Sustainable Tourism Development: Key Trends and Priorities in 2023

Published 20/01/2023
Sustainable Tourism: Trends and Priorities in 2023

Sustainable Tourism: Trends and Priorities in 2023As we look at COVID in the rearview mirror and enter the new year, the tourism industry has a lot to achieve to make it sustainable. From tackling greenwashing to implementing effective measurement tools to keep track of accountability and carbon emissions, there is a lot to be done. But which hot topics or trends are really dominating the sustainable tourism agenda this year?

We asked our panel of sustainable tourism specialists, and here’s what they answered (highlighted respondents are available as consultants or speakers).

Some of our takeaways…

  • Travel is making a resurgence to pre-COVID levels, and the timing is perfect to adopt sustainable measures
  • Carbon emissions and how to reduce and offset emissions are going to take centre stage
  • Species extinction is at an unprecedented pace and biodiversity conservation should be a top priority
  • Better measurement tools are emerging to calculate the effectiveness of sustainable solutions and for better accountability
  • Overtourism and greenwashing remain a concern 
  • There is a rise in conscious travel and a growing demand for meaningful experiences
  • The tourism industry is now rife with ideas and tools to switch to sustainable tourism operations and businesses should make the most of it
  • Flexible work opportunities to work remotely are a good opportunity for slow and responsible travel

Jonathon Day, sustainable tourism expert panel memberJonathon Day

Speaker profile

Two of the key priorities I see for 2023 are:

  • Industry-wide adoption/diffusion of sustainability practices – “crossing the chasm”. 
  • Destination stewardship

Raj Gyawali, sustainable tourism expert panel member

Raj Gyawali

Speaker profile

Trends 

  • The Transformational Travel Council is slowly getting traction as a global group of thought leaders and action heads in the world of sustainable and regenerative tourism. Ideas and practices that come out of this group are going to be relevant moving into mainstreaming sustainability in tourism.
  • Green fuel in aviation is becoming more and more relevant in balancing the carbon footprint caused by aviation and the requirement of this important sector in tourism. It is going to be a game changer and might become bigger than carbon offsets.
  • Measurement of sustainability is an upcoming trend, and several players are making tools to measure the sustainability of tourism in practice. It is going to start making tourism greener and more transparent.
  • The concept of living in moderation is also a futuristic lifestyle choice that is gaining traction in more mindful countries. It will reduce unnecessary travel and make it more mindful, leading to more sustainable options. This opens doors for more mindful experiences to be developed in the destination as opposed to pure pleasure tourism.
  • The movement into digital will grow – as we move from Generation X to Generation Z and Alpha.
    More and more information on travel has to come digitally and with even less attention span. It is a huge challenge.

Priorities for Travel Companies

  • Develop more mindful experiences that are experiential – the new generation is keen and is actively seeking them.
  • Keep companies agile – quick movers will gain – gone are the times of settling in. Short opportunities will come that are up for grabs and will move fast.
  • Start measurements and transparency in sustainability as very high priorities. Early adopters will benefit from it.
  • Not just offering to customers but also engaging in responsible behaviour actively.

Vicky Smith

Vicky Smith

Speaker profile

To state the obvious, the pandemic has had an enormous impact and 2023 will be the first year of the ‘new normal’ – though it’s too early to know what that means. At Earth Changers, we’re watching out for:

Travel – We’ll get back to it. And more sustainable: the focus from DMOs and tour operators has accelerated a decade in three years compared to pre-pandemic. There’s still a lot of revenge travel to be had – big trips that people put off until more secure. And finally, we might see new values born of the Covid-era playing out in consumer choices: fewer but longer, more meaningful trips, considering how they impact and connect with communities and nature.

The cost of living and energy crisis – is inevitably going to bite and costs will rise. But, with 2-3 years of lockdowns experienced, travel is seen as a priority, a necessity to make up for the lost time. People want to self-indulge and throw caution to the wind.

Wellness – Three years of the world’s focus on health and lockdowns have prompted an increased focus on personal well-being – physical and emotional. Self-indulgence will extend to greater self-care too.

Workations / bleisure / flexcation – call it what you will, but with the post-Covid priority to travel with the new-found flexibility of Working From Home, people will take more advantage of combined work and travel opportunities – and corporates will be keen for group retreats too, for teamwork sprints in motivating places.

