Questioning Sustainable Tourism, our Beloved Alternative

by Grace Palacios Chavez (ELP 2016) | Master’s Student in Sustainable Development Practice, University of Florida, Peru (in USA)

Sustainable Tourism is a boom, it's a relatively new practice conquering the tourist sector in every country as a domino effect. It's a term frequently bounded among its expertise, and it's becoming very popular in the updated and new national policies. However in many, many cases, it remains forgotten, written on a paper and not performed in all of the different areas of tourism practices.

Sustainable Tourism has been introduced as a friendly alternative to support conservation purposes (in order to address Climate Change, through Sustainable Development), that's why it's commonly related to Community-based tourism, Ecotourism, Agrotourism, Archaeotourism, and many other fancy-tourism terms. I like to stick better to the idea of Sustainable Tourism as the only model, not an alternative to the tourism practices. This means that the hotel sector, gastronomy, tourist operators, travel agencies, event planners, among others, need to restructure and look after its sustainable practices.

Since Sustainable Tourism has been applied since 25-30 years ago (the pioneers of this activity in countries as Tanzania, Australia, Costa Rica, Spain, among others) it's a good time to start measuring its results and question, why is it a good alternative or why it's not a good model to replicate and what arrangements there needs to be in order to not fail and to not make the same mistakes. Is it a Model problem, a Management problem or a Policy problem? Or neither of those?

To start off with this: What's my priority, the environment or the people? One of these variables needs to have a higher value than the other, they cannot equally be protected, neither benefitted. According to the initial interest, the environment should be prioritized, and to achieve this, you need the people. There are of course many Manuals, Guidelines and Standards that establishes parameters, and tools that we can use to prevent negative impacts of tourism (such as VIM, LAC, CC, TOMM and others), but even with that, it's hard to find a successful case in its entirety with no negative social and environmental impacts, after at least 10 years in its development.

For the first generation it usually works, what happens to the second generation that grew up with the sustainable tourism activity? Even better, right? They will increase the education level of their community and keep on working for the tourism in its hometown, but the 3rd generation? Will they continue the same story? I would dare to say there is no longevity, no sustainability for the future generations of that specific community. Now, let's go back to the first generation developing tourism; is the whole community involved? Tourism never benefits the whole population directly, so we would have a segmentation of the community since the beginning, not all of them want to get involved and there is nothing we can do to oppose that.

Tourism has of course, amazing economic improvement rewards, but it has not responded the same effective way in all the families benefitting from it, and what about the days that the entrepreneur needs to rest from tourism? Can they take a break for at least 2 days while in their community? It shouldn't be a problem, but let's review how many tourism projects in their 10 years are respecting the "no tourism day" in the community. At last this is a job, not a way of living, communities deserve a break to continue their other important activities. It's important for them not be 100% tourism dependent.

These are questions, statements and facts that can go on and on and on. I believe we are still on time to set strict parameters, extend monitoring and assessment periods, enforce national policies to guard after our natural heritage sites and resources, and after our cultural heritage populations that might be threatened by our bad decisions.


The 'Big Ideas' is definitely one of the many things I learned at the ELP. Questioning them gives them length in time and makes them stronger, only if they are Big enough to be 'Big Ideas.' Is Sustainability one of them?

If we try 'Sustainability' to overcome the 7 hurdles, most likely we will now succeed because it is part of our current age and it has stuck with us for more than one generation, and has evidenced to be successful, that's a fact. Nevertheless, it could fade away in time, as it could be fading away throughout some disciplines, such as Tourism.