Why Working in Sustainable Tourism Can Make the World A Better Place

Mar 16, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

The United Nations (UN) designated 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.  Why?  Tourism brings people to places they’ve never traveled, encouraging cross-cultural understanding—and bringing business to those places.

With eco-tourism and other forms of “responsible” travel on the rise, consider some salient reasons why sustainable tourism may offer you a chance to make a difference by using your entrepreneurial and business savvy.

Done the right way, sustainable tourism will make the world a better place.  Let’s find out how—and what to look out for:

 

1. Fast-growing Economic Sector

One of the fastest growing sectors not just in tourism, but in the whole economy, sustainable tourism stimulates economic growth and job creation.  When tourism is “sustainable,” there is an implied permanence—and a conservation of resources.  As sustainable tourism takes off, the need for jobs to protect wildlife, biodiversity, and fragile ecosystems for people to visit becomes clear—as does the need for experts who can act as “tour guides” of a sustainable tourist destination.  In addition, tourists need places to stay, places to eat, and things to do.  See #2 and #4.

 

2. Tourism Linked to Development

Sustainable tourism generates jobs, which generates increases in incomes, which creates options for people—and allows them to improve their quality of life. 

Consider the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), an international development agency that promotes private entrepreneurship in the developing world.  One of their subsidiaries includes Tourism Promotion Services, which owns and manages 26 hotels, resorts, lodges, and camps in Africa and Asia—all under one brand name.  Their goal?  To catalyze local growth of private sector ventures by coalescing international investment, business skills, and local knowledge.  AKFED focuses on using local or regional suppliers whenever possible, relying on local networks, offering internship opportunities for local youth, and building local infrastructure, in addition to building its properties.  One project that AKFED has encouraged?  Access to clean drinking water in places where they have projects.

For more examples of how tourism and development are linked, check out Harvard University’s report on “The Role of the Tourism Sector in Expanding Economic Opportunity.”

 

3. Support of Marginalized Voices

When local people in local communities have a voice in projects that are bigger than they are (see #2), there is a greater likelihood that they will gain the confidence and skills to speak out about issues affecting them.

For example, orphans are a group of people who are notoriously marginalized.  Despite that the number of orphans has declined world-wide, the number of orphanages has increased in developing countries.  Why? An overwhelming number of generally well-intentioned Western tourists who want to travel and volunteer to “do good.” 

Sustainable tourism moves away from the concept of “do-good” travel and avoids models that allow tourists or local economies to exploit and capitalize on the misfortune of others.  Instead, sustainable tourism is built on the idea that communities can capitalize on their own resources to attract interested travelers. Rather than taking advantage of marginalized groups, sustainable tourism can give those voices a chance to speak out. 

 

4. Variety of Jobs to Local Communities

Communities that have poor material wealth, but a wealth of culture, history, and heritage have an advantage.  Hotels, restaurants, adventure guides, food suppliers, and other needs for goods and services have the opportunity to provide high-paying, stable jobs for local residents.  Within those places are needs for tour guides, translators, cooks, cleaners, drivers, hotel managers and staff, and other needs, like access to medical care—which translates to a need for doctors and nurses.

As local communities develop around tourist centers, local families can settle.  The needs for other infrastructure become apparent: schools, health care centers, and roads—and the people to maintain them. 

 

5. Rise of Responsible Travel

As sustainability becomes more mainstream in tourism, more tourists are opting to travel “responsibly.”  In 2016, the Center for Responsible Travel reported that 50 million more tourists traveled internationally in 2015 than in 2014.  They cite the “social and environmental imperative” for responsible travel growing partly in response to the rate of climate change.  They cite research studies that show travelers consider eco-friendly practices when traveling, and that traveling for traveling’s sake is less of an appeal than traveling with a purpose and some research. 

 

6. Earn Your Degree in Sustainable Tourism

Interested in becoming part of sustainable tourism?  Earn a degree that will prepare you for the opportunities and challenges of this emerging industry. 

Consider the School of Tourism and Hospitality—The Ostelea.  With campuses in Barcelona and Madrid, the school offers hospitality courses in both English and Spanish.  Take a look at their Master’s in Sustainable Tourism Destinations and Territorial Tourism Planning.  You’ll also have the opportunity to learn the marketing side of sustainable travel and have a sense of how to move forward in this exciting field. 

Italy is well-known as a destination for tourism studies, and the European Institute of Design offers a Masters in Design in sustainable tourism. Or look to Portugal, where you can earn a Master in Sustainable Tourism Management from the Polytechnic of Leiria.

The Sustainability Management School in Switzerland also offers master’s level courses in English, where you can focus on learning senior management skills in sustainable tourism.  Learn the balance between managing protected areas and encouraging responsible, ethical travel. 

Convinced yet?  We thought so.  Enjoy your adventure—and remember: do good. 

 

 

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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