The concept of sustainable tourism has many moving parts. Travelers, host companies, hoteliers, resorts, cruise ship companies, transportation providers, and governments around the globe have embraced the need for minimizing the carbon and ecological footprints of tourism.
In addition, a growing number of smaller eco-resort operators have acknowledged the need for participating in local communities from a social perspective. A great example of such an eco-resort is Los Cardones Surf Lodge, on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. The operators have entered into a continuing partnership with the local communities to bring cultural arts to the schoolrooms of indigenous children. The owners actively encourage their lodge guests to become more involved in the world than simply laying on a beach, surfing, and drinking umbrella drinks all day. This is what sustainable tourism is all about.
It's not just where you stay when you're traveling, though. Sustainable tourism takes place at all levels. For the traveler considering such a trip, it can mean thinking about the most direct route to their destination, and the most energy-efficient means of transportation.
A hotelier that practices sustainable tourism might have various programs in place, such as an aggressive recycling plan, processing and reusing waste water, using renewable materials in facility construction, and minimizing the environmental impact of site activities. It's all about, again, the footprint that tourism occupies (and leaves) with each and every guest.
Governments in ecologically friendly countries such as Costa Rica have found that putting policies into place that encourage sustainable tourism pay off for both the people of their countries, as well as the companies that wish to do business there. The end result is that tourists become more conscious of their impact on the world around them.
The London School of Economics has conducted extensive studies on the evolution of sustainable tourism, and actually created course work on the topic that's well worth reviewing. One thing that's clear: sustainable tourism isn't necessarily 'eco-tourism'. These two types of tourism can go hand-in-hand, but also be totally independent of one another. Eco-tourism is focused on nature, and travel to less developed wilderness areas. Sustainable tourism, on the other hand, keys more on reducing the overall tourism footprint.
As the travel industry consolidates and retrenches during tough economic times, sustainable tourism has become more than just an industry niche catering to a specific demographic of consumers. It makes economic sense for the operators. And it's clearly the wave of the future as more and more tourists insist upon traveling in an ecologically friendly way.