Sustainable tourism is defined by the UN World Tourism Organisation as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”. A functioning tourism industry relies on the natural environment, but also the wellbeing of the community, businesses and people.
Tour operators play a central role in the tourism industry. As intermediaries between tourists and tourism service providers, tour operators can influence the choices of consumers, the practices of suppliers and the development patterns of destinations and can make an important contribution to furthering the goals of sustainable tourism development and protecting the environmental and cultural resources on which the tourism industry depends for its survival and growth.
So, how can tour operators help?
1. Maximize social benefits for the local community
a. Suggest that your customers purchase local products to support the local community.
b. Don’t purchase products made from endangered species, and educate your customers if they may make that mistake
c. Support local projects – for example, by donating a percentage of your profits to wildlife protection or social causes
d. Inform your customers of cultural or religious issues where they should be considerate
e. Make sure that none of your suppliers exploit children or break human rights conduct
2. Maximize social benefits for the local community
a. Invest in the area where your business operates – for example, by sending profit to the local community to help preserve and protect the area your customers frequent. b. Contribute to the preservation of resources which your company uses
c. Hire local staff, and provide adequate training
d. Source your supplies locally to support your local community
3. Reduce negative impacts on the environment
a. Take responsibility for damage to the environment by your potential use, and make sure to use energy efficient measures
b. Use conservation and reduction measures for water, waste and energy
c. Offer incentives for your staff and guest to carpool or use public transport d. Provide your staff with information and training on how to be more environmentally responsible
e. Reduce, reuse, and recycle – reduce waste, water and energy where possible f. Create an environmental policy – and stick to it!
g. In walking tours, consider the size of your tour groups. Traveling in groups of small numbers has less impact on the flora and fauna in an area than having hundreds visit at once
Tour operators can implement sustainable practices in all sections of their operations:
a. In their offices, companies should reduce the use of paper, water and other resources. b. Companies should ensure labour rights are respected, and that staff are trained to implement sustainable policies.
c. Tour operators should use sustainability criteria to plan tourism activities, for example by avoiding places where tourism causes environmental damage. By advertising these criteria, they will encourage destinations to meet them and attract new customers.
d. Tour operators must select local suppliers based on sustainability criteria and help suppliers to become more sustainable. For example, they can promote suppliers who employ and train local staff in their brochures.
e. Tour operators have access to tourists before, during and after their trip. Tourists should use all these opportunities to encourage responsible behaviour.