Original publication: March 2016
Lead institution: The Institute of Transport & Tourism, University of Central Lancashire, United Kingdom: Richard Weston
Partners: NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands:
Paul Peeters, Eke Eijgelaar; TEC – Conseil, France: Ghislain Dubois, Wolfgang Strasdas, Marie Lootvoet, Runa Zeppenfeld
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2FCZ42m
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From Responsible Best Practices to Sustainable Tourism Development

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The overall objective of the EC tourism framework is to make European tourism more competitive as well as sustainable and responsible. This research study provides information on the concept of sustainable/responsible tourism in the context of the sustainable development of tourism, based on European, national and local cases and information. It provides information on current social, economic and environmental sustainability issues with European tourism, describes the global framework for sustainable tourism, analyses a wide range of national and local policies, projects and best practises, and provides policy recommendations aimed at supporting a sustainable development of the EU tourism industry.


Tourism comprises the activities of persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes. This concept can be applied to different forms of tourism relevant to this study, both in terms of geography (domestic and international tourism) and motivation (holiday, business tourism, visiting friends and relatives).

Sustainable tourism is currently defined by the UNWTO as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities“. Sustainable tourism development is not a specific form of tourism, but a pathway that any form of tourism, destination or product should follow in order to be compatible with the principles of sustainable development. Therefore, sustainable tourism development is defined as guidelines and management practices improving sustainability that are applicable to all forms of tourism in all types of destinations. Sustainable tourism development should not be confused with concepts such as slow tourism or travel, ecotourism, or responsible tourism.

Various sustainable tourism indicator frameworks have been set up in order to guide sustainable tourism development and foster the adoption of universal sustainable tourism principles, of which two are particularly relevant: the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), and the European Tourism Indicators System (ETIS) for Sustainable Management at Destination Level.

Environmental issues

Tourism is associated with a diversity of environmental impacts caused by all its elements: accommodation, activities, origin/destination transport (source market to destination) and local transport (at destinations). The major tourism-related environmental issues are climate change and energy, water and air quality, land-use and landscape, nature, eco-systems and bio-diversity, waste and food, and health.

Climate change, through greenhouse gas emissions, is by far the highest externality for tourism, and should have the highest priority when aiming for the sustainable development of tourism. It is estimated that tourism produces more than 8% of EU carbon dioxide emissions. Tourism consumes relatively large quantities of fresh water, generates sewage water in fragile environments and may pollute both fresh and sea water. The impacts of tourism land-use and transport on ecosystems, landscape and biodiversity are diverse and of various origins. Tourism waste is particularly an issue for small islands. While travel is associated with enhanced human wellbeing, the increase in global travel also causes wider and faster spread of pathogens and diseases. None of these environmental impacts have been fully analysed for European tourism, largely due a lack of relevant, EU-wide, recent and detailed data.

Socio-economic issues

“Tourism represents the third largest socioeconomic activity in the EU after the trade and distribution and construction sectors”2. The EU profits from a large share of domestic and intra-European tourism by its own residents and a smaller share of visitors from outside the EU, making it the most stable tourist region worldwide. 94% of all 1200 million tourism trips and 78% (€ 310 billion) of tourism expenditure by EU residents stays within the EU28. Tourism accounts for over 5% of the EU GDP and workforce, with a broader definition estimating this contribution at 10% (GDP) and 12% (workforce). Tourism is not equally divided over Europe as tourism participation, capacities and tourism intensity varies widely. Tourism plays a smaller role in most new member states and in most of the less developed regions.

The growth of European tourism is increasingly associated with (over)crowding issues. This affects both host populations and visitor satisfaction, besides intensifying environmental pressures. Planning and management for tourism growth is becoming essential in the context of sustainable development.

Tourist demand in the EU is characterised by a high degree of seasonality and together with low margins this undermines EU tourism’s positive job aspects (high youth, female and unskilled employment) with unfavourable labour conditions (temporary contracts, low remuneration).

Case studies

Sustainable tourism initiatives across the European Union were explored, covering three categories: government and policy actions, research studies and reports, and application-oriented projects and best practices. Most cases rely on a wide range of public funding (mostly EU). Sustainable tourism policies and initiatives seem to rely on political priorities, at every political level.

The selected cases show that over the last 15 years, many different initiatives by a large range of stakeholders (public, private, NGOs) on all spatial levels of the EU have been instigated and carried out. All aspects of sustainable tourism development are tackled. Yet, there seem to be fewer initiatives dealing specifically with social aspects of tourism, especially employment issues (e.g. fair working conditions). Many, especially transnational stakeholder networks for specific regions, are long running initiatives, but are often closely connected to public funding. Fewer activities were found that were initiated and funded by the tourism industry.


Analysis of the history of tourism and sustainable development policies at the EU level shows an asymmetry in approach: while sustainable development is one of the pillars of EU policy, the involvement in tourism is more recent, and subsidiarity tends to prevail. This asymmetry is particularly visible in tourism and environment policies. Notably, the European vision on sustainable tourism and transport is not representative of the gravity of, for example, the externalities caused by tourism transport, specifically air transport. While there is action at a destination and product level to deal with local environmental problems, there is a lack of coherent policy on larger issues such as the impact of tourist travel on climate change. The absence of an integrated EU vision about EU-wide travel and sustainable tourism means EU funding for sustainable tourism is missing direction ad strategic vision.


A strategic and integrated approach to sustainable tourism would include all impacts of tourism, including environmental and social consequences. The critical impacts on the environment of tourist origin-destination travel mean its dependence on aviation and the construction of new airports needs careful consideration, while alternatives such as a better integrated and accessible rail system.

Destinations may develop sustainably by directly reducing the impacts of accommodation, (leisure) facilities and local visitor transport. Marketing focus can also influence the mobility generated through origin-destination transport. Certification, networking, monitoring, carbon management and the development of local governance schemes are to be encouraged.

Sustainable business and product development is one key for sustainable development of tourism. As the unsustainable development of tourism is strongly related to the trend for long haul markets to develop faster than short haul domestic markets, there is scope for supporting domestic and intra-EU tourism development and products.

Finally, there is a need for improved assessment of the environmental and social impacts of tourism. This should include combined transport and tourism models to determine the full impacts of transport and tourism on a range of environmental and social factors and development of better statistics about tourism impacts.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/573-421

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