Sustainable Tourism

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Conversations for Change April 2016: Sustainable Tourism Breakout Session

The highly motivated participants in the Sustainable Tourism Breakout Session began by discussing the definition of ‘sustainable tourism’. What does sustainable tourism actually involve? How has the concept been defined in the past? How does it differ from other related concepts such as ecotourism?

For a working definition for the purposes of the discussion, we used the following:

Sustainable tourism aims to minimize the negative impacts and maximize the benefits of tourism. Sustainable tourism is environmentally and socially conscious, as well as economically viable in the long-term. It should not undermine the original attractiveness of a tourism site through, for example, over-development or environmental degradation.

In addition, we discussed a more detailed definition from the World Tourism Organisation that adds further layers of complexity to the concept of sustainable tourism:

Sustainable tourism development requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building. Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and/or corrective measures whenever necessary.

Sustainable tourism should also maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices among them (World Tourism Organization 2004)

We also talked about how definitions of sustainable tourism usually either state or imply a particular kind of tourist: one who is interested in local cultures, with a desire to learn about other peoples, and sensitive to the local environment and local community. Further, we discussed how this ‘ideal tourist’ relates to our experiences of tourists in St. Anton.

At the beginning of the session, we briefly talked about the nature of tourism itself. In particular, we looked at how tourism profoundly influences diverse aspects of local life, such as economic organization, the use of land and other resources, local identities, life styles, political structures and processes, and gender and familial relations. We also talked about how tourism has different effects on local communities, depending on such factors as the specific form of tourism involved, the speed of touristic development in a region, the sources of capital available, etc.. Further, differently placed individuals within a community are also affected differently by tourism. Tourism is a highly complex phenomenon with multiple and diverse, negative and positive consequences for those involved.

We then examined the figures on international arrivals from 1950 to 2014, which clearly demonstrated to us that the notion of sustainable tourism is increasingly relevant. We agreed that the mass movements of tourists for the purpose of leisure substantially contribute to environmental problems such as air pollution, congestion and global warming and discussed the necessity for improved transportation technologies and sources of energy. We noted that the trend to more frequent, shorter trips, and the move away from less frequent, longer trips, is actually a move in the direction of less sustainability. We also briefly discussed the idea of virtual travel, in particular for people whose mobility is constrained in one way or another.

After gaining an understanding of the immense dimensions of international travel and tourism in the modern world, we focused on three categories of issues under the broad heading of sustainable tourism: environmental, economic and socio-cultural.

Under the heading of economic sustainability we talked about how many regions in the world are highly dependent on tourism – a highly seasonal industry affected by such things as the weather, fashions and political stability. We also talked about ownership, debt and inheritance in tourism. In poorer countries, a very large part of the profits of tourism are lost to international companies and investors. We discussed the constant pressure in tourism to modernize and update facilities and the nature of employment in tourism industries. Specifically in relation to St. Anton, we also discussed the issue of chalets.

Turning to the question of environmental sustainability we talked about everything from the individual packaging of products for tourism (e.g. jam, butter, shampoo) to global warming and snow machines. In terms of St Anton, we noted that although in the past there have been calls to limit tourism expansion in the region, currently we are clearly in the middle of a phase of expansion in the village. We also talked about the project planning to connect St. Anton to Kappl and open up Malfontal.

Finally we talked about the third category of socio-cultural sustainability, and the opportunities as well as the changes and problems that tourism can generate for local cultures. With respect to St. Anton, we talked about the disjunction between some of the current touristic events in the village and the local culture. We discussed two cases from the last 6 months, where traditional local events were displaced by touristic events.

In the time available to us, the animated discussion ranged far and wide, but before we knew it, the time was over and we realized that we had not got around to proposing many solutions to problems. In the spirit of the name of the conference however, we thought it might be interesting to set up a group that meets regularly to talk about sustainable tourism. We could exchange ideas and experiences, work on solutions to existing problems, support each other in making our businesses, workplaces or individual practices more sustainable, and even, if the necessity arose, appeal as a group to local government. In this sense, the breakout session on sustainable tourism at the Conversations for Change conference was highly successful!

Jacqui, Katrin, Catherine and Adrian

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