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Triple-Bottom-Line Sustainability and International Tourism

Tourism contributes to sustainability and many experts argue that the development of sustainable tourism is in line with the triple-bottom-line of sustainability. Triple-bottom-line sustainability requires equal consideration of conservation, economic and social benefits. In relation to international tourism, sustainability principles are about the conservation of nature, involvement as well as attitudes of community to tourism and nature in general and economic development. Rather than summarizing the economic, environmental, and cultural impact of tourism, there is the need to analyze and understand how socio-cultural, environmental, and economic processes operate through international tourism. Moreover, triple-bottom-line sustainability is not only applicable to the sustainable development of tourism; tourism shapes the principles of international sustainability.

Globalization and Tourism

Globalization is one of the concepts which is mentioned very often in the analysis of tourism. With the continuous spread of tourism to all corners of the world, tourism has become the way to integrate communities and create the feeling that the world is the single interdependent whole with eroded local differences (Mowforth and Munt, 2003, p. 11). It is easy to trace the importance of globalization to understanding the development of sustainable tourism: globalization emphasizes the ways in which economic, cultural, environmental, and social relations are stretched across the world. Economic globalization, in the tourism context, analyzes the growth of the industry in the global sense and the speed with which new places become drawn into the tourism process. Today, people have more options of a holiday destination as well as the distance between destinations and markets has much increased.

Cultural globalization is focused on the analysis of the emergence of the single global culture reflected in global consumerism and the Americanization of lifestyle. Tourists have become like armies consuming places and cultures and at the same time transforming them into buffoonery where cultural in-authenticity is promoted. Thus, cultural homogenization is the norm. Political globalization provides insights into how the sovereignty of countries is dismantled through tourism (Mowforth and Munt, 2003, p. 12). International tourism brings people from different parts of the world to one place of interest and these people need to share some cultural values to co-exist for a specific period of time.

Sustainability and Tourism

Sustainability was traditionally the concern with environmental and natural resources, while today more attention is devoted to social and economic issues of sustainable development. The first point to note is that sustainability is the word that is defined and understood differently between people and organizations. For example, corporations might think about sustainability in terms of how to entice consumers to buy the product on the basis of their concerns with the environment. Social groups, on the contrary, think about sustainability in terms of saving nature and natural resources for future generations, preventing pollution, and promoting the need to make our environment cleaner.

Sustainable tourism can be defined as the sum of leisure time, discretionary income, and positive local sanctions (Mowforth and Munt, 2003, p. 82). Today, leisure time has increased for the majority of workers in developed countries; the discretionary income is no longer used up in savings for future security associated with the work ethics; positive local sanctions are the factors that motivate tourists to travel. Modern tourism is not fully sustainable yet and as Mowforth and Munt have noted, the global community can be characterized as a consumer society motivated to travel with positive visual communication and the desire to escape from work routine (2003, p. 83). People have shorter work weeks, more disposable income, and are influenced by mass tour marketing. Personal transportation use is growing and transportation has become faster and more efficient. Sustainable tourists will see vacations as right and necessary and will combine leisure with business and learning. Sustainable tourists will favor traveling in groups and use more efficient transportation and alternative fuels.

Tourism is already the largest industry in the world which generates more than 10 percent of global Gross Domestic Product and more than 10 percent of global employment (Mowforth and Munt, 2003, p. 90). Mass tourism has also increased dramatically and the ability to spend a vacation in any place of the world has become an essential part of a modern working person’s life. But can our planet sustain this growth? Is it possible to develop tourism practice suitable to be passed down to future generations as the model of economic development which guarantees the source of income without harming the environment?

The rise of tourism has led to a number of problems including environmental, social, and cultural degradation, unequal distribution of financial benefits, and promotion of paternalistic attitudes (Mowforth and Munt, 2003, p. 90). The rise of the population of tourists who are increasingly sophisticated in their leisure pursuits, the social and economic trends in northern states, the replacement of work ethics with leisure ethics, and the postmodern cultural trends are part of tourism in the 21st century. Rational tourism is aimed at sustainable use of the environment, preservation of nature, encouraging participation of the community, promoting nature-friendly traveling, and maintenance of cultural differences.

