This essay shows that there are initiatives which aim at promoting sustainability in tourism destinations. However, these initiatives do not work due to the diverse nature of the tourism industry. The essay demonstrates this through various approaches to tourism sustainability and methods that stakeholders have applied in their attempts to enhance sustainability of tourism destinations.
We can define sustainability as a growth that does not experience any threats from feedback. Here, feedback refers to social unrest, pollution, or depletion of resources. We can relate this to the development of tourism destination. In tourism, sustainability would be “that level of development which does not exceed the carrying capacity of the destination and thus cause serious or irreversible changes to the destination” (Tribe, 2005). This is what we call a growth that can sustain itself over time.
It is hard for a nation or a sector to use effective plans for sustainable tourism development with clear agenda. The UNWTO provides policy guidelines for such purposes. The UNWTO refers sustainable tourism with regard to sustainability assumption as “the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions its long-term sustainability” (UNWTO, 1995).
Sustainability in tourism destination must ensure optimal use of resources that are sources of tourism development, their maintenance, and conservation of biodiversity and natural heritage (Liu, 2003). The project must also “adhere to socio-cultural existences of host communities, conserve their cultural heritage and enhance cultural understanding and tolerance” (Swarbrooke, 1999).
Sustainable tourism project must also provide socio-economic benefits, long-term economic availability, stable employment, poverty reduction, social services, and generation of income to the host community and all stakeholders.
First, regulations are forms of ensuring sustainability of tourism destinations. Stakeholders can introduce permissions and permits as forms of preventative control. Permits and permissions aim at preventing damages by requiring stakeholders to get permissions so as to engage in possible harmful activities. For instance, we can have planning permits to stop developments that do not meet planning guidelines and larger environmental matters and effects.
Second, regulation also involves environmental impact assessment. Some projects which may have severe impacts on the environment; thus the authorities must review an environmental consequences of such projects. It may use a cost-benefit approach that covers the all costs and advantages to stakeholders. For a development to be socially acceptable, its benefits to society must exceed its cost to society.
Third, controls and laws are also effective means of providing and controlling environmental pollutant targets. Occasionally, policymakers may introduce these laws and controls after an event that cause harm to the environment has started. Such laws may cover restrictions to aircraft and other forms of pollution and the quality standards of water for consumption. Litter laws and their subsequent fines are also part of this regulation.
Fourth, there are also special designation areas. Most countries have sites that have special status as a way of promoting conservation and controlling development. These designations have varying degrees of statutory backing. For example, the UK has designated Sites of Special Scientific Interests (SSSIs) and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauties (AONBs). The UK considers SSSIs sites as “areas of special interest because of flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features” (National Park Service, 1990).
The Countryside Commission designates AONBs areas for the purpose protecting places with natural beauty. The IUCN (the World Conservation Union) has also classified protected places, with an idea of enhancing international conservation efforts and providing the benchmark for protection. Special designation areas may include nature reserve, national parks, natural monuments, and protected landscape or seascape among others.
Fifth, most countries now have laws to ensure that large organisations devote sections of their resources to corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR now extends to include the environment apart from other issues of organisations. Private organisations are focusing on the environment by creating their environmental management teams, creating environmental guidelines and carrying out environmental evaluations and required actions for purposes of conserving the environment.
The WTTC and WTO are responsible for the provision of leadership and guidelines in environmental conservation. Most guidelines in this area focus on noise, emissions, waste, congestion, tourism and conservation (Deloitte and Oxford Economics, 2010).
Some forms of these regulations are difficult to implement. Still, the industry may find them difficult to follow. There are cases where private developers and environmental authorities engage in lawsuits. Such issues hinder regulations as attempts to enhance sustainability in tourism destinations.
Market methods highlight “manipulation of prices as a method of achieving environmental goals through adjustment of market prices in an attempt to reflect the environmental costs, and benefits of activities” (Tribe, 2005). The sole purpose is for the manufactures and their customers change their behaviours with regard to new prices. This ensures that individuals’ efforts in environmental conservation are worthwhile (Middleton and Hawkins, 1998).
The first concept is ownership. People tend to overuse free resources and areas of free access. Thus, policymakers advocate privatisation of such natural resources. For instance, ownership of a lake is an incentive to enforce property rights. Thus, people may pay for the use of resources such as lakes and oceans as dumping sinks.
Firms will strive to maximise their gains and satisfy their shareholders expectations. Thus, policymakers advocate for public ownership to enhance environmental management. In principle, a public organisation has an “incentive to consider social costs and benefits to the country” (Cohen, 2002).
Policymakers can use taxes and increasing prices to reduce the use of products with negative environmental consequences, and subsidies that can reduce prices and promote the use of products that have positive effects on the environmental. Taxation has worked since it adoption by OECD in 1972 as a way of passing the cost to polluters (OECD, 2001).
On carbon dioxide emissions, Curtis argues that we can make moderate emissions reductions by “way of increased energy efficiency but that excess emissions by luxury hotels and resorts need further action” (Curtis, 2002).
