Solving The Problem

A strategy for implementing sustainable tourism


Tourism is bandied about as being one sector that’s enjoying relative success in a stagnating market, but there’s the continued threat that this may not continue. Sustainable tourism is not a one-pronged strategy, it’s part of a greater plan that encompasses not only the tourism industry but one that must take into account supply chains, construction feasibility and climatic factors. It’s not merely about ensuring that the sector continues to grow, but that in doing so, job creation results in sustainable employment and that the environment is preserved at all times.

By definition, sustainable tourism relates to a concept by which, in visiting a destination, a visitor only makes a positive impact on the economy, environment and on society. It remains largely a goal, as it includes many facets, such as transportation to the destination, local transportation within a destination, accommodation, entertainment, recreation, eating and retail.A broad strategy can be broken down into smaller categories for ease of analysis and problem-solving.

Universal Access in Tourism

A goal for all destinations is universal access in tourism. It is of paramount importance that the tourism industry appreciates the components that contribute towards a positive experience. The principles of independence, equity and dignity underpin this. These can be achieved through the support of a universal access expert and require a comprehensive understanding of universal design and destination management processes. The latter must take into account how increased traffic must not have a negative impact on the environment, eliminating barriers to excellent experiences. Social inclusion and equality are primary considerations. Providing access to more visitors ensures enhanced sustainability in terms of turnover. As with all aspects of sustainable tourism, collaboration can aid in driving the effectiveness of initatives forward. Cape Town Tourism has committed to a three-year extended “Accessible Cape Town” campaign that promotes Universal Access as partners with City of Cape Town’s Tourism Department.


It’s a bit trickier to fit transportation into the mould of sustainable tourism, as a central element to the concept is in tourism’s reliance on fossil fuels and tourism’s effect on climate change.According to a study on tourism travel and its impact on climate change [1], 72 percent of tourism’s CO2 emissions come from transportation, 24 percent from accommodation, and 4 percent from local activities. It’s difficult to reduce that, however airlines (the primary culprits) are seeking ways of reducing emissions. On a more local level, visitors can be encouraged to make use of cycling and walking as a means of exploring.

Transportation as a means of access is vital—any missing links such as poor road/air infrastructure or routes that bypass communities should be addressed, and this may take multi-stakeholder engagement between government, business and communities. The Air Access initiative driven by Wesgro locally has seen great success in opening up direct flights to Cape Town, some 400 000 additional seats were created in the first year alone. The more visitors able to access a destination, the more sustainability in tourism is created.

Responsible tourism

Also at a local level, it’s easier to implement sustainable tourism practices in bite-sized chunks. For example, the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destination agreed in 2002 that Responsible Tourism is about “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” The declaration focused on “places” but did mention the local population. It’s essential that local communities not be displaced by tourism, and that their traditional cultures and practices not be negatively impacted. In fact, local communities should benefit from tourism, and this can be seen with responsible development of tourism opportunities in ways that provide employment and a boost to local economies. Community-based sustainable tourism can benefit from collaborative input so that the benefits are distributed wider and that local communities and their environments are not harmed. In addition, indigenous knowledge should not be exploited, but rather its use as it pertains to tourism should be agreed upon in mutually agreed terms. Let’s say a local community lives on a reserve—that local community should have a share in the benefits of tourism.

A great example of this cohesive approach is one of the recipients of the African Responsible Tourism Awards, 2017: Since 2000 Siphiwe Ngwenya has been turning township homes into exhibition spaces from Johannesburg to Cape Town, believing that the home is the epicentre of all culture. Maboneng Township Arts Experience’s objective is to turn townships into tourism towns by using the art which already exists in the townships to attract domestic and international visitors. This approach enables visitors to meet locals in their own homes, to experience the wealth of their culture, provides market access for emerging artists and additional household income for artists and the Gallery Homes, celebrates cultural diversity and provides opportunities for cultural integration for hosts and guests.Another successful example is that of UthandoSA. Their urban community farms, two recipe books, educare centres, music and dance academies, domestic animal care, senior centres, book that tells the stories of elders and arts and crafts hubs all represent a growing list of initiatives in Cape Town’s townships.

South Africa has a wide range of cultures and communities represented, so inclusivity must be a consideration. While different forms of niche tourism exist, these can be enhanced by introducing new source tourism markets, such as the drive to increase Halaal-friendly tourism to Muslim communities and to Muslim-owned tourism businesses. These are of benefit to the end-consumer, too. This kind of “humane tourism” is part of responsible tourism, contributing to sustainability in the sector.It’s true of destinations whose source markets are varied that cultural sensitivity must be taught and valued; so if a destination has many Chinese visitors, for example, local companies should ensure that their employees know the idiosyncrasies of the culture so as to provide better visitor experiences. Courses in basic culture and language can aid in this.

The natural environment

Welcoming more visitors means that the natural environment may be compromised unless measures are in place such as resource management (water supplies) and waste management. In a natural environment such as Table Mountain, efforts have been made to ensure that waste is removed from the reserve so that it does not become a wasteland of litter that could harm flora and fauna. Likewise, beaches and the coastal marine environment require extensive protection from littering and pollution.

A further consideration which has come to the fore in recent years is how experiences involving wildlife are handled. Animal encounters, including handling wild animals, have become frowned upon in certain circles, as the wellbeing of the animals, unless strictly controlled by professionals, may be harmed. In addition, visitors may be harmed, as wild animals are unpredictable.Rescued animals may have to live in contained spaces as they may not be rehabilitated, but tourism operators are recognising that under no circumstances should these animals be brought into further distress by the activities of tourists. Shark tour operators, for example, operate with conservation in mind, as they’re aware that Great White Sharks are endangered locally, so without their presence, there would be no shark tourism. They provide conservation messaging rather than the messaging that sharks are simply sea “monsters”, thus creating a positive impression on tourists.

An extension of this are the supply chains used by restaurants and hotels, but recent awareness around the importance of using locally-sourced supplies from suppliers whose agricultural methods are built on sustainability principles has reached a wider market—as visitors demand this, so restaurants and hotels have stepped up to the mark to provide them with what they want.Sustainable tourism, then, is an industry-wide imperative, but with many different applications. It is constantly evolving as we realise the need to broaden our focus and look wider for the protection of our resources, local communities and our visitors.Done well, it will ensure that the sector will continue to enjoy growth, but it takes engagement from every tourism professional at every level.

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Issue 63


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