As part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the United Nations agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. But what does this have to do with the tourism sector? Environmental researcher Lily Rose explains how ecotourism can contribute to supporting these Sustainable Development Goals – so stay tuned.
A guest post by Lily Rose
The pandemic was a massive shock to the tourism sector, as lockdowns and safety measures hindered travel. But now that destinations have been easing or lifting travel restrictions, the World Tourism Organization reports that global tourism is gaining momentum towards recovery. Compared to the first quarter of the previous year, there were 76 million more international arrivals in the first quarter of 2022.
However, the tourism industry still needs to rethink its business model in this post-pandemic world. Beyond controlling the spread of COVID-19, it must carefully evaluate its impact on local economies, cultures, and ecosystems. By advocating for ecotourism, the industry can contribute to sustainable development goals and its accompanying targets. Here’s a brief look below at how:
Job creation and income generation
Countries with tourism-dependent economies have an incentive to promote mainstream ecotourism as a major source of livelihood. The United Nations reports that a greener economy can create 24 million new jobs, and ecotourism ensures that these jobs trickle down and benefit local communities. Ecotourism is largely reliant on service jobs like guides for culture and heritage trips, cooks and cleaners for accommodation, and local artisans for handicrafts and souvenirs.
But since the sector also adopts the sustainable practice of sourcing food locally, this means farmers and fisherfolk get to reap the economic benefits from ecotourism too. In this light, ecotourism targets SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. Not only with the increase in GDP, but more importantly with the expansive and tangible opportunities for productive employment.
Community development and empowerment
As a form of sustainable tourism, ecotourism centers on people, and not profit, in its model. It’s the local communities who are at the helm of managing the natural environment, instead of private or foreign corporations exploiting these resources. In Uganda, the Intercultural Development Agency empowers local populations through what founder Stella Aiketeng deems as community-based or humanitarian tourism. Tourists are invited to participate in festivals, fairs, and markets organized by local populations to celebrate and preserve their culture and heritage.
Such endeavors reflect progress towards SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities, as communities directly engage with and benefit from ecotourism, particularly the marginalized sectors of women and youth. Fostering awareness and respect for local cultures can also contribute to the achievement of SDG 16: Peace & Justice, wherein the intercultural encounters between tourists and communities can lay the groundwork for diversity and inclusion.
The push for sustainable transport and energy
Meanwhile, aviation in tourism accounts for roughly 8% of global carbon emissions. Ecotourism thus aims to minimize the environmental impact by encouraging people to travel closer to home or via slower yet more sustainable forms of transport, e.g. public trains, ride-sharing systems, cycling, and walking.
The push for a reduced carbon footprint also extends to energy use in tourism accommodation, to which eco lodges respond by utilizing renewable energy sources. Solar panel company Hoymiles advocates that adopting solar technologies creates a win-win situation as it simultaneously reduces energy costs and the environmental impact.
Beyond the installation of solar panels and microinverters to convert harnessed solar energy into electricity, eco lodges can also leverage energy-efficient lighting and locally sourced construction materials. These sustainability efforts in ecotourism aim to transform the current high-emission and energy-intensive tourism industry, and in the process target SDG 7: Affordable & Clean Energy, and SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.
Care for biodiversity and ecosystems
The dominant form of global tourism endangers species and habitats, either by keeping animals captive in zoos and aquariums or destroying the natural environment to create more lodgings for tourists. But ecotourism is inextricably linked to SDGs 14 & 15: Life Below Water and Life on Land. In an article in The Conversation about conservation-focused destinations, the case of Costa Rica shows that it is possible to protect biodiversity while still deriving economic benefits from tourism.
The country’s ecotourism model invests in microbusinesses, eco lodges, and small-scale roads, rather than building environmentally destructive resorts and highways that only benefit large corporations. In other countries like New Zealand, sustainability intersects with tourism by imposing conservation-focused levies on travelers.
The holistic approach of ecotourism offers a promising way for countries and economies to bounce back differently from the pandemic. By placing greater care and emphasis on the people and the environment, the tourism industry will be sustained not only for the next few years but for future generations.
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