How do you define sustainable tourism? = ¿Cómo se define el turismo sostenible? #IY17 #RoofDog

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editing: Tourism definitions

Picture this: Oaxaca de Juárez, México and Las Vegas, USA.

The two places could not be more different from one another, but there's one thing they have in common. I assure you, no one but no one speaks of 'responsible tourism' or 'sustainable tourism.'

That said, if you looked at the policies and programs, both places have done much work in the past 20 years to improve tourism, making it more appealing to visitors and more beneficial to locals.

In the case of Las Vegas, we don't often hear about 'First Friday' or the annual electronics recycling day in the tourism brochures. In the case of Oaxaca, the folkart and food are promoted, but rarely are the artisans or cooks or farmers named (and thanked!).

I'm struck more by the change of language at tourism conferences than by the shocking difference of temperature from the chilly air-conditioned rooms and the beachfront tropical humidity. I think the experts and officials have the obligation of using the language of the locals rather than the other way around. Aspirational thinking, I know! As long as official conferences are held behind closed doors with no live streaming and no means for remote participation nor local engagement, the silos will continue to stand isolated and insulated from the people they are ostensibly meant to serve.

My proposal: more hybrid events and more continuity. By hybrid I mean a combination of face-to-face events with livestreaming and incentives for remote participation. The incentive might simply be acknowledgement or taking questions from those in the room and those watching online. By continuity I mean that events should not stand as islands standing alone but rather to be engaging they need to connect with previous efforts and connect with ongoing efforts. Far too many events are named "First" with no chance of repeating. Such summits and symposiums are temporal snapshots, great if you want a snapshot but terrible if you want to connect.

If officials could be persuaded to hold more inclusive events, then we might enjoy a rethinking of language and definitions that educate and engage locals and visitors. In 2016 we'll be keeping an eye on the major tourism trade shows as well as the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii and the Biodiversity COP in Cancún. Let's pay attention to what terms they use and how they walk the talk.

Elsewhere on the Web


Global Perspectives of Ecotourism - Ron Mader


responsible tourism


North America
South America



Our Exploring Conscious Travel and Ecotourism Guide is the 20+ year story of how tourism and conservation began to change themselves inside-out.
This feature is regularly updated with feedback from travelers, community leaders, entrepreneurs and policy-makers. We share the stories of how locals and visitors are creating mutually beneficial relationships that deepen our understanding of the world.
Some history. I've been a supporter of the local travel movement, responsible travel and ecotourism, long before the terms were coined or churned into associations and academic centers! Since 1988 I've been involved professionally and has been exploring these concepts since 1994 (which should explain how we maintain our old school appearance.)
It's time to rethink, reflect, reimagine and rebuild on a number of levels at the same time. Wikification is gaining ground, so please keep an eye on the Planeta Wiki as we continue to push the envelope of collaborative writing and editing.
A reminder: this guide is a work-in-progress. It would be good to refashion parts of this work into additional digital and analog formats. Suggestions are always welcome.
The term really doesn't matter -- ecotourism, responsible tourism, sustainable tourism -- whatever policymakers call it, this will never be THE solution for any particular desired outcome. Tourism in all its guises - from slow adventures to local travel - works in tandem with other cultural and economic forces and serve as a catalyst which supports sustainable practices, including greening trade and tourism, conserving wildlife and creating mutually beneficial relationships among locals and visitors.
The guide and the entire website ask the big 'what if' question -- what if we truly helped one another? This contrasts with what if we try beat up on each other all the time, the vicious cycle seen far too often. What we'd like to see is what in Spanish is called un circulo virtuoso or a 'virtuous circle.'
Specifics may vary, but the big picture doesn't -- responsible tourism is preferable to irresponsible tourism, ecotourism is preferable to un-ecotourism, local tourism is better than tourism that ignores the locals and sustainable tourism is, well, you get the idea.

Shades of Green

Author Paul Waddington tracks several dozen products on a sliding scale from deep green to not even a little bit green in Shades of Green: A (mostly) practical A-Z for the reluctant environmentalist (Eden Project Books, 2008). This book is aimed squarely at a UK audience, so it may not be that relevant if you're not in that corner of the world. Nevertheless, it's a clever approach that sheds light on on reimagining the definitions we use in our travels.

Each entry has a short introduction followed by as many shades of green as appropriate. For example Deep Green coffee is fairtrade, organic and shade-grown or made from dandelion roots. Not Even a Little Bit Green is decaffeinated instant coffee. In between are witty and insightful explorations of sustainable practices. Deep Green flying is not flying. Not Even a Little Bit Green is flying in your personal airliner. Odds are you'll find the choices you make toward the center.