Tourism and Environmental Issues

As Sinclair and Stabler noted, tourism is wholly dependent on the environment: “such resources as beaches, seas, mountains, lakes, and forests, constitute the natural resource base; heritage buildings and monuments are human-made on” (1997, p. 154). These are the two factors that attract tourists and are essential components of the product. Any environmental issue has both economic importance and ethical connotations. Tourism might negatively influence the environment and lead to deforestation, reduction of biodiversity, and pollution. Environmental issues have not been raised until the 1950s; while sustainability has emerged even later as the umbrella term under which the natural environment and its conservation have been placed at the central stage.

The international tourism movement increased at the annual rate of 5 percent starting with the early 1990s (Sinclair and Stabler, 1997, p. 158). Such rapid growth resulted in the significant economic, environmental, and social impacts of tourism. Tourists are attracted to remote destinations with the desire to see natural resources, enjoy recreational and sporting resources, and learn about the cultures. Tourism is a productive activity and consumes resources. Taking into account that tourism is one of the major global economic activities, it has a direct impact on the demand for exhaustible and renewable resources. Tourism generates wastes (which are not as hazardous as the pollution from heavy industry and chemical production) which can create disposal and environmental problems.

The environmental effects are the biggest problem of tourism and development sustainable tourism should be in accordance with the triple-bottom-line sustainability. Places that are attractive for tourism are often overcrowded and overdeveloped; while tourists are seldom aware of the damage (sometimes unintentional) caused to the environment. An excess number of visitors increases the usage of vehicles and increases the demand for water and energy which can be scarce in developing countries. Tourism expansion leads to the loss of unique flora and fauna. These problems have been recognized and have become issues of concern. The attainment of sustainable tourism is seen as one of the most urgent issues. Sustainable tourism requires specific solutions to resource conservation, waste disposal, and pollution control; more attention is paid to the impact of tourism on wildlife as well as there is the call for tourists to be more responsible in their behavior while traveling with regards to the environment.

The need to minimize the environmental impact of tourist activities is clear (Mowforth and Munt, 2003, p. 98). The negative impact of tourism is more visible in destinations, however, it also presents while tourists are in transit. “For example, the output of aircraft, ferries, coaches, cars, equipment, and promotional material consumes productive and energy resources and generates waste in origin areas while travel creates pollution in the atmosphere and adversely affects the environment of areas traversed” (Sinclair and Stabler, 1997, p. 159). Within tourism, there is a lack of comprehension by businesses of environmental issues and objectives and in some areas of activity, it is known that the potential to attain sustainability is limited.

Tourism and Socio-Cultural Factors

As tourism becomes important to communities around the world, the need to develop tourism sustainably has become the primary concern. Communities represent both the primary resource upon which tourism depends and their existence in the specific time in the specific place is used to justify the development of tourism (Hall and Richards, 2000, p. 1). Tourists travel because they want to experience the way of life and material products of different cultures. As it was already noted, the rationale of sustainable tourism development rests on the assurance of renewable economic, social, and cultural benefits of the community and its environment. Thus, a sustainable approach to sustainability requires the continual improvement of the social, cultural, and economic well-being of the communities. Without community involvement, tourism development cannot be sustainable.

Globalization (in particular, Americanization) erodes cultural differences and makes cultures alike. Social sustainability refers to the ability of the community to absorb inputs (big number of tourists), for the particular periods of time, and to continue functioning either without the creation of social disharmony as the result of these inputs or by adapting its functions and relationships so that the disharmony created can be mitigated (Mowforth and Munt, 2003, p. 99). In addition, the negative influences of tourists on societies they visit include the opening of the previously non-existent social divisions. This can be presented in the form of increasing differences between the beneficiaries of tourism and those who are marginalized by it. The purpose of applying triple-bottom-line sustainability to tourism is to minimize the effects of these changes.

