Sustainable tourism can be defined as tourism that is able to take account of its future and current social, economic as well as political impacts while addressing all the needs of the visitors, host communities, environment, and the industry. The current paper aims to answer the question whether tourism can achieve sustainability in the future or whether it is a matter of good intentions but with unachievable objectives. In to answer this question, the paper will investigate the key pillars of sustainable tourism. Furthermore, the paper will examine the major stakeholders who should be involved in achieving the sustainable tourism. Key findings of the paper reveal that tourism can achieve sustainability in the future. However, in order to achieve it, there needs to be a very clear understanding of the underlying concepts of sustainability among all the stakeholders.

Sustainable Tourism: Can it be Achieved?

The concept of sustainable tourism has become a diverse and very complex issue around the world (Timur & Getz, 2009). Over the last twenty years, the world has focused on developing sustainable tourism. The issue of sustainability has also become very significant in the growing economy. Any country that wishes to attain sustainable economic growth dependent on tourism must work toward achieving sustainable tourism (Buckley, 2012). Therefore, it is evident that the issue of economic development and sustainable tourism are interrelated. The study of sustainable tourism is very significant.

For tourism to be considered sustainable, it must be in a position to reduce its negative impacts while benefiting the society. Sustainable tourism must also enhance and promote cultural beliefs and heritage of the society. Furthermore, for the tourism business to attain the required level of sustainability, there must be long-term effective plans on sustainability. The principles of sustainability usually refer to the economic, socio-cultural, and environmental aspects of devolvement of tourism (Budeanu, 2005). The tourism industry must strike a balance between all the three aspects so as to achieve the goals of sustainability. Therefore, sustainable tourism should strive to achieve the goals discussed further.

Goals of Sustainable Tourism

One of the goals is to make optimal use of the available environmental resources. It means that the tourism business should be in a position to leverage between the use of the available environmental resources and their protection as well as conservation (Weaver, 2011). The tourism business must ensure that it optimally uses the environmental resources. In the same way, tourism must aid in conservation of the natural heritage as well as maintenance of all the essential processes of the ecology. Sustainable tourism must also ensure that it maintains the environmental biodiversity.

Providing social and economic benefits to stakeholders is another goal. It means that sustainable tourism must be in a position to ensure that both viable and economical operations are put in place (Tao & Wall, 2009). Any activity undertaken by the tourism industry should improve the economic well-being of all the parties involved. Furthermore, the sustainable tourism business should ensure that the benefits are fairly distributed among the stakeholders. Examples of these economic benefits include providing employment opportunities, engaging in income-earning activities, and providing social services to the local communities (Timur & Getz, 2009). Sustainable tourism must also contribute to the alleviation of poverty in the communities involved.

Sustainable tourism must respect the social and cultural authenticity of the host communities. In doing so, the tourism industry and all tourism businesses involved should ensure that they conserve the culture of the local people. Tourism should also strive to promote intercultural exchanges and understanding. The host communities must be made to understand the beauty of cultural tolerance (Byrd, 2007). For the tourism business to be considered sustainable and operating within the sustainability principles, it should educate the local communities that host them on the importance of accepting individuals from other cultures (Weaver, 2011). They must be made to understand that everyone has his or her cultural orientation and that each person’s culture must be respected. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the sustainable tourism business to ensure that the host communities develop ultimate tolerance to people of different and diverse cultural orientations. Tourism should also contribute to the development and building of cultures by supporting the cultural activities of communities. In most instances, cultural settings play a big role in the development of the tourism industry. For this reason, destroying the culture of a given community amounts to destruction of the tourism industry. In the current world setting where cultures are quickly eroded, the only way of ensuring that the tourism industry is sustainable economically is through protecting the cultures of the host communities.

Pillars of Sustainable Tourism Development

Sustainable development is built upon three main pillars. The three pillars are also referred to as the sustainable trinity. Achievement of sustainable tourism must be based on these three pillars.

Economic Growth

It is the first pillar of sustainable tourism development. Economic growth entails developing the required technology as well as accumulating the relevant knowledge of the economy. Tourism can be said to be a great source of country’s foreign exchange. Therefore, there is no doubt that the tourism sector should be run with the intention of enhancing the economic well-being of the nation (G?ssling et al., 2007). If a country is not in a position to develop sustainable tourism, then it means that the economy of the country will be in a struggling situation. For this reason, the tourism industry must prove to be economically viable (Byrd, 2007). Activities undertaken in the tourism industry should be analyzed and ascertained to be economically viable. For the tourism industry to contribute positively to the economic growth, it must create a sufficient level of employment opportunities as well as provide resources required for spearheading the economy of a given nation.