This model is what we'd like to apply to travel and tourism. Instead of asking whether the trip is green, we should ask how green is it? Likewise, to what degree is the project community driven? To what degree does it conserve wildlife?

Misc Notes
Thanks, Anna for citing my essay on definitions. I developed that essay a while back and it does get updated a few times a year. What impresses me is that for any term there are multiple readings. I use a sports metaphor to move us ahead. If we're going to talk about 'football' then it could mean gridiron or soccer or rugby ... yet the players and the viewers know full well which sport is which.
In tourism, on the other hand, we have this Tower of Babel. We're not agreeing to disagree because we're not conscious of one another and discount the opinions of others.
I agree that tourism operators can be the agents of change. I'd add that the process could be sped up if there were more support from authorities. Rarely do we see governments empowering the SMEs or linking niche operations with mainstream promotion. Meetings and conferences are held behind closed doors with a costly ticket to enter. There is no livestreaming and no questions accepted via Twitter. Did I mention no pubic access to stats or reports? Arghhhh! Do we need to #OccupyTourism to get the point across that diversity and dissensus are the new status quo and that transparency and empathy are the keys that open the doors?
Please someone show us examples that inspire, of governments that collaborate instead of command, of tourism policies that integrate economic, cultural and political impacts, of operators who are fearlessly entering the world of responsible conduct AND digital literacy and of travelers who recognize that they are not only visiting a place (or destination) but people's homes. This is the story of the future, becoming as friends in South Africa say, future fit.


You can't label chocolate as something else -- or, worse, sell it as different-tasting vanilla -- for long. Eventually chocolate just has to be chocolate. And so, more and more, if/when an editor balks at anything with responsible leanings simply because it uses weightier words or admonishes travelers for bad behavior, I'm less and less hesitant to hold my tongue.
- Ethan Gelber, LinkedIn

Recommended listening

Alan Stern: ‘A Chihuahua is still a dog, and Pluto is still a planet' or 'Pluto has a Long Tail'

List of adjectival tourisms


Tourism definitions
What is responsible tourism?

Tin Cans, 2008

Working Notes

Need for a broad and integrated approach to ecotourism and responsible travel
Advantages of Web2 in creating new avenues for dialogue
Show travel providers how to better communicate what they have for visitors
Show visitors other ways of organizing a trip

From John Shores (January 2010)
Gentle Ecotourist:

Tracking a decline...

The Google Insights link above *should* take you to a graph of
the frequency of searches on the word "ecotourism" from 2004 to
the present. You can see a repeating double-double peak each
year, but the overall trend 2004-2009 is downward.

My preliminary interpretation is that much of this search traffic
is people dreaming about trips, so the search frequency isn't a
precise indicator of actual trips, just hypothesized trips. And
in bad economic times, people may not allow themselves to dream
about that vacation trip.

What do you think?



How green is my travel?
Traveller vs. Tourist - Open Africa

Wish List

I would like to see responsible travel and ecotourism not be so moralistic in many cases. The Slow Food movement has shown how ethics and aesthetics need not contradict each other.
- Greg Hubbs, Transitions Abroad



Defining the terms

In 2010 launched the Travel Definitions Survey to ask readers, friends and colleagues to reflect on the definitions used while traveling or preparing for a trip. With 40+ responses, the survey shows a clear division when it comes to using or avoiding specific terms. One of the chief conclusions is that policy-makers and academics are using a different languages than the travelers, aka visitors.

There have always been naysayers about specific tourism definitions. What we are finding in the survey is that the narrower the niche, the more confusion it generates among the public. The lowest ratings were awarded to civic tourism and geotourism and high marks went to responsible tourism and sustainable tourism. The reception to ecotourism lies somewhere in the middle.

This shows that while civic tourism has some great ideas, few people understand the term. Likewise what is geotourism in the USA is a world away from geotourism in Australia. Same word, but geotourism National Graphic and geotourism Australia have as much in common as cheese and chalk.

This survey illuminates the road ahead and I offer two recommendations:

1) Visitors need to be open-minded and understand that what they want might need to be articulated in different terms. The best bet is to be specific with your interests and abilities and conduct your searches accordingly.

2) Tour guides and government officials need to understand that visitors will be increasingly divergent in their backgrounds, interests and expectations. Tourism development requires the longtail perspective -- providing relevant and deep information for a broader reach of services and places where travelers might want to go.

A final thought to keep in mind - while the tourism industry has long touted destinations, in fact we are simply entering someone else's home. Be generous with your hosts and you'll learn to see travel in a whole new light.


