Has sustainability in tourism become mainstream

Has sustainability in tourism become mainstream? Because (almost) everyone in tourism now preaches sustainability, it is easy to gain the impression that it has become common practice in tourism development and management. But has it? We asked some of world’s leading sustainable tourism experts – here’s what they answered.

Has sustainability in tourism become mainstream?

Dagmar Lund-Durlacher, MODUL University, Vienna:

The awareness among policy makers, the industry and the consumer has definitely increased in recent years, but we are still far from sustainability becoming mainstream.

The major part of business is still going as usual, despite the growing environmental concern due to the global warming discussion, natural disasters and food scandals.

But sustainability has made it at least on the agenda of major industry associations and governmental bodies and there are many great initiatives to encourage sustainable tourism.

D’Arcy Dornan, GSTC Country Representative, Brazil:

I would agree that the word sustainability has become mainstream, but not the practice. What is true is that more and more organizations and destinations have now embarked on the sustainability journey, which used to be much more of a niche.

Fiona Jeffery, Just a Drop water charity, UK:

No I don’t think so. Not enough mainstream operators take it seriously enough. More companies have to walk the walk for it to become mainstream. I wish it was.

Jane Ashton, Head of Sustainable Development at TUI:

The ‘sustainable business’ landscape has changed dramatically in the past 15 years.  Today’s consumer expects reputable brands in any sector to be vetting their supply chains to ensure that goods and services are not produced at the expense of the wellbeing of people or the environment. Media, investors and employees have similar expectations, and legislation is starting to back this up.

When TUI started publishing carbon emissions data over a decade ago, it was an unusual step: now nearly every FTSE100 company is doing so and it will soon be a legislative requirement across the EU. Likewise human rights strategies, employment data, community impact reports…

Still, the challenges facing sustainable tourism are greater than ever. But the more progressive mainstream industry players do now recognise a responsibility to seek to understand the sustainability impacts of their operations and to take action to optimise these.  Has it ‘mainstreamed’ across travel and tourism? Probably not yet…

Justin Francis, CEO Responsible Travel, UK:

I don’t know what mainstream is in travel any more.  Tourism has shattered into a thousand niches, small individually, but collectively the niches are now the majority. Airbnb is already bigger than any tour company. Most people organise their own holidays around their own needs and interests (booking their own flights & places to stay). The market share of package holidays has collapsed and will go on declining.

Perhaps the real question is ‘do I see local people in popular tourism destinations having a greater influence on tourism and how it’s planned?’ The answer is yes I do, and I believe this trend will increase.

Randy Durband, CEO Global Sustainable Tourism Council:

Perhaps talking about sustainability has become mainstream. But true sustainability in policy and practice is in my view still in its infancy. Most of the discussion and best behaviors are limited to a too-small percentage of this very large industry.

Salli Felton, CEO The Travel Foundation, UK:

I think that sustainability as a global concern can be considered mainstream – it’s an accepted part of public and corporate life and continues to become more so as each year goes by.

Whilst awareness around sustainable tourism has definitely increased in recent years, I don’t believe it has become mainstream yet. Until core tourism stakeholders can assess and understand the impacts of tourism (economic, environmental and social) on a destination, it is impossible to plan tourism development in a sustainable way. Waiting for consumer demand to increase before taking action should not be an option because if tourism stakeholders don’t manage the impact of their activities, they risk destroying the very product that sustains them.

Importantly, market research also suggests that whilst consumer demand for sustainable holidays might not always be obvious, there is a clear customer expectation that companies will not sell holidays that impact negatively on destinations.

Tensie Whelan, former President of the Rainforest Alliance:

Sustainability is not yet mainstream, but it is getting there.  And yes, that is very good. As long as sustainability is niche and a “nice to have” rather than a “must have” we will not move far enough or fast enough.

Valere Tjolle, Sustainable Tourism Editor Travelmole, VISION:

The word – yes, the practice – no.

Xavier Font, University of Surrey, UK:

Not enough, in my view. We are going in that direction, slowly. We have an increasing share of sustainable consumption- buying products that happen to be more sustainable, because the sustainable supply chain management of international firms are going that way. This has to be good, but quite often customers are not aware that their tea, chocolate, timber or clothing are made with sustainable products. So that’s not enough.

What is missing is the next step, sustainable consumerism- the old idea that customers will choose products because they are sustainable. I don’t see that segment growing that fast. The compromise is getting customers to be aware that a product is better for them, that it is of higher quality, because it is in some way sustainable. The purists would say this is selling your soul, though. I think it is living in a market economy.


What about you?

Judging by your own experiences and observations, do you think sustainability is (becoming) mainstream at your destination? Comments welcome!

Has Sustainability in Tourism Become Mainstream?
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