When tourists visit the places of interest, they change the local style of life, customs, and traditions. Tourists have different habits and cultural norms and they might unwillingly pass their cultural values on to the local habitats. Even if the local culture survives, it can be irreversibly altered. Of course, culture is the dynamic feature of society and its change cannot be assumed to be caused by tourism only. Cultural sustainability refers to the ability of people to retain and adapt elements of their culture that distinguish them from other people, tourists in particular. Sustainable tourism recognizes that cultural influences of even a small number of tourists are inevitable and there is the need to control the most harmful effects, emphasize the responsible behavior of tourists and prevent the distortion of the local culture. Cultural changes are seen only over the long term and they are difficult to measure. For this reason, developing sustainable tourism in accordance with triple-bottom-line sustainability is vital for the preservation of cultural differences.

Economics and Tourism

Tourism consumes resources, and usually, the economic necessity is the driving force behind the growth of tourism. Without a steady inflow of tourists, some of the communities would find it difficult to compete in other spheres of the economy and may even cease to exist. “One aspect of tourism which economists have analyzed and which has implications for environmental change and damage is economic development and its impact. The economics literature has concentrated on estimating income and employment generation and foreign currency earnings which developing countries gain from international tourism and the implications for their balance of payments” (Sinclair and Stabler, 1997, p. 160). It is important to note that tourism was one of the forms of economic development supported by the United Nations to combat the problems of poverty since 1969.

Tourism has the ability to bring economic benefits and enhance political stability (Holden, 2003, p. 106). Some of the economic benefits that tourism can bring are foreign exchange earnings which are vital for buying the necessities, reduction of trace deficit, employment creation, increased monetary flow, construction, and diversification of the economy. The success of the tourism policy is evaluated by maintaining the growth in the number of tourists arriving, the expenditures level, and the obtained share in the tourism industry. At the same time, the development of tourism leads to negative effects upon physical and cultural environments, which can be considered as costs to the host society.

The construction of the additional hotel, for example, provides extra benefits for the suppliers and tourists through increased profit and bigger consumer choice. At the same time, the construction of facilities puts extra pressure upon the ocean and mountain ecosystems which leads to the destruction of natural resources. Further, the destruction of the natural resources which attract tourists leads to the decreased inflow of tourists and, as the result, to the decreased economic profits. Treating the environment as an “inexhaustible gift of nature” (Holden, 2003, p. 112), tourism providers are not willing to incorporate the cost of the natural resources and the value of the environmental damage into the price of tourism products. Economic sustainability in tourism development helps to ensure that the current pursues of economic benefits does not deny the future generations the opportunity to meet their needs.

Future of Sustainable Tourism

Tourism is projected to increase steadily and this growth provides both opportunities and threats to the environments, societies, and economies. The economic benefits brought by tourism indicate that tourism is likely to become the key part of the governmental economic politics of less developed counties. BY helping to eliminate poverty, tourism can assist in building a more sustainable future by meeting the human needs for recreation and at the same time by helping to conserve the environment, to protect from the threats such as poaching or mining, and culture depletion. The tourism industry is already mature, and the development of sustainable tourism should address its role and responsibility to the environment. Practical actions should include helping to reduce economic leakages and increase the economic benefits for the local community and developing the environmental management system to cover all aspects of tourism operations.


Hall, D & Richards, G 2000, Tourism and Sustainable Community Development, Routledge, London.

Holden, A 2003, Environment and Tourism, Routledge, New York.

Mowforth, M & Munt, I 2003, Tourism and Sustainability: Development and Tourism in the Third World, Routledge, New York.

Sinclair, T & Stabler, M 1997, The Economics of Tourism, Routledge, London.

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