Tourism and Environment: A Responsible and Mindful Relationship !

6/18/20236 min read

Tourism is a global phenomenon of the movement of people from their usual place of residence to another place for different sets of motivations other than remuneration from the place visited. Tourism is recognized globally as an economic engine as it contributes approximately 10 % to global GDP and global employment. There was a negative dip in the statistical figures during the pandemic of 2020-2021 due to the movements being restrained as a strategy to deal with the virus spread. However, post-COVID, the rise in the figure in 2022 with tremendous bounce depicts the yearning to socialize and see the world as the core value of human nature. This ensures that the tourism business is one of the viable businesses to be pursued for economic returns. Besides, being the economic engine tourism has been now immensely recognized as a significant resource or medium for the well-being of the environment. This recognition is based on many innate characteristics of tourism that are planned, executed and performed responsibly and mindfully.

There is a need to delve into and understand the role of tourism in the conservation and preservation of the environment as the relationship between tourism and the environment is very sensitive due its tendency to go either way – positive or negative. Neither environment nor tourism can be ignored of attention as on the one side, tourism is important for the very reason of economic growth and development. On the other side, the environment is much needed for life’s existential reasons.

Before going into how tourism can be positively related to the environment, this is pertinent to understand first the relationship that exists between tourism and the environment.

Tourism is dependent on the environment as the environment is one of the most important attractions for tourists to visit a place. When tourists visit a place, there is something that is bound to happen and that is the interaction between the tourists and everything that belongs to the destination that includes the natural environment, community, culture, landscape, and whatnot. The interactions can yield outcomes in terms of impacts either way that depends on the approaches of behavior adopted by the different stakeholders at the demand side represented by the tourists and the supply side represented by the amalgam of the stakeholders across the different sectors of the tourism industry comprising the supply chain. There is extensive literature on the impacts of tourism discussing the negative and positive impacts of tourism. The negative impacts of tourism are discussed in a manner that as if tourism is bound to create negative footprints. The rationale behind such assertions is the visible outcome related to the increased energy consumption in the accommodation sector, waste generation, habitat destruction due to biodiversity loss, and pollution which happens due to the infrastructural development needed for the tourism industry. Moreover, mass tourism can also put a strain on the essential resources like water and electricity that are the daily basic needs of the host community too.

Not disagreeing with these negative impacts of tourism, there is a vital need to realize that these negative impacts are the outcome of the myopic vision of tourism planners, lack of awareness, and indifferent attitude of the stakeholders towards the environment. Therefore, negative impacts are a result of the irresponsible and unmindful behavior of the People of Tourism (PoT) who may be called those who are directly or indirectly associated with tourism; and not as an outcome of something inherent to tourism. Therefore, there is an immense need to perceive the Pro-environment capacities of tourism from the right perspective. Now, let us discuss how tourism is positively related to the environment in the context of the international tourism body UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme). UNEP is the leading global authority on the environment as it supports 193 member states to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 2030. It addresses environmental challenges through the UN environment assembly which is the world’s highest decision-making body on the environment. For instance, in 2021, UNEP finished a two-decades-long campaign to rid the world of highly toxic leaded petrol.

The first global conference on climate change was held in 1972 in Stockholm, Sweden. This conference was followed by many negotiations, agreements, and protocols like the Montreal Protocol, Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement, etc. All these endeavors culminated in the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. UNFCCC’s supreme decision-making body is the Conference of the Parties (CoP) . CoP meets annually to assess programs in dealing with climate change. This contextualization of the UNEP is important because in CoP 26, held in 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland, UK, Prime Minister Narender Modi announced the LiFE mission i.e. lifestyle for Environment mission which is a global initiative led by India for Climate Action.

The mission emboldens the P3 model that is Pro Planet People. To create awareness of this mission, GoI initiated a campaign- Plege for LiFE. Recognizing the association between tourism and the environment and responding to the global mission LiFE, the Ministry of Tourism, GoI, on Nov. 15 2022 held a meeting in association with UNEP and RTSOI ( Responsible Tourism Society of India) to discuss the way forward for India’s Sustainable Tourism future. The outcome of the meeting was three initiatives viz Travel for Life Pledge, Responsible Tourism Campaign, and the Global Tourism Plastics Initiatives. The participants also reached an agreement on green tourism initiatives in the business. The impact of the LiFE mission and responsiveness of the tourism sector can be further assessed from the efforts made on the ground by the tourism economy-based destinations. For instance, the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management undertook a sea floor clean up and beach clean up drive at Agatti Island of Lakshadweep. The island’s coral reefs attract tourists from all over the world. Such drives for the environment are motivated due to the strong association between tourism and the environment. The economic resourcefulness of tourism is possible only if the environment remains protected and conserved.

In the context of tourism and the environment, the term Sustainable Tourism Development and Sustainability are very popular. The concept has been founded from the Brudtland Commission Report (1987) on “Our Common Future” and was further advocated at the Earth Summit in Brazil (1992). United Nations General Assembly formulated Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. These are 17 in number and tourism has the potential to contribute directly or indirectly to all the goals. UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) which is the global decision-making body on global tourism has been suggestive of the different ways through which tourism integrates well in achieving and contributing to each of the goals identified under the SDGs 2030. UNWTO firmly believes that tourism is resourceful in contributing to people’s lives and the planet, this has resulted in the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism which is a blueprint for tourism development toward an ethical approach. The embedded ethical approach to the conduct and performance of tourism yields what is called Responsible Tourism and Sustainable Tourism which is Pro-environment, Pro-community, Pro-Socio-cultural environment, and Pro-economy.

There are also tourism sector-based non-profit, Non-Government organisations like GSTC and TIES which are dedicated to the cause of the environment. GSTC, Global Sustainable Tourism Council, establishes standards for sustainable travel and tourism known as GSTC criteria. There are two sets of GSTC criteria viz Destination criteria for public policymakers and destination managers; and Industry criteria for hotels and tour operators. GSTC criteria form the foundation accreditation for certification bodies that certify as having sustainable policies and practices in place. TIES is The International Ecotourism Society. This is at the forefront of the development of eco-tourism providing guidelines and standards, training, technical assistance, and educational resources.

Besides the initiatives done at organizational levels, in the tourism industry, a variety of measures can be adopted for sustainable tourism development. For instance, under energy efficiency, hotels, and resorts can be encouraged to use renewable energy resources which gain impetus now under the National Solar Mission of GoI; and Save Energy and Save Water categories of the LiFE mission. Under waste management, hotels, and tourism-based enterprises can implement a waste management system including adopting measures that focus on contributing to the circular economy based on Reduce, Reuse and Recycling. Various nudges can be used to encourage the accommodation sector in supplying and creating demand for sustainable accommodation by promoting eco-friendly and green-certified accommodation

Tourism can not be flourished without the inclusion of the local economy in tourism planning and development. This is because the inclusion of the local community in tourism planning and development ensures that their interests are taken into account fostering a sense of ownership and promoting sustainable practices that align with the cultural and environmental values.

In conclusion, it can be said that the relationship between tourism and the environment is very sensitive being complex and dynamic, and therefore needs alertness for the right balance to be maintained by the stakeholders individually as well as in partnership with each other to ensure that tourism contributes to the preservation of natural heritage for future generation. And for this matter responsible tourism and sustainable tourism along with mindfulness remain the core value for tourism development.