Transport has been a main source of concern in this area. National Parks authorities of the UK have emphasised necessities of transport systems to countryside tourism and recreation. They note that about 90 percent of visitors used cars to parks. Consequently, most environmentalists have called for raised taxations on car and air travels so as to reflect their environmental costs (National Park Service, 1990).
Finland has taxes on none-returnable beverage containers to promote the consumption of returnable parks in attempts to eliminate the level of such parks left as litters. Landfill taxes apply charges on waste management firms that utilise landfill areas for burying solid waste.
Some governments may give grants for people who wish to buy electric cars to reduce carbon pollution. There are projects underway to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. These include the planned “planting of forests to capture carbon naturally as well as the artificial capture of carbon and its storage in underground reservoirs” (Mules, 2001).
Deposit-refund schemes work by encouraging consumers to return containers from the vendors or dispose them in a manner favourable to the environment. Customers who return their containers get their deposits. This scheme is effective in the local outlets and can work well on a national scale if well implemented (Gee, 1997).
In order to reduce pollution, some countries have introduced charges on products and services they offer the public. These include car parking charges to encourage usage of “public vehicles, road pricing for motorway usages in some EU countries such as France and Spain” (Priestley, Edwards and Coccossis, 1996).
Market approaches to sustainability in developing tourism destinations have been effective in EU zones. Still, the idea to provide subsidies for environmental friendly products such as vehicles is gaining recognition among tourism stakeholders. However, most consumers do not favour the idea of price increases.
Tribe notes that soft tools are “voluntary by nature and attempt to change behaviours sometimes through improved information, advice, persuasion and sometimes by forming specific networks” (Tribe, 2005).
Tourism eco-labelling approach to sustainability focuses on tourists. Leisure and tourism consumers themselves have the ability to transform the consequences of products they consume on the environmental and switch to products with minimal environmental effects. This approach aims at giving the users the “additional environmental information to enable them make informed decisions in their buying patterns” (Cater and Lowman, 1994).
There are also certification and award schemes to enhance sustainability in tourism destination. They authenticate and provide endorsement to environmental attributions made by firms and offer marks such as the Blue Flag that a consumer can recognise (Becken and Hay, 2007).
The Blue Flag goes to beaches that have acquired recognisable levels for water quality and facilities, safety, environmental education and management. This is also an environmental marketing device for tourists who are environmental conscious. The scheme attempts to offer opportunities for beach local stakeholders to increase their environmental concerns (Coccossis and Nijkamp, 1995).
Many organisations such as the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Federation of Nature and National Parks of Europe (FNNPE) have produced guidelines and treaties for environmental management and sustainability (FNNPE, 1993).
Citizenship, education and advertising can also enhance sustainability when individuals act in the role of consumers or workers or opinion makers (Cooper, Fletcher, Gilbert and Wanhill, 2008). Consumers need information to enable them purchase green products and contribute towards environmental sustainability.
Thus, the focus should be on an environmental education as a way of creating awareness among consumers and encourage others to adopt favourable products in environmental conservation and sustainability (Gratton and Kokolakakis, 2003).
Tribe notes “voluntary schemes exist to allow consumers mitigate the impacts of any environmental damages they may cause” (Tribe, 2005). The most common is carbon offset schemes in airline to passengers (McNeill, 1997).
Ecotourism as a form of tourism stresses the sound ecological principles (UNEPTIE, 2007). Thus, ecotourism attempts to minimise negative impacts on the environment, create environmental and cultural awareness, offer financial services to empower host communities, and raise sensitive issues of concern to host communities (Saarinen, 2006). Therefore, promoting ecotourism is a form of minimising negative external impacts of tourism and maximising the positive external impacts of tourism. However, industry observers note “ecotourism will always remain a minor form of tourism” (Mowforth and Munt, 2009). Consequently, it is not the main approach for achieving sustainable tourism.
Soft tools rarely achieve their desired effects as such approaches depend on the willingness of participants for effectiveness. However, soft tools are the best approaches for enhancing sustainability of tourism destinations.
Getz, Crouch, and Ritchie share the idea that tourism planners have recognised the need for creating common goals in tourism planning (Getz, 1995; Crouch and Ritchie, 1999). However, the problem is that there are no empirical studies to support common goals, or what factors are essential in creating shared goals in developing sustainable tourism destinations to cater for various needs of stakeholders.
To this end, most tourism organisations have no concrete industry standards as these depend on a given country’s tourism policies. Thus, creating common goals for sustainability in the tourism sector will remain a challenge.
Therefore, organisations should strive to create a solid tourism industry shared goals common among all stakeholders (Burns and Holden, 1995). These goals must come from common publications, stakeholders’ opinions, and academic journals among others. We have to recognise that the industry can create sustainable tourism destinations based on competitive interests and shared resources affected by same factors (Butler, 2006). This will ensure that stakeholders have motivation to achieve a common and collective goal.
