There are a lot of words floating around out there that make the waters murky when it comes to sustainable tourism. Green, eco, responsible, sustainable - although they do share a common theme, the definition of sustainable tourism that most Canadian tourism businesses use, too often gets overlooked. The Canadian Tourism Commission and Parks Canada define sustainable tourism as:
"Sustainable tourism actively fosters appreciation and stewardship of the natural, cultural and historic resources and special places by local residents, the tourism industry, governments and visitors. It is tourism which is viable over the long term because it results in a net benefit for the social, economic and natural and cultural environments of the area in which it takes place."
People often get caught up on the environmental side of sustainability and, while really important, socio-cultural and economic factors often don't get considered enough. With that in mind this article is going to focus primarily on those two less addressed factors.
Socio-Cultural & Economic Sustainability
A two-parter, socio-cultural sustainability focuses on the local community. This is primarily achieved through respecting the things that make a community a community: its history, way of life and people. This includes the cultural values, traditions, behaviours and relationships of those currently in the community and surrounding area, as well as those of previous generations. A great example of socio-cultural sustainability can be seen with experiences that Dauphin created like Baba's Bread & Borscht, Bridging Cultures at Fort Dauphin and Baked Elsewhere!. These experiences get visitors meeting members of the community and learning about the local history and peoples. In addition to building the capacity of tourism offerings in Dauphin, Carissa Caruk-Ganczar of Tourism Dauphin said, "The development of these new experiences has united community organizations and partners that traditionally might not have worked together."
Although economic sustainability is pretty self-explanatory, it's no less important. Without this consideration it would be extremely difficult to sustain tourism, or any other type of business for that matter, in a community. Again, Dauphin is a great example. Their experiences create new wealth and revenue for community partners as the money stays in the community and they are the ones that see the benefits.
While not exhaustive there are a few principles that are key to pursuing the socio-cultural aspects of sustainability:
- Community Participation - Community buy-in is key to moving forward with tourism in an area. Engaging residents in the process not only gives people a voice, but helps cultivate a more collaborative environment that will in turn help expand tourism in the community.
- Hiring Locals - Keeping the workforce local gives a sense of pride in what it is that they are doing and ensures the experiences offered to visitors are authentic. It also keeps money in the community which is spent at local businesses, contributing to the local economy.
- Front Stage/Back Stage - Be cognizant of the things that you do and don't share with visitors. Everyone involved in tourism has to be comfortable with that they share, and ultimately what they're sharing with the visitor.
How do you measure socio-cultural sustainability? It has to be specific to your community, but some possible indicators to consider would include:
- Social impact on an area: the number of tourists compared to locals (look at the high season over time)
- The contribution of tourism to the local economy: proportion of total economic activity that is attributable solely to tourism
- Tourism workforce: the percentage of workers in the tourism industry compared to the workforce as a whole
- Evidence of pride in community: these can be difficult to quantify, but community surveys to gauge sense of satisfaction with things like cleanliness, sense of welcoming can work well
Many organizations have incorporated environmentally friendly practices into their operations. This is in line with research on consumer attitudes toward environmentally-friendly travel. On average 59% of Canadian and UK travellers considered environmentally-friendly travel to be very important. This increases to 92% in travellers from France and China.
Research also shows that more than half of respondents in the UK were interested in learning more about the local environment and social issues in their destination, that local people benefit from tourism in their area and that trying local cuisine and experiencing local culture is important to them.
In this respect the following are great lenses to look through when applying sustainable practices to your operations and the experiences you offer visitors. These come to us from the Local Travel Movement blog.
If you are mindful of the local people, you put yourself in the locals' shoes and discover what they really think.
If you are mindful of the local environment, you put yourself in the heart of it, feel its beauty and power, and do what you can to preserve it for the future.
If you are mindful of the local culture, you put yourself in the local mindset and share in activities and experiences as locals do.
If you are mindful of the local economy, you put your money into local business and ensure that your tourism benefits the right people.
For more resources on sustainable tourism check out the TI Web for helpful articles and tools like the Sustainable Tourism Self Assessment Tool, Green Your Business Toolkit, Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and Action Plan Template.