Environmental Protection

Tourism is dependent of the environment. In other words, without the natural environment, there is no sustainable tourism. Therefore, it is essential that the tourism industry protects the environment that it operates in. In doing so, it must ensure that the biodiversity is maintained and created (Lansing & De Vries, 2007). For example, the tourism businesses should ensure that environmental resources are used in the most optimal way possible. Tourism industry should ascertain that animals and plants are protected. Inputs directed to the human systems should be sustainable as well as the outputs to the environment from the human system.

Social and Cultural Equity

Sustainable tourism development entails ensuring that there is social and cultural equity among the host communities. It involves the growth of both the social and human capital. In any prospering country, both human and social capital are available, as well as economic capital. Social and cultural capital is essential in tourism management (Lansing & De Vries, 2007). Tourism and hospitality management requires the presence of strong culture as well as a strong social setting. The strong culture cannot appear by itself; it has to be sought for. The tourism industry has a major responsibility in leveraging between the cultural use and the maintenance of the culture and social identity of communities. The industry should enhance and promote the identity of the people. Culture should be allowed to grow.

Impact of Tourism

Tourism can have a great impact on the area. The impact can be in the form of cultural, social, environmental, or economic impact. Cultural impact entails the changes in cultures of the host communities that are influenced by the tourist activities witnessed around them. Social impact dictates the change in the social beliefs and setting of individuals that are influenced by the new tourists within them. Economically, the tourists bring foreign currency that is essential in attaining sustainable economic development. Tourism also brings a heavy environmental impact. For example, tourist events may dictate a massive destruction of forests in an attempt to develop infrastructure to be used by the tourism industry. These impacts can affect the community either positively or negatively.

The impact that tourism has on a given area depends on a couple of factors. Understanding these factors is crucial in creating sustainable tourism. The extent to which this factor contributes to the impact of tourism on given areas will determine the kind of measures to be taken to achieve a sustainable environment. Some of these factors include the type of tourists, the multiplier of tourism income, scale, and type of development, carrying capacity of destinations compared to the volume of traffic, and the extent to which the private sector participates in the tourism management, as well as the government involvement in it. As for the issue of scale and type of the tourism development, the latter can take any of the following forms: small scale development or mass tourism. In small scale development, there is usually a limited infrastructure development; therefore, the focus is made on preservation of the existing environmental resources. There is also a lot of sensitivity to the needs of the local environment, meaning that the number of tourists will be highly limited. The small scale development is also characterized by the need to have tourists who are high spenders. On the other hand, mass tourism dictates massive demands on the use of local resources. It also requires a high level of infrastructure developments. The number of tourists required is also very high. Massive tourism contributes to more destruction of the environment compared to the small scale tourism development.

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The type of tourist served will also determine the extent to which the tourism will affect the area. The types of tourists can be classified as either backpackers or high spending tourists. Each of these kinds of tourists will dictate different attendance levels to them and a different level of environmental, economic, and social impact on the communities and the country at large. Backpackers usually want to experience the culture of the local people. They are also willing to make use of the local resources, and the money that they spent is usually directed to the local communities. These groups of tourists are developing to become friendlier to the environment. On the other hand, the high spending tourists are on the other continuum of the story (Miller et al., 2010). They require luxurious and five-star services with a need to use highly developed infrastructure. They use big hotels, airports, and highly developed roads and require huge leisure facilities. The high spending tourists are more likely to have a greater impact on the local communities concerning environmental and cultural impact. In this case, they are more likely to impose cultural changes to the communities, thus eroding the cultures of the communities. Due to the erosion of the cultures of the communities, the locals may develop cultural intolerance to them.

How Sustainable Tourism Can be Developed

For a long period, producers of tourism have tended to concentrate more on their business rather than on the stakeholders who make the tourism business possible. Moreover, they do not take into the considerations other stakeholders in other businesses. Due to this, the needs of very important stakeholders are left unattended (Choi & Sirakaya, 2005). It has led to a sharp decline in tourism efficiency. Therefore, for tourism to achieve sustainability in the future, there is a need for the providers of tourist activities to take into consideration the needs of all the stakeholders, whether the businesses are benefiting directly from the stakeholder or not. How tourism businesses treat and respond to the needs of their stakeholders will determine the extent to which these stakeholders will be in a position to develop trust in the industry. If they lose trust and confidence in it, then sustainability cannot be achieved. Considering the needs of these stakeholders, the tourism businesses must first understand who their stakeholders are and what the stakeholders expect of them. The expectations of the stakeholders should be integrated into the company’s mission and vision statement. As it was already noted, sustainability should be a long-term goal (G?ssling et al., 2007). In order to achieve a long-term goal, there must be clearly outlined objectives that should be developed by the key policymakers in the industry. After developing these policies, all participants in the industry should be interested in and committed to achieving these objectives. For this to happen, there is a dire need for cooperation and teamwork between all providers of the tourism services.