However, these shared goals cannot remain constant as the industry experiences growth (Hall and Lew, 1998). Thus, continuous research, studies and development are necessary to reflect the changing trends in the industry such environmental concerns, infrastructures, and marketing principles.
This approach will ensure that the industry has a sense of direction supported by strategies and practical and achievable goals. Medeiros and Bramwell noted that countries such as Brazil have attempted to implement shared vision but with minimal outcomes due to uncertainty in the industry (Medeiros and Bramwell, 2002).
The challenge has been to get information where stakeholders need it for developing sustainable tourism policies. Thus, the industry must enhance information flow among its small stakeholders. This must also apply to feedback. However, generating useful information for the industry means continuous learning due to the dynamic nature of tourism. Application of information systems can assist in reflecting, evaluating, delivering, processing, and improving information flow in the tourism industry for sustainability destinations.
Most stakeholders blame poor research cultures in the tourism industry as a basis for lack of sustainability in developing tourism destinations. This is responsible for the rift in utilisation of the available research findings. De Lacy and Boyd note that there are considerable efforts in Australia to reduce such barriers through “the use of the Australian Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) model for cross-sectoral research collaboration to enhance the sustainability of tourism” (De Lacy and Boyd, 2000).
The approach aims at highlighting the importance of the industry collaboration to enhance the effectiveness and benefits of research findings through technology transfers, usages and commercialisation.
Organisations have relationships that exist among them. These can be in forms of partnerships, co-operation, co-ordination, and collaboration. Researchers have concentrated on these areas so as to eliminate problems that have affected tourism development for decades.
Jamal and Getz concur that enhancing the industry identity and common goals can enhance co-operation among the main players as these stakeholders recognise the need to work as a team (Jamal and Getz, 1995). However, the challenge is that no major studies exist to prove the importance of co-operation to tourism destination development. Still, a closer look at the relationship that exists in the industry reveals that real sustainability in the tourism industry can only become reality if there is co-operation.
Occasionally, some problems result due to lack of information. Therefore, co-operation will minimise incidences of miscommunication and difficulties due to lack of collaboration among the industry stakeholders (Inskeep, 1997). This approach to sustainability is not effective due to challenges related to accessing information in a timely fashion.
One of the aims of ecotourism is the need for cultural exchange among the stakeholders. There is a need for mutual acceptance and accommodation of different cultural belief, and world views to enhance development of sustainability in tourism destinations (Davidson and Maitland, 1997). It is necessary that stakeholders of diverse views and beliefs promote dialogue and exchanges in tourism destinations, acceptance of the locals, conservation of the cultural diversity, and eradicate negative impacts of tourism.
We can use Senge’s system thinking to promote a common language that helps stakeholders who have differences in belief systems (Senge, 1990). The industry covers almost all cultures of the global. Thus, cultural exchange has limitations in relations to accommodation, acceptance, diversity, and eradication of negative stereotypes.
Sustainability of tourism destinations needs consultative approach on decision-making processes. The processes must involve all stakeholders including host communities. Sharman noted some issues that influenced participation of stakeholders in planning as poor representation, low participation and poor outcomes of the process among the participants (Sharman, 1999).
Power issues influenced the outcomes of all consultative processes. The industry can develop models which aim at creating power balance for accommodation of different point of views (Douglas and Butler, 2001). This approach helps in facilitating understanding, strategic planning and increasing stakeholders’ participation.
The uncertainty surrounding the future of tourism industry impacts decision-making process. Stakeholders are not willing to engage in long-term decisions without knowing their consequences. Participants should base their decisions on sound policies and welcome open discussions so that they can identity issues of common concerns and provide alternatives or solutions (Jamieson, 2001).
It is difficult for the tourism industry to have a single body to coordinate all decision-making processes that fit all the tourism destinations of the world. Tourism decisions depend on national policies regulating the industry.
The concept of adaptive management can help in improving sustainability of tourism destinations. Adaptive approaches can help the industry tackle emerging challenges that hamper growth (Knowles and Egan, 2000). Adaptive management enables the industry reacts to changes in a timely fashion.
The idea of adaptive management finds support in studies and ideas of Reeds (Reed, 2000). Adaptive management requires continuous studies, testing and developing adaptive models (Eaton, 1996). Adaptive management has been effective in enhance management of the tourism industry.
Given the reviewed literature, this research supports the view that despite the existence of many initiatives, sustainable tourism practices have not spread across the industry because the stakeholders of tourism are still divided on how to improve the sustainability of tourist destinations. These initiatives exist, but tourism has diverse components that vary from country to country. Thus, putting these together to enhance sustainability of the environment has remained a challenge across the industry.
Approaches to tourism destination sustainability such as regulations, market approaches, and soft tools may not work in every tourism situation. Still, attempts at developing sustainability of tourism destinations may not achieve the desired outcome due to minimal participation in processes such as sharing information, goals, co-operation and co-ordination, cultural exchanges, consultative decision-making and planning, and adaptive management.
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