How sustainability and tourism intersect

May 03, 2016, 1:47 PM EDT
Along EuroVelo 6 in Romania. (Source: Federation European Cyclists/flickr)
Along EuroVelo 6 in Romania. (Source: Federation European Cyclists/flickr)

China has its work cut out for it when it comes to meeting the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) — something it promised to do along with signing the Paris Agreement on April 22. As one of the biggest culprits in greenhouse gas emissions, Beijing needs to become one of the beacons of sustainable efforts in years ahead to further global goals of cutting carbon emissions, notably by bringing its tourism industry on board. Dirk Glaesser, director of the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Sustainable Development Program, told China’s largest news agency Xinhua this week that the First World Conference on Tourism for Development occurring in Beijing from May 18 to 21 will provide a much-needed crossover between sustainable goals and the global tourism industry.

He noted that tourism has contributed to the U.N.’s goals by promoting economic growth, and furthering prosperity and development — therein lies the responsibility for the tourism industry to get on the sustainability train. Because tourism is so essential to healthy economies, governments and companies must improve tourism-based operations in order to become compliant with the SDGs and set sustainable practices for the future.

The World Bank has pointed out in various resources that tourism and infrastructure improvement mutually benefit each other, and that investments in infrastructure are advantageous for tourism development. The same improvements to city infrastructure support tourism and enhance residential standards of living. These ideals are in line with the SDGs, which focus on fighting poverty and addressing inequality among many other issues. 

And Glaesser underscored that relationship between infrastructure and tourism, noting that tourism can promote better infrastructure mainly in the developing world, and that tourism generally promotes improved futures for countries and cultures as it encourages "greater understanding" of the global population.

The tourism industry of the future — the focus of the Beijing conference — will need to support the billions of tourists expected in years to come with more sustainable operations. UNESCO has said that, while sustainable tourism or "ecotourism" has become more popular, the focus needs to be on how the tourism operations in a given country benefit the people who stay in that country after the tourists go home. In turn, sustainable tourism can also benefit the travellers who may gain an even greater heightened awareness for the culture they visit. It seems like a win-win. Beijing hosting this conference is an even bigger symbol of China’s accountability when it comes to the SDGs — cited by U.S. President Obama as a responsibility shared by the U.S., and a vital one for bringing other countries on board.

Watch experts from the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit discuss climate change and civilization here.