Responsible tourism: a new way of business that makes sense

Sustainability used to be all carrot juice and wheat grass, but its dull image is slowly fading. It more and more fits into the conscious lifestyle that many people have nowadays. Good news for tour operators that are committed to making their offerings as green as possible! In this article, I’ll explain why it’s the perfect time to bet on responsible tourism.

What does sustainability mean today?

The word “sustainability” is not something new. But sustainability as we know it has been developed during the Brundtland Commission in 1987, where they tried to find a way to harmonise ecology with prosperity. They did so by putting a combination of environmental, social and economic concerns on the world’s development agenda and defining it as a “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Or, in simpler words: they created a way of working that considers and benefits local communities, local heritage and nature, without compromising the ability of companies to make a profit – all this to ensure a healthy environment for future generations.

Responsible tourism - a new way of business that makes sense

What has changed?

Over the last decades, a lot has changed, and the sustainability concept has been practically integrated into the modern business world, including the tourism industry. This development was boosted when the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) were introduced by the UN as a cornerstone to secure future economic and business growth by eliminating poverty while protecting the environment.

At the same time, tourists are more and more looking for more unique and local tourism experiences and they expect to be taken ‘off the beaten path’. For tour operators, these behaviour shifts were the starting sign of developing more sustainable tours and products to better serve their target groups.

While the definition of sustainability as created in 1987 gives us some guidance, it remains a term with countless perspectives, interpretations and approaches that differ per tour operator. Concepts such as eco-tourism, green tourism, responsible tourism, fair tourism and more all found their way into the tourism industry. This is a logical consequence but does make things more difficult. What is the “best” definition and approach and who should we believe? The more concepts, the higher the chance of indistinctness. This leaves the sustainability title up for grabs, as anyone can claim to be doing the right thing. But who is actually sustainable?

Responsible tourism

Personally, I’m not a fan of the word sustainability, and I know many people are with me on this. The concept has become too broad, too vague and in the end, we’ve reached a point where both the industry and the tourists have no idea who is genuine or who is greenwashing. Instead, I prefer the term responsible tourism, which is officially defined as “having an obligation to do something, or care for someone, as part of one's job or role”. We need tour operators with good judgement, the ability to act correctly, the willingness to contribute to the SDGs, and to care for local communities and the environment.

What’s in it for tour operators?

Now that sustainability is starting to become the norm, businesses need to take responsibility and adopt sustainable strategies that create long-term value for their customers and those impacted by them. If they don’t, they’ll be outrun by businesses that do, it’s as simple as that.

"So, by not working sustainably now, you’re basically sabotaging your future self”

It therefore makes sense to work responsibly and to involve local communities in your tourism practices. They are the ones that can tell your tourists everything about the destination, about the old traditions and the flora and fauna. They are the ones that can take your clients “off the beaten paths”. By taking care of your destinations’ local heritage and nature, you’re contributing to its conservation. This enables you to offer the same destination to the next generation in similar conditions. So, by not working sustainably now, you’re basically sabotaging your future self.

Tips to get started

Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the need to include responsible tourism in your products and services. The next step is to evaluate your own operations to see where you can improve on sustainable practices. Are you paying your local employees a fair price? Are you buying your food locally? Are you instructing your clients on being conscious with plastic bottles? Have you implemented ways to reduce single use plastic? Are you contributing to nature conservation? Are there possibilities for renewable energy? Are you informing your clients on your sustainability objectives?


The questions above are only a selection of basic sustainability standards that will have a large impact on your operations. If you want to take your sustainability practices to a next level, I recommend you to get certified. A certification scheme evaluates your sustainability practices, supports you in implementing even more sustainability aspects, and acts as a third-party verification towards the industry and your clients. The right certification scheme depends on your location, your target market and your company focus.

Interested in a sustainability evaluation, support in creating sustainable practices or support in certifying your company?

Hire Fair Sayari