In order to see real growth in sustainable tourism, we must at times view it with a critical eye. In this interview, Richard Butler, Professor Emeritus of Tourism at University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, looks critically at the realities of sustainability in the tourism industry and of tourism education. With almost 20 years of experience in the field – publishing countless books, reports, and articles – he casts a harsh, but oh-too-true, look at the weaknesses the industry faces in its journey towards sustainability. To move forward successfully, it is important that we take off the rose-colored lenses, and for this reason, this is an interview that shouldn’t be missed.
- The four most important issues and trends affecting the sustainable tourism industry today;
- How the term ‘sustainable tourism’ is being weakened by its mainstream adoption;
- The challenges destinations face in truly succeeding in their attempt to be sustainable;
- Why tourism education might not be preparing the next generation of sustainability leaders as well as it should;
- The threat unsustainable tourists pose on otherwise sustainable tourism businesses;
- Why transport may be the biggest challenge in achieving genuine sustainability in the tourism industry.
Richard, your academic background is in geography. How did your studies in this field lead you to eventually devote your professional life to tourism and sustainability?
Geography is about the world, how humans relate to and affect the natural environment and its response. We are concerned with spatial patterns and distributions, “Why what is where” is a good summary. It is very logical, therefore, for tourism geographers to be interested in how tourism develops, what it means for people and places, and what the patterns may be in the future. We are thus interested in how transport systems develop, how people become more mobile and what mobility means in the context of tourism for example, why do people go to certain places, what physical features are attractive to people, and what needs to be done to protect them.