How To Do A Tourism Sustainability Check-Up

Asking yourself about how to check your destination’s tourism sustainability?

Not sure where to start for a tourism sustainability check-up for your destination? 

Wondering how important sustainability even is for your company?

Well, you’re in the right place.

Whether you work for the government or a destination management organization or you’ve just welcomed your first tourist on a guided visit to your community, understanding your destination’s sustainability – and the role you play in it – is important.

Today, we’re going to treat your destination – or your tourist product – to a Tourism Sustainability Check-Up. Through a four-step process, you’ll get the broad strokes of understanding how tourism works in a destination, where issues can arise that cause problems for tourists, locals, and the destination as a whole, and how to start considering improvements.

  1. Tourist Profiles – who’s visiting your destination 
  2. Tourist Planning – where tourists go in your destination
  3. Tourism Development – how tourism gets implemented
  4. Community Involvement – in what ways are the local communities participating

This Tourism Sustainability Check-Up has four tests and is meant to help you transform your current tourism practices into responsible ones.

This includes checking on your tourist profiles; where tourists go in the destination; the planning, organization, and implementation of tourism development; and how involved the local community is.

This short guide aims to provide you with the first steps in examining the main issues to be addressed.

So, let’s get to it. 

Introduction: Welcome To Your Tourism Sustainability Check-Up

To make it simple, when you’re not feeling well, you go to the doctor. You let them know what’s wrong, you get advice and prescriptions, and you start feeling better.

But when we’re talking about tourism, without tourism experts on board, it can be hard to know if your destination is sick, going to get sick, or if you’re just a hypochondriac.

As a tour guide, you likely have a different perspective than a community member. And if you’re a community member, it’s different from tourists or destination managers.

So how can you know if something’s wrong? How can you get others to question the state of tourism? You’ll have to challenge your perceptions and find ways for others to do so.

That’s because being a popular tourist destination is a challenge. What you think is good for you might not be good for everyone… and might not be good for the destination itself. 

Without the proper attention, tourism can lead to overcrowding, environmental impacts, harmful cultural exchanges, and a loss of identity. Still, when done responsibly, tourism becomes a worthwhile industry. 

Let’s see how some well-known issues can be addressed and help you to start making your destination more responsible.

Now, how can we take a step back to make sure tourism is supporting everyone? Here are a few tried-and-true techniques:

  1. Greater participation of communities
  2. Encouraging Responsible Tourism practices among all stakeholders in a destination 
  3. Public-Private Partnership
  4. Starting a Destination Management Organization

Now for you – what does that actually look like? Let’s take a look at your destination and see for ourselves.

Part I: Tourist Profiles – Who’s Visiting Your Destination

With popular destinations like yours, it’s valuable to understand who your visitors are. 

While quantity might seem like a good metric, it’s important to think about quality. 

Likewise, the difference between domestic and international visitors could have a huge impact.

Ask yourself if you know who your visitors are, their ages, what they spend, why they came, where they came from, and how long they’ll be staying.

Because when you understand your tourist segment profile, you can better target your marketing efforts. 

With that information, you can work to change patterns of consumption and work with tour operators to design tourism products for specific groups that follow sustainability principles.

By understanding your tourists, prioritizing a better experience for stakeholders, and making sure tourists are welcomed but also respectful of your communities, you’ll begin transforming tourism into a responsible industry.

Clearing up your understanding of your tourist profile is a good start. Let’s go on to the next check-up.

Part II: Tourist Planning – Where Tourists Go In Your Destination

How well would you say tourists move or can move through your destination? 

Are they mostly packed into the same spot? doing the same thing? Have you taken any measures to deal with their garbage? What’s their behavior regarding the natural environment? the wildlife? The built heritage? Maybe they’re climbing up fragile temples, they’re drawing on religious sites, or worse. 

What’s more, by taking the same route they can be causing congestion, pollution, and potentially upsetting  local communities for who tourism has no other benefits than creating troubles 

In the vicinity of crowded communities that are overworked, and possibly losing their traditions… There are often less-visited communities that have their own traditions, but are missing out on any benefits simply because of a lack of knowledge, capacities, or involvement from tourism authorities or private stakeholders.

And of course, you have undiscovered or underutilized locations that just don’t get any visitors at all while they could satisfy specific niche markets.

By starting with an opportunity study and a capacity assessment of the destination, you can better organize how your tourists go through it. That planning leads to infrastructure development and ultimately allows for a better spatial and temporal distribution, attracting more high-yield tourists and responsible investors.

By encouraging tourists to experience more places, more local people can get involved and benefit but do not forget that there is certainly a limit to growth!

Adjusting your tourist flows can make tourism more responsible. Now let’s move onto the next check-up.

Part III: Tourism Development – How Tourism Gets Implemented

It’s time to see more about how planning and organization are impacting you.

As you have seen, you can’t just drop a hotel without taking into account the local wildlife and local people.

In general, I would advise exploiting remote inhabited or protected areas through a Public-Private Partnership, including concessions, with rules that ensure the sustainable development of tourism. 

Indeed, when associated with guidelines for responsible practices (that include local employment, fair trade, circular economy, etc.), PPP requires private businesses to hire locally and work with local suppliers while securing a balanced use of the environment.

This would help to avoid the degeneration of your protected areas and will impact you well beyond tourism. 

Those PPP get businesses to connect with local suppliers, creating a responsible environment. 

Part IV: Community Involvement – In What Ways Does The Local Community Participate?

It’s important not to overlook your communities when planning any sort of tourism – even the smallest activity. 

This can lead to a conflict between your visitors and your local communities. That can come from a few things – the visitors may not be following any Code of Conduct – which leads to unwelcome behavior. It might also be that the community wasn’t involved in the decision-making process and doesn’t understand the reasons tourists visit their place, or that they don’t see much economic benefit when businesses are run by outsiders.

Not allowing locals to have a voice limits their access to tourism’s benefits and can lead to frustration with tourism… even rejection.

Having their input allows visited communities to shape their role in tourism, including by raising awareness among tourists and stakeholders through Do’s and Don’ts to make sure they behave appropriately.

We often forget that communities are central to most tourism experiences. 

By engaging with them on their terms, the communities benefit, the visitors get more out of their experience, and the outcomes are improved for all stakeholders.

That can be facilitated by setting up a Destination Management Organization, in which all stakeholders are involved, especially local communities. 

These involve private stakeholders – like accommodations, tour operators, and restaurants – public organizations, and communities to lead the destination in a participative way. 

This doesn’t only apply to rural areas, it applies to urban destinations too. 

It will help to relieve or to avoid some of the issues we talked about today and make sure they don’t happen again in the future. 


How’s that? Do you feel better about what you need to do? 

Diagnosing your problems may seem quick, but keep in mind that creating a responsible tourism sector is a long pursuit. There are a lot of different interests and perceptions so communication is central between all stakeholders. 

This can take time. Tourism governance is no longer just public-driven. Private stakeholders have more of a role than ever in all leading tourism destinations.

Going for a check-up can reveal a lot more than you expected, but try and stay positive. 

Remember: Integrating the sustainable development of tourism has far-reaching effects and the power to help transform an economy beyond tourism.

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