Tourism is one of the world's largest industries and one of its fastest growing economic sectors. It has a multitude of impacts, both positive and negative, on people's lives and on the environment. 

"Sustainable tourism development guidelines and management practices are applicable to all forms of tourism in all types of destinations, including mass tourism and the various niche tourism segments. Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability.

Thus, sustainable tourism should:

  1. Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.

  2. Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.

  3. Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.

Sustainable tourism development requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building. Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and/or corrective measures whenever necessary.

Sustainable tourism should also maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices amongst them."
(UNWTO, 2004).


What is Ecotourism?

According to the Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism, ecotourism "embraces the principles of sustainable tourism... and the following principles which distinguish it from the wider concept of sustainable tourism:

  • Contributes actively to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage,
  • Includes local and indigenous communities in its planning, development and operation, contributing to their well-being, 
  • Interprets the natural and cultural heritage of the destination to visitor, 
  • Lends itself better to independent travelers, as well as to organized tours for small size groups".

Ecotourism is of special interest to UNEP for its relationship with conservation, sustainability, and biological diversity. As a development tool, ecotourism can advance the three basic goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity which are:

  • The conservation of biological and cultural diversity, by strengthening protected area management and increasing the value of ecosystems;
  • The promotion of the sustainable use of biodiversity, by generating income, jobs and business opportunities in ecotourism and related business networks, and
  • Sharing the benefits of ecotourism developments equitably with local communities and indigenous people, by obtaining their informed consent and full participation in planning and management of ecotourism businesses.

In the field, well-planned and managed ecotourism has proven to be one of the most effective tools for long-term conservation of biodiversity when the right circumstances (such as market feasibility, management capacity at local level, and clear and monitored links between ecotourism development and conservation) are present. 

In May 2000, as part of the side events on the 8th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD 8), a group of Indigenous Peoples Organizations, NGOs and other members of Civil Society provided a proposal on guidelines for ecotourism. Although the final result could not be incorporated into the official papers due to procedural aspects, UNEP recognizes its value as a statement of genuine concerns from primary stakeholders.

Ecotourism is sustainable tourism, which follows clear processes that:

  • Ensures prior informed participation of all stakeholders,
  • Ensures equal, effective and active participation of all stakeholders,
  • Acknowledges Indigenous Peoples communities' rights to say "no" to tourism development - and to be fully informed, effective and active participants in the development of tourism activities within the communities, lands, and territories, and 
  • Promotes processes for Indigenous Peoples and local communities to control and maintain their resources.