Add the adjectives you like -- we all do it! -- but we should focus on how to improve the tourism experience across the board.
This reminds me of the buzzword 'The Long Tail' which was first coined by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 Wired magazine article to describe the strategy of selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers. Chris writes: "Everyone's taste departs from the mainstream somewhere. The more we explore alternatives the more we are drawn to them."
I often ask friends if they travel to places or destinations. Overwhelmingly the answer is to 'places' but we see in the tourism discourse the steadfast reliance on 'destination.' The disconnect begins when those managing and regulating tourism refuse to speak in the language of the visitor AND the local. Is mainstream travel represented best by corporate entities like Travel Weekly or grassroots programs like Couchsurfing and
What encourages me is the work of colleagues including Anna Pollock and Valere Tjolle who make the case that tourism needs to have demonstrable benefits for the locals. It's stating the obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said.


While the details vary, most definitions of ecotourism meet three criteria:
  1. Ecotourism provides for conservation measures;
  2. Ecotourism includes meaningful community participation;
  3. Ecotourism is profitable and can sustain itself.

These three components of ecotourism are difficult to accomplish individually, let alone as a package. Moreover, they are difficult to measure or quantify. Assuming you wanted to know which are the 'best' places to go or guides to hire, the question is ... how is one to judge? Are we evaluating a place, a service, a tangible or intangible product?

While we tend to think about 'ecotourism' or 'responsible travel' as someTHING that can be defined, perhaps a better model would be a mobile that hangs from the ceiling. The fluid motion and interdependence of the pieces reflects relationships among the players. If there is consensus about items of shared interest and a willingness to collaborate toward the goals, then tourism reaches toward its maximum potential of delivering quality experiences that benefit locals and visitors without taxing the environment or culture.

Tags reflect the components better from the point of view of multiple users and will likely transform the way we have brand niche tourism, particularly in an age of longtail connections. Personally, instead of defining what is ecotourism, we ought to reframe the discussion as who are the ecotourism players? and develop some productive codes of conduct and ways to create meaningful engagement, using both on the ground and social web tools.


Snapshot (December 1, 2008)

Please rate how often you actually use the following travel definitions in your travels. Use a scale of 1-5 (1 being the least often, 5 being the most often) to rate the following terms.

Adventure travel
14.3% (4)
25.0% (7)
25.0% (7)
17.9% (5)
17.9% (5)
Civic tourism
71.4% (20)
7.1% (2)
0.0% (0)
10.7% (3)
10.7% (3)
Community tourism
22.2% (6)
7.4% (2)
18.5% (5)
25.9% (7)
25.9% (7)
7.4% (2)
3.7% (1)
18.5% (5)
33.3% (9)
37.0% (10)
42.9% (12)
35.7% (10)
14.3% (4)
0.0% (0)
7.1% (2)
Responsible tourism
7.1% (2)
3.6% (1)
14.3% (4)
21.4% (6)
53.6% (15)
Rural tourism
14.8% (4)
18.5% (5)
33.3% (9)
11.1% (3)
22.2% (6)
Sustainable tourism
7.1% (2)
7.1% (2)
14.3% (4)
14.3% (4)
57.1% (16)
Urban ecotourism
50.0% (14)
14.3% (4)
28.6% (8)
7.1% (2)
0.0% (0)
28.6% (8)
25.0% (7)
17.9% (5)
21.4% (6)
7.1% (2)

answered question
When you travel, do you visit destinations or places?

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external image t.gif

How do you define ecotourism?

a responsible that takes into account: culture, ethics, environment, social progress, economy. Respect to the culture and the landscape.
removing the constraints of the overdeveloped world by entering a place where time has no parallel. you are alone with the thoughts of your ancestors and a newfound responsibility in the corruption and degradation of the environment.

Travel around and getting better knowledge to the environment and culture of the place i visited, so as to find the way to conserve and preserve them.

a responsible that takes into account: culture, ethics, environment, social progress, economy. Respect to the culture and the landscape.

a form of tourism that is dedicated to preserving nature, culture, and finances of the local destinations being visited

removing the constraints of the overdeveloped world by entering a place where time has no parrallel. you are alone with the thoughts of your ancestors and a newfound responsibility in the corruption and degradation of the environment.

Gives back to the people and the environment and leaves a better place

Travel to a place that does not have a negative impact on the environment and where possible benefits the community

A form of sustainable tourism that incorporates elements of natural environment and seeks to encourage participants to develop an appreciation for nature and culture, with tourism revenues being used to, at least partly, promote conservation.

