24 August 2022

How responsible tourism contributes to a more sustainable visitor economy

An increasing number of tourists are looking for sustainable travel experiences.

More than 70% of travellers indicate they would make more effort to travel sustainably in the coming year. This is up 10% from 2021. (Source: booking.com, Sustainable Travel Report, 2022).

The national strategy for the visitor economy, THRIVE 2030, recognises the importance of sustainability to the long-term growth and resilience of Australian tourism.

Tourism Ministers from the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member economies, including Australia, agreed to and released the “Policy Recommendations for Tourism of the Future: Regenerative Tourism”. This set of policy recommendations covers concrete actions for member economies to consider. Gathered under the theme of APEC 2022 “Open. Connect. Balance.”, they envision the future of tourism as inclusive and sustainable.

What responsible tourism means

Responsible tourism is about ‘making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit’ (Source: Cape Town Declaration, 2002).

It asks industry, government, local communities and tourists to work together to make tourism more sustainable by:

  • respecting local cultures
  • protecting the environment for future generations
  • making tourism accessible to people with a disability
  • providing socio-economic benefits to the host community
  • providing meaningful connections between visitors and local people.

Contributing to a more sustainable tourism industry

There are many ways for destinations and visitors to make tourism more sustainable. These may include:

  • providing carbon-neutral travel options like electric vehicles or bicycles
  • using native ingredients, sourced locally and sustainably
  • using biodegradable or recyclable packaging, or no packaging wherever possible
  • providing training and employment opportunities for local people
  • respectfully highlighting Indigenous cultures
  • using local or minority-owned suppliers, including Indigenous suppliers
  • engaging early and often with local communities about future tourism development
  • managing visitor numbers at environmentally or culturally sensitive areas.

Making a promise to future generations

Some destinations are even asking tourists to commit to protecting the environment, native wildlife and host culture.

Tasmania’s Maria Island, for example, asks tourists to pledge to ‘keep it wild and pristine’:

I take this pledge to respect and protect the furred and feathered residents of Maria. I will remember you are wild and pledge to keep you this way.

I promise I will respectfully enjoy the wonders of your beautiful island home, from the wharf, to the Painted Cliffs, to the Rocky bluffs, haunted bays and mystery of Maria’s ruins.

Wombats, when you trundle past me I pledge I will not chase you with my selfie stick, or get too close to your babies. I will not surround you, or try and pick you up. I will make sure I don’t leave rubbish or food from my morning tea. I pledge to let you stay wild.

I vow to explore with a sense of responsibility, adventure and kindness. I will leave your wild island as I found it, and take home memories filled with beauty and my soul filled up with wonder.

wombat next to stone wall on Maria Island

Pledges such as this are an example of responsible tourism in action. They go beyond encouraging visitors to make their visit more sustainable, to empowering them to be responsible for their actions.

Achieving sustainable growth that balances social, environmental and economic factors is one of the guiding principles of THRIVE 2030, the industry-led, government-enabled strategy for Australia’s visitor economy. 

Growing the visitor economy

THRIVE 2030 is Australia’s national strategy for the long-term, sustainable growth of the visitor economy.