact while producing neither carbon emissions nor noise pollution.

Solar Driven Six Senses Resort in Fiji

Fiji’s Six Senses Resort, where all operations run solely on solar power, is the very definition of sustainability in the hospitality industry sector. From planting coral gardens to growing organic produce, this resort captures the essence of sustainability while remaining luxurious.

BomBom Water Project – Príncipe

Management of water sanitation forms part of sustainable development goals set by the United Nations and this is something the BomBom Island resort off Africa’s coast takes seriously. To that end, it has implemented a desalination project that is a prime example of sustainability in tourism.

Atlantis Submarines – Hawaii

Underwater exploration without damaging marine environments. The significant educational value coupled with environmental consciousness makes Atlantis Submarines a great example of ecotourism that benefits people in multiple ways.

Self-sustainable Azurmendi restaurant – Spain

A glowing example of responsible dining in the heart of Basque Spain, Azurmendi is all about sustainability in gastronomy. The staff grow organic food powered by renewable energy and reuse water.

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Key trends in the tourism industry

Thriving in this industry means being able to adapt to change. Four current trends reshaping the sector are:

  1. Growing environmental awareness is driving a preference for sustainable travel, as tourists prioritize eco-friendly experiences to reduce their carbon footprint
  2. ‘Slow travel’ values immersion in local cultures over hurried itineraries, emphasizing meaningful experiences
  3. The industry is promoting sustainability, with accommodation and operators proudly displaying eco-credentials to address tourists’ environmental concerns
  4. Advances in technology enable travelers to access information for informed decisions on sustainable destinations

These developments are shaping sustainability and also guiding consumers and providers to  contribute to it. They prioritize mutually beneficial outcomes, making travel enjoyable while conserving natural resources.

Find courses in sustainable tourism

For a better grasp of sustainable tourism, you can explore hospitality studies that have an emphasis on sustainability. Not all courses will cover ecotourism, so it’s important to find one that meets your needs. Look for schools that help you find professional internships, which help you gain first-hand experience of what it’s like to shape the future of hospitality and can give you new ideas about sustainable travel. They will also enable you to keep up to date with current trends and upcoming changes in the industry, which is vital when you are working at the cutting edge of ecotourism.

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Find jobs in sustainable tourism

Sustainable tourism is a growing sector in the industry, offering great hotel management careers for those passionate about travel and preserving the planet. Here are some of the ways you can turn your commitment to sustainability into a fulfilling career:

  1. Work with eco-friendly companies such as Ecoventures, known for their low-impact operations and community engagement. They embody sustainable values at every level
  2. Open your own eco-friendly tourism business. If you have an entrepreneurial streak, opening your own eco-hotel can be a great option
  3. Explore roles in destination marketing that prioritize preserving destinations over massive profits, contributing to constructive change
  4. Consider academia or consultancy, where you can shape policy by teaching or advising on sustainable tourism

Various other jobs also cater to diverse interests, from ecotourism guides to responsible cultural exchange planner. Each role contributes to the shared goal of respectful and enjoyable leisure travel, and there are many management positions where you can help guide hospitality venues towards greener futures.


Understanding sustainable tourism is crucial because it’s not just a passing trend but a necessary move to reduce the environmental cost of travel. Responsible tourism benefits the environment, local communities and intercultural exchange. Sustainable travel goes beyond experiences, mitigating the negative impact of tourism while appreciating diverse cultures. Industry trends show a shift towards this model as a significant force for change. If you want to make your mark and forge a career in ecotourism, start your green journey with Les Roches today.

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Main Image: Petmal/ iStock via Getty Images