Climate – To stay below 1.5 °C of global warming for the Paris Agreement and countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions, world emissions need to be cut by 50% by 2030. It is as simple as getting on with that job. Everyone needs to be doing it.

Nature – With the Global Framework announced recently, the ‘Paris Agreement’ for Nature, the world will also need to focus on the 30×30 target: protecting 30% of the world’s lands and seas by 2030.

Intersectionality – Health, biodiversity, climate, inequalities – everything’s interlinked. There will be greater focus and support for delivering positive impacts for the SDGs holistically as we move towards the Agenda 2030 deadline. Those Earth Changers, who truly practice sustainability and regeneration will be sought after over relative surface-level CSR greenwash.

Greenwashing – sadly. Expect a growing tsunami as sustainability becomes more popular, but relatively few have the experience to practice in depth. More on these trends and more on our lengthy blog on earth-changers.com.

Regenerative support – As interest in sustainability – and consequent greenwashing – grows, expect to see more support for the genuine. Aspirations to change the rules we live by holding strong among everyday activists, a vast volume of unidentified conscious consumers who want the products and services they do buy to align with their values. As the consumer public grows more discerning, so will investors and support, as the movement for purpose and impact beyond profit becomes a mighty force. Earth Changers looks forward to hearing from anyone ready to support the genuine.


Albert Salman

The tourism industry is slowly becoming aware that the world is not likely to escape global warming of less than 1.5 or even 2.0 degrees Celsius and that this will be devastating to tourism depending on snow (and melting water). I believe that this awareness will lead to more Climate Action (including Climate Action Standard certification) among the business sector and destinations, especially in mountain tourism.


Gavin Bate

Adaptation to climate change in destinations, for example, ski resorts and coastal resorts. Climate change is the single most important issue facing every destination worldwide and so far tourism has not caught up with the changing times. I also think the trend for degrowth will continue and tourism needs to take it into account.


Gianna Moscardo

More widespread tourist acceptance/awareness of slow travel and staycations. These are getting coverage in travel news media but are consumers paying that much attention?

We need this kind of degrowth if we are ever going to move towards greater sustainability in tourism.


Marcus Cotton

  • Carbon emissions
  • Overtourism
  • Reverting to the former ‘normal’ pre-covid

Masaru Takayama


Natalia Naranjo Ramos

  • Learn what sustainability means and analyse contexts before acting: A checklist of sustainable good practices is not enough. The context where the tourism activities take place is important to define priorities for those communities and territories with a bottom-up approach.
  • Proximity tourism and responsible travel: This is a must but very difficult to achieve in the current process of economic recovery from the pandemic effects. So it would be necessary extra work and effort to integrate good practices in our trips, events, businesses and the whole sector.
  • Avoid greenwashing: Sustainability is a path. It is important to try to do things right through tourism and always make a positive difference in the communities and territories where tourism takes place.

Sometimes sustainability claims are promoted, but in some other aspects, the negative impact of tourism is not visible. It is therefore important to take a deeper look at the business and initiatives to avoid greenwashing.


Richard Butler

High energy costs and inflation may force those who are reluctant to adopt more sustainable measures because of potential cost savings. There may be implications for some long-haul destinations, particularly those with no friends/family diasporas.

The need for a critical examination of the implications of calls for a rethinking of tourism on tourists, i.e. mass tourists. It is to ensure any changes in the focus of tourism do not respond solely to calls for change from specific pressure groups. The majority of tourists, who are stakeholders too, along with residents of destinations, must buy into any proposed changes in focus.


Steve Noakes

Increased interest by multi-lateral and bilateral development partners to plan how sustainable and/or regenerative tourism can be applied to help emerging economies rebuild post-pandemic.

Younger generations of tourism and travel professionals need to make an impact on different approaches and practices to achieve sustainable tourism outcomes.

  • The potential for a rapid reemergence of China’s outbound and domestic tourism boosting economic, environmental and social/cultural benefits and impacts on many destinations around the globe
  • Destinations and industry stakeholders being challenged on how to resource and operationalise well-intentioned policies about sustainable tourism
  • The ongoing positive and negative impacts of global tourism because of climate change and loss of biodiversity

More about the sustainable tourism expert panel here – including previous sessions and answers to some of the most pressing issues linked to making tourism more sustainable and its development regenerative.

Do you have a topic in mind that you think needs to be highlighted in 2023? Get in touch!

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