Determining the Size of the Sustainable Tourism Market

By Dripto Mukhopadhyay

A recent report on climate change sponsored by The World Bank suggests that the temperature in earth atmosphere is going to be warmer by 4 degree Celsius compared to the predicted 2 degree Celsius. And, without saying one can understand that the consequences will be much severe than those we expected during last few years. The life of different parts of the world will be marred with extreme temperature fluctuations, drought, floods and many other similar natural calamities, which will be normal occurrence rather than “Disaster” as are called today.  Why am I citing this study in this blog at all? The reason is one of the simplest one to mention and the most difficult one to implement!!!! It is that we have reached a time which urges us to act proactively and without a second thought any further.

Tourism is also a major contributor to this bleak future for mankind. Tourism market is growing at a faster pace than ever before. This is true for most of the countries that are known as the major tourism destinations in tourism map. However, the pace of popularization of the buzz words such as “ecotourism”, “sustainable tourism”, “environmental tourism” etc. is much faster than the growth in tourism in international scenario. At this juncture I would like to draw attention of the reader to the linkage of tourism and climate change as mentioned in the previous paragraph. This is just another reminder to tourism stakeholders of the world to act actively in reducing carbon foot print by tourism sector.

Almost every country is experiencing new tourism products that claim to be in line with sustainable tourism goals. However, only a handful of countries are proactive enough to devise mechanisms and standards to certify tourism products/efforts as sustainable tourism products. Unfortunately, for most of the countries, especially developing countries including India, even the regulatory mechanism or an appropriate body to regulate the industry has not yet set up. And no wonder in these countries also, one finds large number of tourism products or destinations that claim themselves, and also promote themselves, as sustainable tourism efforts. No one is there to even define whether that claim is true or false since no standard has been prescribed by any authority to accept or reject such proclaims. The primary reason why I am raising this issue is without a proper framework and definition for sustainable efforts towards tourism, we can never achieve the long hauled goal to curb environmental deterioration to a large extent which is critical for human survival in near future. The authorities or the governments that are happy to include certain points in their policy prescriptions towards developing sustainable tourism and merrily close their eyes leaving the rest on the market mechanism are living, knowingly or unknowingly, in the fools’ world!

It is most important for one to understand how and to what extent the tourism industry perceives this trade-off between fulfilling sustainable tourism goals and their profit making. Several studies have already done and established to a certain extent this relationship. there are studies that suggest that tourism organizations have no common strategy to protect the environment. And, while the attitude towards the implementation of sustainable measures is positive, the actual reported uptake of pro-environment practices is relatively much lower than expected. very few are engaged in recycling practices or educating guests about conservation matters. The only measure that is widely adopted is water conservation. These findings are surprising especially in case of small rural tourism businesses. It is more likely that they would want to care for the protection of their local environment since it most directly benefits them compared to those in a largely populated destination. In large urban destinations the impact on the local environment due to tourism activities and any liability and consequences are dissipated by the sheer fact that the consequences are shared by many. The most important learning from  these studies is that the owners, particularly those establishing new businesses without prior experience or business skills, will need help in staying commercially viable if sustainable practices are to be realistic.

This indicates the seriousness of the profit–sustainability trade-off. Without resolving this, it appears most unlikely that tourism businesses will be able to afford the luxury of environmental protection. Some of the studies concluded that tourism organizations perceived sustainable tourism regulations as too expensive and affordability is the key driver for involvement and practices in sustainable projects. in a nutshell tourism industry players are well aware of environmental issues but rarely act in line with this awareness because measures to protect the environment do not directly contribute to their objectives since they are not in any philanthropic mode. The only possible way to motivate the tourism industry to become more environmentally sustainable is through demonstrating that environmental protection and revenue maximization may not have to be mutually exclusive but can indeed be complimentary business goals in practicality.


Kids becoming more aware about environment protection….collected lots of plastic packets from Nachiket Taal in Uttarkashi region of Uttarakhand, India 

This calls for an effort to identify the market for sustainable tourism keeping in view of environmental protection and revenue maximization both as the objective of the tourism industry. Identification of the tourist segment that fulfills this dual goal of the tourism industry is of utmost importance. This particular segment is a group of those who are both environmental friendly and demonstrate high travel expenditure. And, this cannot be done by seeking their own view of how environmental friendly they are and what is their willingness to spend for a sustainable tourism product. Perhaps the best way to capture this is through studying their past behaviours while on tours and also tracing their activities in daily life that indicates their level of environmental friendliness. Very few attempts have been made in this direction. However, it is time that researchers and the tourism industry stakeholders do take initiative to measure the demand for sustainable tourism that is viable from the point of view of their business sustainability as well as environmental sustainability.


4 responses to “Determining the Size of the Sustainable Tourism Market

  1. I agree with this article. However, it’s not just the tourism market that needs to practice sustainability, it’s the economy as the whole. The tourist town I live in has banned plastic bags and rewards discounts for reusable bags. I have not seen this ban elsewhere in the state I live in. And until the general public learns to appreciate clean beaches more than seeing Mickey Mouse, I feel as though the artificial world is winning. It’s all about profit, it’s all about the here and now. Not 50 years from now.
    The way to make sustainability anything to work, is to make it profitable. I heard a story from some buddies that down in Nicaragua a few locals had taken the famous pink plastic bird (bag) and recycled them into handmade purses. They actually looked good! Good enough for me to ask my friends on a surf trip to find them and bring them home for me. Some of the major surf brands are already investing into sustainable markets. It seems to me that the more we are connected with nature, the more we are willing to make the necessary means to protect it.


  2. Of course in Kenya, tourists come to see the animals and nature, so sustainable tourism is our lifeblood. Tourism is Kenya’s number one industry, without it the economy would really be in trouble. But communicating the importance of protecting the environment to the ordinary citizen who does not directly see the benefits from tourism is the challenge. People still need to eat and so they clear land for crop growing and cattle grazing and poaching is still rife. I agree that tour operators should be practicing sustainable tourism, no question there. But I also agree with the above comment that it needs to be a whole-economy approach. Having people benefit from sustainable tourism would be good; perhaps tour operators need to find ways to include more of the community in their activities so more people can profit and see the benefit of protecting the environment that tourists are coming to enjoy.


  3. Dripto Mukhopadhyay

    Thanks to both of you for your valuable comments. I am 100% agreed that sustainable practices should be employed in every industry as well as daily life of people to mitigate the grave consequences of climate change. In fact in most of the sector sustainable practices have already been started also, more or less. However, this blogs mentions tourism specifically since the blog is oriented towards sustainable tourism development. Also, in case of some of the sectors since the activities are can be tracked and monitored easily, practicing sustainability measure is comparatively easier than in tourism which is spread across different domains and involves stakeholders from different domains.
    Thanks to both of you once again and hope that I shall receive your valuable comments on my other blogs already posted and to be there in future.

    Best wishes



  4. Hello! your blog is great, I’d love you to join my websites, and you put my link on your site, and so we benefit both.

    I await your response to munekitacate(at)gmail(dot)com



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