Strategic planning for sustainable tourism can make tourism sustainable in the future. Planning is the centre of any successful operation. It is true with management as well. It has been evident that the tourism industry has failed significantly due to the lack of planning. Tourism providers have lacked a long-term plan for sustainability. In most instances, the providers of tourism services only concentrate on seasons (Weaver, 2006). Such a behavior leads to the lack of an overall plan or perspective on how the tourism industry should be operated. Therefore, a long-term objective set by all stakeholders needs to be put in place. Tourism providers should first formulate a long-term plan, which then should be divided into small bits and implemented seasonally (Choi & Sirakaya, 2005). With this, the industry will be better positioned to learn the dynamics occurring in the industry; consequently, they will be in a position to take the required corrective measures.

The providers of tourism should also provide employment opportunities to the local communities. It should be done in a fair manner without any bias (Lordkipanidze, Brezet & Backman, 2005). Through this, the tourism industry will be contributing to the social well-being of the local communities, which is a key pillar of sustainable tourism development.

Allowing informed and genuine participation by all stakeholders is another strategy. Building sustainable tourism dictates that there be a clear and genuine participation of different stakeholders who are key to running the industry (G?ssling, Hall & Weaver, 2009). There should be sound political leadership, which should foster a wider participation. The political leadership should be at the front line, ensuring that it creates consensus among the stakeholders (Yasarata et al., 2010). It is worth noting that sustainable tourism development is a very long and continuous process. Due to this, there is the importance of constantly monitoring the environment (Murphy & Price, 2005). Environment monitoring should be done as a control measure where any deviation from the planned actions should be corrected immediately. Furthermore, the government should allow private participation in the policy formulation and implementation. Although the government is usually the core policymaker in matters concerning tourism, it should represent the opinions of the private sector. In most economies, the private sector contributes largely to the overall nation’s economy; therefore, ignoring the private sector in tourism management amounts to a total failure in the industry.

Sustainable tourism should also ensure a high level of satisfaction among the tourists. Tourists have different expectations (Weaver, 2006). Such expectations must be satisfied if the tourism industry expects to attain any level of sustainability at all. Accordingly, tourism providers should ensure that the tourists receive a memorable experience. Once this happens, the tourists can be motivated to visit again. The tourists must also be encouraged and educated on the importance of upholding the required levels of cultural tolerance and environmental protection. Furthermore, tourism providers should create awareness among each other on the issues of environmental sustainability. Some producers of tourism may not be aware of the best sustainability practices to implement. However, creating such awareness will be critical in ensuring that there is a common understanding of sustainability issues among the tourism stakeholders.

In order to reduce the impact of environmental destruction created by the tourism activities, the number of vehicles and visitors may be restricted. However, this should be done carefully and with a lot of discernment to ensure that balance is obtained. When the number of vehicles being used by tourists is high, the level of environmental pollution is high as well. However, restricting the number of visitors will have the impact of reducing the overall level of income received from the income activities (Williams & Ponsford, 2009). Consequently, there is a need to devise the most optimal level of tourist activities. The providers of tourism activities should evaluate both the benefits and the costs of such activities. After evaluation of both, they should then develop the most optimal level that will ensure sustainability.

Accordingly, awareness should be created on the importance of protecting the environment (Williams & Ponsford, 2009). In doing so, the stakeholders involved in the tourism industry should mobilize funds to repair any damages created by the tourism activities on the environment. Campaigns that aim to educate the local communities and the tourists visiting the local areas on the importance of keeping the environment protected should be developed. Tourism providers should be involved in mobilizing actions which clean the environment, especially planting trees. Through this, tourism will be better positioned to achieve sustainability in the future.

Creating responsible tourism is another strategy. Responsible tourism focuses on creating a better place for individuals to live in as well as to visit. Through responsible tourism, the tourism providers strive to enhance the environment with the focus on improving it day by day. They do this through ways such as minimizing the negative impacts on the environment, improving and creating better work conditions, ensuring that the physically challenged can access their services, and enhancing the cultural heritage of the people.

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For a long period, tourism has only been considered as a source of revenue and jobs. The social, economic, environmental, and cultural impacts of tourism were ignored. In the last two decades or so, the world has seen a paradigm shift from this kind of thinking. The world is now embracing sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism can take account of its future and current social, economic, as well as political impacts while addressing all the needs of the visitors, host communities, environment, and the industry.

Sustainable tourism can be achieved in the future. However, for this to happen, there is a need for commitment and teamwork among different stakeholders in the industry. Some of the ways that can be implemented to achieve tourism sustainability include creating responsible tourism and awareness on the importance of upholding activities that ensure sustainability, allowing informed and genuine participation of all stakeholders who are relevant to the industry, and strategic planning for sustainable tourism in the future.

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