Year of Sustainable Tourism 2017


The United Nations has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

The major goal of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017 is to celebrate and promote the contribution of the tourism sector to building a better world. “This is a unique opportunity to build a more responsible and committed tourism sector that can capitalize its immense potential in terms of economic prosperity, social inclusion, peace and understanding, cultural and environmental preservation” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

The International Year of Sustainable Tourism in Development aims to support a change in policies, business practices and consumer behavior towards a more sustainable tourism sector than can contribute effectively to 17 Sustainable Development Goals,  (shown in the infographic at the end of this article.)

According to the United Nations, there were nearly 1.2 billion international travellers in 2015, up from 674 million in 2000. The latest figure represents nearly one out of seven people in the world and is expected to grow to 1.8 billion people by 2030.


Year of Sustainable Tourism 2017 Infographic

”This rapid increase of tourists is exactly why sustainable tourism needs attention now”, said Taleb Rifai, the secretary general of the World Tourism Organisation, from the United Nations. “The impact of tourism on the world can be negative or positive, and our goal is to see to it that the travel industry is a force for good.”

When talking about tourism, we are talking big numbers. Tourism accounts for 10% of the world’s GDP,  7% of worldwide exports, and one in eleven jobs. So it is understandable that numbers which are growing at the rate above, are having a huge impact on local communities and cultures throughout the world.

Even a city as large as Barcelona is fighting the impact that the annual influx of tourists is having on the local communities.  Many residents are citing rising rents and the pollution caused by cruise ships as examples of the damage which can be caused by their city being overrun by hoards of tourists.


Sustainable Development barcelona


Image: Wikimedia Commons

Are these goals really achievable?

But are the aims of United Nations Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development for 2017 really achievable? In spite of the numbers quote above, and the negative impact that mass tourism may be having, sustainable tourism remains a niche area for most tourism operators.

Sustainable tourism will continue to be a niche area until both small and bigger hotel operators make sustainability a core value.

The reality is that the demand for sustainable travel has not as large as it could be. According to the Chief Executive of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Randy Durband : “Some travel companies try to be sustainable, while others ignore the idea, and from the traveler side, demand and awareness is soft.”

So why does demand and awareness amongst travellers remain low? Why don’t travel companies make an effort to minimise their environmental impact?

In my opinion, sustainable tourism will continue to be a niche area until both small and bigger hotel operators make sustainability a core value of their business operations and proudly display their environmental credentials. Too often, here at Green Getaways, we see examples of hotels hiding their environmental policy somewhere at the back of their website. Are they hoping that guests won’t find it in case they think that their stay will be compromised by cutting back on water? Do they worry that guests think they may be using environmental issues to cut costs? Are they ashamed to be seen to make an effort to be sustainable?

In a simular vein, Trip Advisor has recently made an effort to acknowledge the importance of environmentally aware travel with their Green Leaders program for hotels. However, for those of us for whom this is an important criteria when choosing a hotel, there is no possibility of filtering a search to find the hotels participating in the program. And what exactly are they doing to achieve their Green Leader status? Travellers are not going to spend hours researching the program details and levels to find how genuine their choice may be when it comes to sustainability. Again – we come back to the point made above: let’s see the details on the hotel’s website with a link to their environmental credentials.

The Comfort Hotel Foundation and Rainforest Foundation Norway have gone further. They are agitating for a sustainability rating value to be added to the Trip Advisor system. They believe that if sustainability was a rating choice on TripAdvisor, hotel operators would have to change the way they run hotels.

Australian Hotels Setting the Standard for Sustainability

Two hotels in Australia are setting the standard for sustainability. Both however have a different approach.

One of them, the Alto Hotel on Bourke in Melbourne, has a number of references on their home page to their green status with logos and green awards. They also offer a link on their home page to their sustainability policy, Earthcheck Environmental Statement.



Another Australian hotel with an outstanding sustainability policy, Hotel Hotel, located in the nation’s capital city of Canberra, publishes a PDF factsheet outlining their Environmental Considerations. It is not easy to find however and disappointingly, we could not find a link on their website.

Hotel Hotel

So we are left with the conundrum: which come first? Should hotels lead the way and show their credentials proudly or should travellers and guests demand to know the eco-credentials of their accommodation choice? At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of either.

Green Getaways looks forward to the day when an environmentally conscious approach is adopted by everyone and we applaud the efforts of the few hotels in Australia who are leading the way in 2017.

Written by Amanda Lambert
CEO Green Getaways


Year of Sustainable Development


What is Sustainable Tourism?

Sustainable Tourism has three guiding principles:

  1. Protecting Natural Resources: such as rainforests and waterways; and cultural heritage: such as culturally significant or historic sites. Environmental impacts, including consumption of resources, reducing pollution, and conserving biodiversity and landscapes.
  2. Economic Sustainability:  basically, keeping as much money as possible local and not having it siphoned off to line the pockets of multi-national companies.
  3. Supporting Local Communities:  by employing local staff, using local products and getting locals involved in their own tourism industry. In this way, some of the negative impacts of tourism can be minimised, while focusing on more positive areas for the community, such as promoting cultural exchange and preserving local traditions. Having the community involved will not only offer visitors a more genuine experience, but the locals will be more likely to see tourism as a positive.