Sustainable Tourism: What It Is and Why It’s Important

Plus 20 ways to practice sustainable tourism before, during and after a trip.

The historical and natural sanctuary of Machu Picchu has been recognized for its ecotourism regulations

5min read

Published 14 April 2023


Plus 20 ways to practice sustainable tourism before, during and after a trip.

There are myriad ways that we can protect the environment and create a more livable future, from recycling plastic bottles and harnessing solar power to composting vegetable scraps. But did you know that we can also contribute to a healthier world by travelling?

Today more than ever, sustainable tourism is top of mind for government organizations, hotel managers, tour operators and travellers alike — and for good reason! Of course, it isn’t just about preserving natural resources; there are also social and economic factors to consider.

Keep on reading to learn more about what sustainable tourism is, why it’s important and how you can practice it on your next journey abroad.

Group of people shopping for textiles at a local market
Group of people shopping for textiles at a local market
Group of people shopping for textiles at a local market

What is sustainable tourism?

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), sustainable tourism “takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” 

Simply put, it’s a form of tourism that strives to have more positive than negative effects. For instance, the UNWTO believes sustainable tourism should:

  • Make optimal use of environmental resources and protect biodiversity
  • Respect local peoples and encourage intercultural tolerance
  • Economically support host communities and alleviate poverty

With all of that in mind, it makes sense that responsible tourism, eco-tourism and cultural tourism are all considered types of (or at least are closely linked to) sustainable tourism.

Why is sustainable tourism important?

First and foremost, sustainable tourism ensures future generations can continue travelling for years to come and enjoy the best experiences our globe has to offer. But of course, that’s not the only reason it’s become so important.

Sustainable tourism has economical benefits, too. Paying for attractions, hiring local guides, and eating food grown in the destination you’ve travelled to doesn’t just give you a fascinating story to tell — it also supports communities and can help reduce poverty. Plus, with the rise of eco-tourism around the world, conservation is being funded in new ways; many entry fees for natural attractions are being put toward environmental protection projects.

All in all, sustainable tourism ensures your travel dollars have a positive impact on the people and places you visit. 

Two women hiking on a lush jungle trail
Two women hiking on a lush jungle trail
Two women hiking on a lush jungle trail

How can you travel more sustainably?

Now that you understand what sustainable tourism is and how it benefits the world, here are 20 simple things that you can do to be more responsible, respectful and mindful while exploring new places.

Before your trip…

  1. When planning your vacation, choose a destination that prioritizes ethical and eco-conscious tourism. Costa Rica, New Zealand and Iceland are all great options.
  2. Book eco-friendly accommodations. Hotels and resorts around the globe are working hard to improve their sustainable practices, so do some research (or ask us!) to find one that suits your budget, travel style and environmental standards.
  3. Learn the local language — even it’s just a very small amount — so that you can show respect to the people of the country you are visiting.
  4. Invest in a variety of zero-waste items to bring with you. Think reusable coffee cups, water bottles and straws, tote bags, cloth makeup wipes and other essentials that can be utilized again and again…and again.
  5. Pack soap, shampoo, and conditioner bars. It may feel luxurious to bathe with the mini toiletries provided by hotels, but you really don’t need to use all those plastic bottles.
  6. Go digital! These days, it’s easy to access your airline tickets, hotel reservations and tour confirmations online — so avoid printing paper copies.

During your trip...

  1. Walk as much as possible, and take advantage of transit systems (subways, trams, buses) and bike-share programs.
  2. Dispose of your waste responsibly. Just like you would at home, recycle bottles, cans and cardboard, compost food scraps and avoid littering at all costs.
  3. Similarly, try your best to conserve water. You can do this by taking short showers, reusing your towels and turning off the tap while brushing your teeth. Every drop counts!
  4. Say no to single-use slippers provided by hotels. Although some properties do recycle them, it’s more likely that they’ll get thrown out after just one wear — it’s best to avoid this amenity altogether. 
  5. Visit sites that give back to local communities or donate entry fees to conservation efforts.
  6. Be mindful while enjoying outdoor activities. Whether you’re hiking, ziplining, snorkelling, kayaking or cycling, stay on marked trails and in designated areas to avoid harming the natural surroundings.
  7. Do not take “souvenirs” from natural sites. Period.
  8. Avoid attractions that involve animal performances or where you can closely engage with native species. Our travel consultants can recommend sanctuaries, zoos and retreats that are committed to the ethical treatment and welfare of animals.
  9. Use biodegradable and reef-safe sunscreen to help protect natural habitats.
  10. Respect customs and cultures (e.g. by dressing appropriately at religious sites) and treat local people with dignity.
  11. Support small businesses by dining at one-of-a-kind restaurants (forget about McDonald’s!), purchasing goods at public markets and touring the city with local guides.
  12. Return maps and other printed pamphlets to your hotel for others to use.

After your trip...

  1. Offset your travel emissions by using tools like Sustainable Travel International’s carbon footprint calculator. Simply plug in the details of your plane, car or boat journey to see the total metric tons of CO2 emitted and the cost required to neutralize your impact. 
  2. Share your sustainable travel practices with others and encourage them to follow suit.


When it comes to sustainable tourism, we all have a part to play. So, the next time you’re travelling remember these tips and try your best to protect the environment, engage with new communities and support local economies — the smallest actions can make a big difference.

Our travel consultants are prepared to help you book a trip that’s good for people and the planet. Get in touch to start planning your next vacation.

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