Natural and cultural; helps preserves both; benefits local communities and is low impact

Nature-based, environmentally sound, educational in a way that enhances appreciation and understanding of the environment, culturally sensitive and contributing to the local community

Used to be part of nature, now ecotourism 2.0 will include people but the definition is still used in very different manners from one continent and one country to the other

Tourism which is environmentally and culturally sensitive, educational, and contributes to the welfare of the destination and its inhabitants. Also low impact and small scale.

A potentially sustainable type of tourism based around tourism products sustainably using natural destinations. In short, nature based tourism.

Vacation involving nature activities

How do you define sustainable tourism?

A sustainable tourism industry is one that grows and develops in ways consistent with protecting the environment and conserving biodiversity, harnessing and protecting fragile cultures and traditions while ensuring long-term livelihoods for local communities. It looks to 100 years down the line to ask whether an action taken is the best one in all these contexts.
Tourism that satisfies our needs without jeapordizing the needs of future generations and takes into consideration the social, cultural, environmental and economic impacts of tourism.
difficult term to immediately understand - it is what I hope eventually tourism will be for everyone in the business
beyond minimizing negative effects, trying to have a neautral or positive effect, such that ecosystems and local culture persist into the future economic sustainability has to be part of it also, because if the responsible tour operations go broke we are left only with the others
That's a tricky one. I am not sure that we can really tallk about sustainability anymore for there are so many aspects that can influence its development. First of all, the economy and the ecology would have to present a wining combination for it to really happen. And the climate change can also make a whole lot of difference. It is a very difficult question to answer.
Tourism of any scale which respects the ecological, social, cultural, and economic values of a destination,and is planned and managed to maintain or enhance these values and reduce risks to the destination and its tourism.
Modified Brundtland definition. Tourism that takes account of the needs of present and future generations, and ensures current and future tourism does not destroy legacy for future tourists.
Make your vacation be a part of helping restore or replace energy resources or be helpful to the local people's future.

Do you use any other terms?

adventure travel, community-based, pro-poor, soft adventure, wildlife tourism, low impact tourism, green tourism, eco-challenge, humanitarian, backcountry, nature tourism, activity-based: surf, kayak, snorkel

Do you try to be a responsible traveler/ecotourist? If you try to leave a positive footprint, please let us know what you do.

Try to spend money locally, stay in locally owned hotels rather than international chains.
Sun, Sep 5, 2010 5:21 PM
try yes - always stay in locally owned accommodation if available and use local travel services
Thu, Aug 26, 2010 12:58 AM
use local transport, local food, promote geoheritage
Fri, May 21, 2010 2:22 AM
use and support local tourism that gives back to the community--Like Cuyhimolojas in Oaxaca's Sierra Norte for example.
Wed, Feb 17, 2010 10:47 AM
In the past no but now i would think about what i am doing and what can i do different
Tue, Jan 26, 2010 8:06 AM
I do try to act consciously in my travels. I feel it is important to leave a place as you found it. If any footprint is to be left it should be a positive impact, leaving the local and the traveler with a mutual respect, pride for their respective and individual cultures and ways.
Mon, Jan 11, 2010 8:54 AM
I try to understand the nature of a place and learn how people live there. I don't compare them to the way things are at home. I try to use minimal resources and honor requests not to flush things down the toilet, use sunscreen in sensitive bodies of water, etc.
Fri, Sep 4, 2009 9:36 AM
use locally-run, locally-owned, or locally-operated companies and retailers
Mon, Jul 27, 2009 11:23 AM
As a responsible person i try to clean around my self even other people who i don't know make it dirty.or warn other people if see they are doning sth useless for nature
Fri, May 29, 2009 1:14 AM
Read only on-line and not print broshers
Sun, May 24, 2009 6:12 AM
my family and I alwas say "leave the place, where ever you go even beter that as how you find it"
Tue, Dec 2, 2008 2:42 PM
yes - always take garbage back from remote places, inform locals when I see negative practices
Mon, Sep 22, 2008 3:37 PM
yes - avoidance of corporate chains, use small local accommodation/services, attempt to avoid exploitation of culture ie staged authenticity which i deem to be morally inappropriate in certain situations
Mon, Sep 1, 2008 12:15 AM
Yes. I support the local community by:
- where possible staying in locally-owned accommodation
- eating at locally-owned restaurants
- taking the time to talk with locals and getting to know something about them (especially boatmen, taxi drivers, waitresses etc)
- buying local delicacies, goods and produce or at least supporting small businesses in the locality
- buying fair trade where possible
- sometimes I support community projects in the area or visit schools if that is appropriate

