Sustainable Development Goals & Sustainable Tourism

January 26, 2024

Introduction to Sustainable Development

Concept of “Sustainable Development” was developed due to a number of shortcomings of the classical development strategy used during & post industrial revolution. (Source). Continuous high environmental pollution, over consuming natural resources, escalating the effects of carbon footprints along with economic disparity and social exclusion caused the reason to develop a sustainable development strategy.

Sustainable Development concept is established due to over consuming resources after the industrial revolution and risk of lacking or finishing those resources for future generations. In an essay by Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) predicted that World population will eventually starve or at the least minimal level of subsistence due to the growth of the population. Growth of the technology and the production made his prediction stand still. The book “The Limits to Growth” by (Meadows, 1972) argues the depletion of nonrenewable resources will make an impact on the supply to the continuous growing demand.

Because of ongoing debate on resources, population growth and consumption UN general secretary appointed the Brundtland Commission in 1983 which eventually lead to the UN conference on Environment and Development. (UNCED). “Our Common Future” the report published by Brundtland Commission which includes the most recognized definition on Sustainable development.

“Sustainable Development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

There were key outputs of UNCED summit in 1992. Those were The Rio Declaration, Agenda 21 and Commission of Sustainable Development.

Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 was evolved from the plan of agenda 21 in 1992.

Agenda 21 got 40 chapters mainly in 4 sections;

  1. Social and Economic dimensions,
  2. Conservation and Management of Resources for development,
  3. Strengthening the Role of Major groups and
  4. Means of Implementation

Agenda 21 was evolved as the Millennium Development Goals in year 2000 which contained 8 goals to be achieved in 2015. The goals are

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability and
  8. Develop a global partnership for development.


After ending Millennium development goals in 2015, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were introduced on targeting 2030. There are 17 goals.

  • No Poverty
  • Zero Hunger
  • Good Health and Well-being
  • Quality Education
  • Gender Equality
  • Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • Reduced Inequality
  • Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Climate Action
  • Life Below Water
  • Life on Land
  • Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
  • Partnerships to achieve the Goal

(Source –

As an industry one of the continuously fastest growing within the last few decades and the potential to influence most parts of the world simultaneously “Sustainable Tourism” concept was developed to coincide with “Sustainable Development”

This essay is focused on discussing the ways of sustainable approach to Tourism benefit people and future generations at the same time.

According to UNWTO, the Sustainable Tourism is defined as follows;

“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” 

Key elements of the definition highlights.

  1. Make optimal use of natural resources while maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
  2. Respect the host communities, culture, identity and facilitate to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance
  3. Providing a socio-economic benefit to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed.

Whilst SDGs are directly mentioned in the Tourism Industry in 3 of its goals (Goal no 8, 12 & 14) as one of the fastest growing industries in the World, Tourism Industry can support of implementing most SDG Goals. For an example, Goal No 01- End poverty in all its forms everywhere; could be achieved by expanding economic benefits of tourism industry with host communities. Countries which are below the poverty line has a bigger share in tourism arrivals within the last two decades.

As an industry, which has high engagement with people has a higher opportunity of distributing its financial and other advantages with its communities. Rather than waiting for a spillover effect from an industry, tourism industry has more possibility of getting direct advantages to the country’s entire population. The benefits to its host community will have a direct impact back to the industry as the quality of the human touch will be increased. SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic growth could be achieved while supporting entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity and small- and medium-sized enterprises which is covered in SDG 8.3. The human touch of the tourism industry is highly valued and which may lead to increase the employment opportunities in the society.

Tourism industry promotes cultures. While most of the other Economic development activities can harm to local culture, customs, history and heritage, Tourism Industry promotes those to its clients as a product. This will indirectly conserve some vulnerable social practices and conserve history and heritage as an economic product. The damages could have been affected to some historical and cultural monuments needs to be avoided by limit over visitation and planned regulations. Experienced modern day visitors are genuinely support those conservation attempts if they are educated on the process. Sustainable practice will be constructively impact on cultural and heritage rather than as a threat.

Beaches & sea are one of the most popular parts of the tourists all around the World. Conservation projects on sea animals is highly popular among tourists such as turtle conservation projects. The real sustainable impact needs to be monitored to get the best outcome from them. Since the conservation is the part of the tourism activity, the authorities do not need to allocate their funds for them. The advantages are mutually benefited.

Well planned, sustainable approach will benefit both industry and community while sharing its economic and other paybacks at the same time. It will help to reduce the destructive effects on society while increasing its security for a long time.

