Understanding the complex concept of sustainable tourism is central to any effort at spatial planning for tourism development and integration into spatial plans.
Sustainable development aims at fulfilling the needs of present generations without endangering the opportunities of future generations. Most definitions of sustainability are based on three pillars: ecological, social and economic sustainability. The emphasis on the different pillars may vary and the balancing of factors is a constant challenge to spatial planning. Understanding this is a key to understanding different perceptions of sustainability .
The European Union has adopted a revised strategy for sustainable development which provides a guidance at policy level.
Understanding sustainable tourism
Sustainable tourism must simultaneously fulfill the requirements of environmental, social and economic sustainability. Sustainable tourism planning therefore aims much broader and deeper than just environment friendly tourism or mitigation of negative effects. There are many definitions of sustainable tourism, but the major problem is to make them operational for practical planning and management. Indicators need to be found for sustainability components. Environmental sustainability indicators can be found in environmental assessments. For assessing the contributions of individual projects, environmental certification criteria or ecotourism marking criteria may be employed. Social sustainability indicators may include benefits such as local employment, impacts on or support of local cultures and lifestyles. Economic sustainability indicators include such measures as contribution to employment, stability of employment over seasons, contribution to local economy and regional gross domestic product, control or leakage from the regional economy etc.
Ultimately, sustainability criteria must be determined within the regional and local frame-work in finding a balance between environmental, social and economic sustainability.
The World Tourism Organization and the United Nations environment programme (UNEP) have jointly issued a publication on sustainable tourism: Making Tourism More Sustainable: a Guide for Policy Makers .This guide also contains a section on land use planning and development control.
The European Union has dealt with policy for sustainable tourism. The Commission has issued basic guide-lines for sustainable European tourism and the European Parliament has noted the problems of responsibility for developing sustainable tourism at European level The importance of local action tied to Local Agenda21 work is emphasized.
A brief discussion of the concept of sustainable tourism can be found in an ETOUR working paper Good Examples of Sustainable Tourism in Sweden (in Swedish). The concepts and exampels are also discussed in two presentations on sustainable tourism from BTH.
Sustainable tourism as a balance
Sustainability is a trade-off between environmental costs on the one hand and the individual and social good produced by an activity on the other. Should the costs exceed the value of the benefits, the activity is unsustainable.
In tourism one can distinguish between two major sets of environmental costs: those associated with transport and those that arise at the actual destination. The question at the bottom of the figure underlines an important, but often forgotten question: what are the alternatives to the particular form of tourism under consideration? Would the consumer do something with greater or smaller environmental consequences for the same amount of money?
The concept of sustainable tourism: A trade-off!
Benefits - impact relation
All tourism has an environmental impact, not least in the transportation sector. The necessity of balancing goods and impacts in planning for sustainable tourism or assessing the impacts of plans makes a concept of a"benefits - impact relation" useful. The reasoning above concerning sustainable tourism shows that two complementary strategies are necessary. One is the conventional environment protection approach in order to minimise environmental effects and impacts. The other is to increase the benefits from tourism, both to the region and local communities and to the tourists. Increasing the social and economic good in combination with minimising the environmental impact increases the ratio of benefit to impact. This relationship can be termed the Benefits Impact Relation' (BIR). This concept is briefly presented in the agora overview of existing tools and methods .
One important conclusion of the balancing reasoning and the role of impacts of transport is that integrating transport with environmental and sustainability work at the destination is important - the role of "vertical integration" may be crucial.
Getting tourists to stay for a longer time at a small destination or a destination with well developed, environment friendly communications is a means of increasing the BIR.
Agora tools for sustainable tourism development
Spatial planning for sustainable tourism is one aspect of developing sustainable tourism. The spatial planner or environmental assessor should be familiar with the concepts and tools of developing sustainable tourism.. The Agora toolbox contains two important tools: a sustainability check for tourism projects and labelling sustainable tourism products. The check has been tested. Sustainability indicators were also developed.
"Project part-financed by the European Union (European Regional Development Fund) within the BSR INTERREG III B Neighbourhood programme"