A Responsible Future: 13 Guiding Principles for Sustainable Tourism

This year a very exciting initiative has been launched in an effort to chart a new, more sustainable direction of tourism and shift the status quo. The Future of Tourism Coalition is six non-governmental organizations that have come together for the first time and stand united in their appeal for change. This Coalition is pursuing a shared global mission: to place destination needs at the centre of tourism’s new future. 

The development of this coalition is significant, as the previous guiding principles and goals for the responsible tourism movement had not been updated since the 2002 Capetown Declaration, part of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Decades of unfettered growth in travel have put our world’s treasured places at risk–environmentally, culturally, socially, and financially. Despite earnest attempts to counteract the trend by many responsible parties, widespread degradation has persisted. While the members of the Coalition have always seen the need for a fundamental shift in how tourism works, COVID-19 has added urgency to this matter and further highlighted both tourism’s positive and negative impacts on destinations around the world. Tourism now faces a challenge and a choice in how to recover, and an unprecedented opportunity to unite around a new vision and chart a better course into the future.

The Coalition has collaboratively developed and launched a set of Guiding Principles that outline a bold vision for tourism’s path forward. The 13 principles provide a clear moral and business imperative for building a healthier tourism industry, while protecting the places and people on which it depends.

The new 13 Guiding Principles for the future of responsible tourism are as follows: 

1. See the Whole Picture

Recognize that most tourism by its nature involves the destination as a whole, not only industry businesses, but also its ecosystems, natural resources, cultural assets and traditions, communities, aesthetics, and built infrastructure.

2. Use Sustainability Standards

Respect the publicly available, internationally approved minimum criteria for sustainable tourism practices maintained by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) for both industry and destinations.

3. Collaborate in Destination Management

Seek to develop all tourism through a collaborative management structure with equal participation by government, the private sector, and civil society organizations that represent diversity in communities.

4. Choose Quality over Quantity

Manage tourism development based on quality of visitation, not quantity of visitors, so as to enhance the travel experience while sustaining the character of the destination and benefiting local communities.

5. Demand Fair Income Distribution

Set policies that counter unequal tourism benefits within destination communities that maximize retention of tourism revenues within those communities.

6. Reduce Tourism’s Burden

Account for all tourism costs in terms of local tax burdens, environmental and social impacts, and objectively verifiable disruption. Ensure investments are linked to optimizing net-positive impacts for communities and the environment.

7. Redefine Economic Success

Rather than raw contribution to growth in GDP, favour metrics that specify destination benefits such as small business development, distribution of incomes, and enhancement of sustainable local supply chains.

8. Mitigate Climate Impacts

Strive to follow accepted scientific consensus on needed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Invest in green infrastructure and a fast reduction in transport emissions involved in tourism – air, sea, and ground.

9. Close the Loop on Resources

When post-pandemic safety allows, turn away from use of disposable plastics by tourism businesses, and transition to circular resource use.

10. Contain Tourism’s Land Use

Limit high-occupancy resort tourism to concentrated areas. Discourage resort sprawl from taking over coasts, islands, and mountain areas, so as to retain geographical character, a diverse economy, local access, and critical ecosystems.

11. Diversify Source Markets

In addition to international visitation, encourage robust domestic tourism, which may be more resilient in the face of crises and raise citizens’ perceived value of their own natural and cultural heritage.

12. Protect Sense of Place

Encourage tourism policies and business practices that protect and benefit natural, scenic, and cultural assets. Retain and enhance destination identity and distinctiveness. Diversity of place is the reason for travel.

13. Operate Business Responsibly

Incentivize and reward tourism businesses and associated enterprises that support these principles through their actions and develop strong local supply chains that allow for higher quality products and experiences.

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