- take my own water-bottle and ask to refill
- bring my own toiletries (organic) instead of using the sachets of shampoo/conditioner/toothpaste etc
- pick up trash I see on walking trails or beaches
- take public transport where possible
- stay at guesthouses/hotels/resorts that use sustainable, renewable resources for building and/or grow and serve organic food.
- if on an island, I will often bring my rubbish home with me.
- refuse plastic bags

- try to learn some local words or language
- actively seek out the local livelihoods and try to understand how the community lives (ie I sometimes wake early in beach localities and interact with the fishermen when they haul in their catch; or I spend time to talk openly with handicraft producers -understanding their difficulties/successes/lives etc)
- try to find some local bands or gigs - especially ethno-tribal bands
Tue, Aug 26, 2008 9:38 PM
yes- i try in all of my interactions to represent my country/hometown/self well by being compassionate, interested, restraining myself from judging, restraining myself from acting out frustrations...
Wed, Aug 20, 2008 5:32 PM
I support community tourism destinations which help reduce poverty and where the local population is the owner/manager of the business
Fri, Aug 15, 2008 2:49 AM
Yes--visit natural areas, stay at locally owned hotels, eat at local restaurants, buy locally made handicrafts from local producers, use local guides, etc.
Thu, Aug 14, 2008 6:55 AM
Yes, try to spend local and with community members and local inhabitants rather than foreign owners (avoiding any large international tourism enterprises). I particularly like my travel to add (even if in a small way) to an incentive to nature conservation and direct local or community income. I prefer traveling slow and informed and try to be sensitive to local customs.

A recent resource I found (and pretty much agree with though might have said it myself in different words)
Wed, Aug 13, 2008 8:08 AM
spend locally, respect the culture, interact with local people, take local advice on ecology etc
Wed, Aug 13, 2008 1:08 AM
Rent small cars, stay in local B&B's, eat in local restaurants, always be mindful of natural and cultural features (i.e., stay on trails), purchase local products
Thu, Aug 7, 2008 6:16 AM
Everything I can
Buy local
Use local transport
And do all the other things I do at home
Thu, Jul 31, 2008 2:18 PM
yes,I try to be a responsible ecotourist.friendly to environment in the traveling.
Thu, Jul 17, 2008 6:41 PM
Sun, Jul 13, 2008 3:45 PM
Try no to leave income to communities
Thu, Jul 10, 2008 9:39 AM
I'll read up on a web site about a place before going, but often find site promotional material can be misleading regarding "green" or ecotourism, etc.
Mon, Jul 7, 2008 4:18 AM
yes. I do cycling and bring the rubbish out of the visiting places. I tried my best not to disturb the original living habitat of the animals or people there.
Tue, Jun 24, 2008 10:20 AM
follow Leave No Trace principles
Sun, Jun 22, 2008 12:07 PM
yes, try not to destroy any natural beauties, and try to respect and give back to the natural culture of my destinations
Sat, Jun 21, 2008 9:19 AM
Less use water & electricity, do not leave trashes. Try to know more about the country, its culture and its population. Try to integrate the culture (language, food, custom)
Fri, Jun 20, 2008 6:29 AM
yes, support local
Sun, Jun 1, 2008 9:30 AM
Yes - I travel overland, spend locally, try and always be respectful, meet local people and listen to their opinions of travellers and tourism.
Mon, May 5, 2008 5:25 AM
Act respectfully to the people and environment at the destination.
Don't do anything at the destination that i wouldn't do at home.
Wed, Apr 23, 2008 4:36 PM
Yes I select lodge or service providers that list an operational ethic.I leave as much money as possible in the country or village etc as possible
Tue, Apr 22, 2008 2:26 AM
preferentially tour operators and accommodation who seem to have a good interpretive component and especially if they are contributing to the environment; don't disturb wildlife or trample native vegetation; don't litter; buy locally; donate to local conservation projects; learn about the local environment; sometimes present talks on environmental themes in places I'm visitng
Mon, Apr 21, 2008 1:11 PM
Participating in community activities and economy by buying local as much as possible.
Looking for community tourism projects.
Sun, Apr 20, 2008 1:16 PM
Yes. Our company works directly with communities to help them define the tourism they want and to create the means to get there
Sat, Apr 19, 2008 6:50 AM
Carbon offset flights, leave nothing but footprints, participate in events that give back to communities or provide employment for local peoples,
Fri, Apr 18, 2008 1:58 AM
Yes, always respect the local customs and people.


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