The Year of Sustainable Tourism is Over. Now What?

What’s Next for Sustainable Tourism in 2018?

Tagged #IY2017, 2017 was named the International Year of Sustainable Tourism. The growing realisation that the world cannot cope with the projected growth in tourism (in its current form) saw an awareness campaign lead by the UN World Tourism Organisation and sustainable tourism businesses around the world. 2017 was to be the most sustainable year of travel ever.

The International Year of Sustainable Tourism wrapped up in Geneva in December, with the laying out of a roadmap towards the sustainable development of tourism towards the year 2030. By 2030 the number of international tourist arrivals will have grown to 1.8 billion globally, up from 1.2 billion in 2016, and increasing by over 3% each year. That means that sustainable tourism, and the sustainable development of tourism, are more important than ever.

Read More on What is Sustainable Travel here

So what happened? What can we expect in 2018 when it comes to tourism trends and sustainable tourism in 2018? Along with my own take on the topic and observations from 2017, I caught up with a few friends from the industry and responsible tourism experts to get their views on what’s next for sustainable tourism in 2018.

Shyok valley - off the beaten path in Ladakh by Soul Travel Blog
Some of the most beautiful places in our world are also the most delicate: and need protecting (Ladakh, India).

#IY2017: The Year that Sustainable Tourism Went Mainstream?

While #IY2017 may not have made headlines around the world, the concept of sustainable tourism or responsible travel has fast been gathering momentum and a wider audience within the tourism industry.

While on the first edition of the Web Summit in Lisbon in 2016, only four travel startups appealed to me as a traveler (and are involved in responsible tourism), in 2017 that number almost tripled” said Sandra Gajjar of “This last year I saw a lot more entrepreneurs focusing on keeping the balance between what the tourists want to see in a destination and what locals need in order to preserve their cultural identity and quality of life“.

It’s not only startups where sustainable and responsible tourism are growing in popularity. Increasingly larger and established travel companies are taking an interest in more sustainable tourism, in talking about the topic, and even in some cases implementing sustainable travel policies. But like other travel trends for 2018 like Artificial Intelligence is sustainable travel just a buzzword that corporates need to pay lip service to on conference panels? Or is action really being taken? On the plus side, momentum is building, but we are clearly a long way from mainstream travel companies being taking the necessary steps to make their business more sustainable.

sustainable tourism 2018 travel trends 2018
Is it our constant quest for paradise that is part of the “problem”?

On the blogging and media side of things, two years ago there were a handful of known blogs dedicated to responsible travel. Now, not a day goes by without discovering a new blog or instagram account promoting eco or sustainable travel, often together with eco fashion and an eco friendly lifestyle. Which has to be good news? It is, as long as the idea behind sustainable travel is properly understood and does not get watered-down. Prior to 2017 (inter)national newspaper and media outlets were reluctant to cover sustainable tourism stories due to their decided unsexiness. But 2017 was certainly the year that changed.

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Other industry players, however have been slow to (re)act in the increased interest in sustainability in tourism – and day-to-day life. “One big travel player that has been slow to jump on board the sustainable travel train is gear companies. In 2018 I’d love to see more companies join the likes of Patagonia, Osprey and Kathmandu in releasing more sustainable and environmentally-friendly products. Same goes for airlines – the carbon cost of flying is bad enough, but the fact that most airlines have yet to take any steps to reduce the amount of single-use plastics needlessly wasted inflight is ridiculous.” Said Sarah Reid, of Ecotravelist.

Outside of the tourism industry itself, Sustainable Tourism has an even longer way to go. Interest and awareness from travellers in the need for our trips to be more sustainable may have been peaked, but awareness of what constitutes responsible tourism (or even the need for it) has far from hit home for many travellers. There is also still mass confusion on what sustainable travel, responsible travel (or any other name variation) really is. We need to adopt a clear approach. Multiple studies have found that travellers say they are more likely to book a sustainable option, but finding the booking data to prove this has been a challenge. As for consumer behaviour in 2018: studies and data have yet to be released.

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#IY2017: The Year of the Crowds Got Out of Hand?

In a twist of fate, 2017 will be remembered by many not as the most sustainable year of travel that we have seen, but instead as the year of “overtourism”. Protests boiled over in Venice, pictures of banners telling tourists to go home in Barcelona and Mallorca in Spain went viral on social media, and even the locals of Skye (Scotland) got in on the movement. And for once, the news was covered in mainstream media. The penny dropped and the why behind sustainable tourism became a little bit more urgent.

tourism trends 2018 sustainable tourism 2018
When the tourist crowds are just too much.

Urgent, in a way that needs action. “Overtourism – the natural by-product of mass tourism–was arguably the most significant travel trend of 2017. So the big question for 2018 is, how will the travel industry respond? The definition of ecotourism (“responsible travel that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”) illustrates the need for the industry to benefit both the ECOlogy and the ECOnomy of a destination. I believe that an increased focus on community-based tourism is essential in order to ensure the long-term viability of any sustainable tourism development plan. This is the only approach that works for everyone – locals, endemic flora and fauna, and travel-related businesses alike. And in our adventures, we’ve seen how these local connections make for incredibly immersive, transformative travel experiences” said Bret and Mary of Green Global Travel.

Whilst #IY2017 may not have been a huge consumer carrot, it has been a useful sector tool, and overtourism a massive stick that’s affected consumers, organisations, tourist boards, governments and mainstream media attention, as a prompt to wake the world up to the necessities for more sustainable tourism, and thus the true value tourism can have (or not)…” said Vicky Smith of Earthchangers.

