Sustainability Challenges in Tourism Explained: #6 Unrealistic Expectations

Published 12/09/2017
Sustainability challenge in tourism: unrealistic expectations

Sustainability challenge in tourism: unrealistic expectations

Unrealistic expectations is the focus of this sixth post of our special series on the key challenges preventing tourism businesses and destinations from becoming more sustainable.

In our interviews with tourism and sustainability professionals we often include a question about which they consider the main challenges regarding tourism sustainability. Among the many (and very diverse) answers so far, we’ve identified 10 themes and areas of concern. Unrealistic expectations is one of them.

Below a few extracts and answers from our interviews, intended to offer you a snapshot of expert views on the topic. We strongly recommend you to read the full versions of the interviews. Sustainability challenges in tourism are very location-specific, and as such best understood in context.

Trying to achieve an utopic goal

Eduard Mueller, Costa Rica:

“Starting from the titles, ‘Sustainable’ tourism is more of a utopic goal. Ecosystem degradation, rapid loss of cultural and biological diversity, and sumptuous consumption are so far advanced that we cannot achieve sustainable development anywhere in the near future. If you compare the ecological footprint vs. the biocapacity, there are only a small number of nations that could in theory achieve sustainability.”

Harold Goodwin, United Kingdom:

“One of the big challenges is to get people to see the difference between the abstract goal of sustainability and taking responsibility for dealing with the specific issues in particular places. It is so much easier to talk the platitudes of sustainability than to deal with the particulars.”

Richard Butler, United Kingdom:

“Quite frankly, sustainable tourism is impossible, and we should focus on making operations more sustainable and acknowledge that tourism is an industry which deep down is impossible to make sustainable. We would have to stop long haul travel, which would be a disaster to many developing countries and regions and also drastically limit choice for tourists, both of which are undesirable for many reasons, particularly poverty alleviation. Not everything can be sustainable.”


Not much to add to the points above. Rather than being distracted by daydreams about a world where tourism and travel are entirely sustainable – environmentally, socially and commercially, we better focus on what’s right in front of our eyes, at our destination, and work towards improving conditions there.

Strong sustainability advocates need to find the right balance between what’s ideal and what’s feasible at any given place and time. And we need to find the right words to engage the more pragmatic, business-minded type of tourism professionals (who are the majority), so those don’t shy away from the topic altogether.

Being able to demonstrate the business case for sustainability in tourism certainly helps, as we discussed in post #4 of this special series on tourism sustainability challenges.

For us, sustainable tourism, or tourism sustainability, is simply the umbrella term for discussions and activities focused on making tourism more sustainable. Some refer to this as “responsible tourism”, or “better tourism” – terms which are a bit too vague for measurable actions, in our view, but which essentially mean the same. If interested in definitions, we recommend our recent post featuring expert views on the meaning of sustainable tourism.

Ultimately, what matters is that we, as individuals (travellers and professionals), business and destinations do what we can to make tourism as sustainable as possible. We might never reach total sustainability, but we can certainly do better than now.

Most recent articles on sustainable tourism challenges:

Please note that the information and views set out in this article are those of the authors (interviewees) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the organizations they work for.

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