Tourism Industry of Sri Lanka

The tourism industry is the 3rd Foreign Exchange earning source to the country at the moment. It responsible for 4.3 direct employment and more than 10% of the total (Direct + indirect). The contribution is expected to increase up to 5% of direct employment and 11% of total employment in 2025 forecasted by World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC)

Therefore it is essential to organize the tourism industry aligned with a sustainable development approach to get the maximum benefit, distribute advantage among all the stakeholders and leave no harm to the future.

There are several foreign and local case studies to show that the “Sustainable Tourism” approach will benefit the people and their future generations. One of the biggest hotel chains in Sri Lanka; Jetwing has launched its responsible tourism policy and what they have achieved so far is the best example that can be found in Sri Lanka. (Jetwing)

Respect ecological processes while conserving Natural Heritage and biodiversity.

Sri Lanka has inherited one of the richest natural environments all around the country, which is the key selling product of the Tourism industry. Pristine beaches around the country, 3300 plant species, 80 mammals, 480 bird species, 66 amphibians, 180 reptiles, and 240 butterflies have made Sri Lankan identity while the biggest animals on land and biggest animal on earth are gifted to witness while traveling around Sri Lanka. (Source) A wide range of flora and fauna backed by a historical heritage of more than 2500 years brings a huge potential to place us at the front of the competition. It is clear that while we selling these products to foreign tourists, we should be responsible for protecting them in the future.

Reduce the carbon footprint.

Carbon footprint generally means the greenhouse gas emissions caused by a person. When it comes to Tourism, the population who visit an attraction or the area of any hotel located make the carbon footprint significantly high. Therefore it is important to implement relevant measures to decrease the carbon footprint and mechanism to avoid the effects. Sustainable tourism approach advice implementing those measures which are benefited to locals who live in the area as well as future generations and the entire globe.

Ecotourism measures can be used in a hotel/resort

  1. Using proper recycling and reusing process of waste.
  2. Minimizing washing of linen and etc.
  3. Educate Guest about carbon footprint and encourage them to practice it.
  4. Promote foot cycles to visit local attractions.
  5. Maintain accreditation, certificate standards and eventually use them to enhance the brand.

Respect host communities, tolerance, and intercultural understanding.

Development of tourism does change the ethnic composition of a destination. Since most of the outsiders visit or stay in the area, the local culture, rituals, beliefs, and entire environment can be challenged. Unplanned exposure to the market can compromise the identity of the area. It is vital to get relevant SD approach to identify those vulnerable areas and avoid any harm to them.

Investment from big hotel chains and companies is essential to promote a destination. Local people may feel that the real benefit will take away from them by the companies. Therefore it is essential to have a continuous dialogue with local communities to avoid any conflicts. Mutual understanding and sharing the benefits would be the best approach according to sustainable tourism. Luxury beach resort brand “Ani Villas” have built “Ani Art Academy” to sustain and develop art skills of local children is fully funded from the luxury resort property in the areas of each of their properties located.

Providing a socio-economic benefit to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed.

One of the main criticisms of the Tourism industry is that it benefits only a handful of people and the people of the local community do not get enough benefits. Most luxurious and big hotel chains owned by big companies of local or foreign ownership and there is no any procedure to share the profits with locals who live in the specific area. Therefore SD approach suggests some key steps to practice to provide the benefits of tourism to locals.

According to Travel Foundation of United Kingdom following practices are proposed.

    1. Recruit staff from local communities
    2. Provide the facilities to train & enhance the professional skills of locals
    3. Promote local food, and cultural identities among tourists.
    4. Promote “Buy Local” concepts among tourists.
    5. Facilitate and support to locals to promote their products (Foundation)

Pro-Poor Tourism

Pro-poor tourism (PPT) is defined as tourism that generates net benefits for the poor, which is a concept developing coincide with Sustainable Tourism. (Roe and Khanya) Studies show that the poorest countries in the world, tourism is significantly growing. Therefore in order to reduce inequality and distribute the advantages of developing tourism industry among the population, the concept PPT is being developed. Relevant authorities from the governments, and NGOs who are working with communities have gathered with internal tourism stakeholders and working to establish the concept. In South Africa, PPT is successfully practicing as they work with communities. The areas they focus are Black Economic Empowerment programs and policies and strategies to promote greater involvement in and benefit from tourism by poor rural communities.


Considering all the above details, it can be concluded that the concept of Sustainable Tourism is focused on inclusive development while sharing the benefits with all stakeholders including local communities and poorest in the country. When the benefits of the industry shared and work to reduce the effect to nature and culture, it does benefit the future generations as well. Therefore, the Sustainable Tourism coincide with United Nations Sustainable Development goals is going to be the best and the latest trend of the Tourism Industry today.

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