MEIG Highlights 23 avril 2021

Highlight 15/2021 – Sustainable Tourism: The End of Travelling as We Knew It

Rosa Jorba, 23 April 2021

According to the World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism is “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 ».

Tourism is closely linked to numerous SDGs, particularly Goals 8,12, and 14 which set tourism-specific targets. Tourism is one of the world’s most significant sources of economic growth and employment. In fact, in 2019 the sector accounted for about 330 million jobs worldwide. Although it is a very important source of income, global tourism is also responsible for 8% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. The Covid-19 pandemic has largely harmed tourism-dependent countries.

However, it brought some positive impacts on wildlife, air quality and ocean waters as lockdowns and travel restrictions have restricted human activity. Consequently, environmental damage has fallen noticeably. Once the pandemic eases, pressure on the environment will resume. Yet, Covid-19 made us recognize the previous existing vulnerabilities in the tourism sector such as increasing pollution, biodiversity loss, crisis unpreparedness, and food insecurities. The pandemic has hit the sector, but it has also been a wake-up call for urgent and speedy action.

Hence, we have a clear opportunity to restart and reshape tourism as we knew it. This crisis offers an opportunity for transformation with a focus on building more resilient communities and businesses through innovation, circularity, digitalization, sustainability, and partnerships. Ensuring cooperation among regional governments, international institutions, business, civil society and other stakeholders are crucial to creating sustainable tourism worldwide. Thus, restarting tourism can also help in creating new business opportunities such as rural tourism, which has been an increasingly growing trend as people is becoming more conscious on the environmental effects of global tourism.  Apart from raising tourist’s awareness about sustainability, it is vital to maintain tourist satisfaction. Quantity does not equal quality, consequently, there has to be good management of tourism flows to ensure the best experiences.

Some countries have been putting lots of effort to become sustainable destinations. For instance, Costa Rica is known for being one of the leaders of sustainable tourism in the world, with nearly 30% of its territory protected as national park, wildlife refuge, or private reserve. Achieving sustainable tourism is an unceasing and extensive process that must be linked to the adoption and investment of renewable energy solutions. This shift has to embrace conserving natural heritage, biodiversity and respecting the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities. Above all, the future must be grounded on a balance between economic growth and sustainability which leads us to a common target: sustainable tourism.

Rosa JORBA, Sustainable Tourism: The End of Travalleing as We Knew It, Highlight 15/2021, available at

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.


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