Wake up they must as the march towards the year 2030 and 1.8billion tourists gets ever closer.

Travel trends 2018 sustainable tourism 2018
Looking for the type of travel that allows us to learn about local life and culture is a far more enriching experience.

What will 2018 Bring for Travel and for Sustainable Tourism?

In order to make visible progress, Sustainable Tourism needs to move beyond being a buzzword and part of the “travel trends” press releases in 2018. And there are a number of ways it can do so. Here are some of the elements we can expect to see a lot more of in travel this year.

2018 will see the continuation of the growing interest in unique, authentic, life-enriching and educational travel experiences that allow interaction with the local people and culture. Tourists want to “live like a local”, not only passively learning about local customs, traditions and festivals but actively participating in them. Increased social and environmental concerns amongst travellers and the growing awareness of the impact of their trips means that more people are willing to pay for authentic cultural experiences, especially if they benefit local communities and don’t harm their natural resources.

The need to create such experiences in order to attract higher-spending visitors, combat seasonality and improve visitor experience is one of the key challenges but also key opportunities for emerging destinations where tourism has been growing fast, like Georgia. Local tourism service providers must accept that sustainable tourism that benefits the local people and helps protect their nature and culture is the only way forward, in 2018 and beyond.” Said Marta Mills of One Planet Blog.

sustainable tourism 2018 travel trends 2018
Possibly the friendliest people in the world… in Bangladesh.

Ageing rural communities in Romania are endangered by youth migration due to lack of economic opportunities and support, and this is a common theme throughout developing countries. But in recent years I’ve seen a growing trend of 30-something urban professionals giving up their city corporate careers to buy and restore old village houses and turn them into traditional eco-guesthouses offering authentic staycations for modern crowds, particularly busy Millennials looking for something different.

Incentivised by low prices and availability of EU funds, this social-business-lifestyle trend brings new life into communities where local producers and craftsmen are included in responsible tourism activities. Viscri32 is one example and there are expats who’ve moved to Romania to do the same. I find this trend is a wonderful example of how people looking to change their lives can come up with a fresh approach for a business in tourism which supports local communities in a sustainable way – and there’s no reason why this can’t happen in other countries around the world too“, said Marius Iliescu of Romanian Friend. Leaving behind the office job has never been so good.

Tents at Nubra Ecolodge and responsible travel in Ladakh
The best type of accommodation? Simple, low-impact, sustainable, and with a great view.. of nature! 

An important shift that needs to happen is also in the way we perceive and talk about sustainable tourism. “Although sustainable tourism has always included the three pillars of local environment, economy and culture, the focus from both a trade and consumer standpoint has often been on the environmental or greening components and certifications. In 2018 we expect that the discussion will include more about tourism’s impacts on local culture (people) and economy, pushing both travelers and service providers to think about tourism’s impacts on local communities. This means thinking more local, from how can sustainable tourism “change the world” to how can it — and all the experiences, products, services built up around it — work to improve the lives of the people in the places we visit? 

We also hope that travelers and service providers begin to think of sustainable tourism as more of a process grounded in the value of respect, rather than a distinct endpoint or completed checklist. This will help set a foundation for creating travel experiences or services that are not only enjoyable and more immersive for visitors, but also has a more lasting involvement and impact from local people and communities.”  Audrey Scott, Uncornered Market.

sustainable tourism 2018 travel trends 2018
Elephants as they should be: roaming free.

Last but not least let’s not forget the fundamental role that we, as travellers, need to play in making 2018 an even more groundbreaking year for Sustainable Tourism and the most responsible year of travel yet.

It’s up to us to demand what we want more of when it comes to sustainability, but it’s also up to us to say no to the type of tourism which has a negative impact: on places, on people, on culture, and even on animals: “Travellers need to speak out more against unethical animal tourism for example. Through consumer outrage (expressed publicly) places such as Sea World and the”Tiger Temple” have been shut down or forced to change their atrocious practices. I believe this momentum will continue if travelers avoid any establishments that do not prioritize animals well being. We need to boycott any company that allows guests to interact with animals through human touch, feeding, etc. Even at so-called sanctuaries, conservation centers, and shelters, only trained professionals should be allowed to interact with animals. Animals belong in the wild and there are endless opportunities to witness majestic creatures from a safe distance at reserves, national parks, and protected areas.” said Lola Mendez of Miss Filatelista.

Have you been inspired to play a greater role in sustainable tourism? Want to fly the flag as a responsible traveller? You can read more tips  on how to travel more sustainably here.

What do you think the 2018 will bring for sustainable tourism? Will sustainable travel become more widespread and better understood? Let me know in the comments below! 


4 thoughts on “The Year of Sustainable Tourism is Over. Now What?”

  1. Great post Ellie. I think sustainable travel is becoming more and more understood, though perhaps the reasons for it and the methods that go deeper than finding a place that has ‘green’ in the name to stay at, are less well known. I have noticed many tourist companies trying to get on board the sustainable train without really changing their practices, which suggests they think they trend is only going to increase. I really hope we can improve general understanding of what constitutes responsible tourism, alongside more providers truly offering sustainable experiences.

    • Thanks Emma! Yes indeed that’s a great point, that more companies are jumping on the green-wagon, without necessarily being able to substantiate their green claims… it puts more pressure on us as travellers then to do our due-diligence on eco claims, which is challenging. I share your hope and am confident that together the number of people now involved in this topic can make a big difference to tourism and communication of a more responsible kind. Happy travels 🙂


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