CROSSDEV: What is sustainable tourism? A definition


Sustainability, ecology, responsibility: thanks to the commitment of the UN with the Agenda 2030 and with climate change being eventually recognised and tackled by most of the world’s governments, these words have lately become more and more popular. Nonetheless, when associated with the word “tourism”, they are often misinterpreted or misused. There seems to be a certain confusion and difficulty in understanding the meaning of such words and in making proper use of the correct terminology.

With the contribution of Prof. Alessia Mariotti, from our Associated Partner CAST (the Center for Advanced Studies in Tourism of the University of Bologna, Italy), we have created a little guide with definitions and explanations so to help you get back on track among the various kinds of tourism.

We hope you’ll find it a useful read. Enjoy!


"Tourism that 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”
World Tourism Organization, 2004

Its development requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building. Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and/or corrective measures whenever necessary.

Sustainable tourism should also maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices amongst them.


Ecotourism is a form of sustainable tourism – all forms of tourism can become more sustainable but not all forms of tourism can be ecotourism.

“Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy, study and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features – both past and present), that promotes conservation, has low visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations”.
(Ceballos-Lascurain, 1993). (The official definition adopted by the IUCN in 1996)


It is the tourism which:

  • minimises negative social, economic and environmental impacts
  • generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities
  • improves working conditions and access to the industry
  • involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances
  • makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage embracing diversity
  • provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues
  • provides access for physically challenged people
  • is culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence

Cape Town Declaration, 2002



“Tourism that takes environmental, social and cultural sustainability into account. It is managed and owned by the community, for the community, with the purpose of enabling visitors to increase their awareness and learn about the community and local ways of life.” 

Thailand Community-Based Tourism Institute, 2008


Fair Trade in Tourism is a key aspect of sustainable tourism. It aims to maximise the benefits from tourism for local destination stakeholders through mutually beneficial and equitable partnerships between national and international tourism stakeholders in the destination. It also supports the right of indigenous host communities, whether involved in tourism or not, to participate as equal stakeholders and beneficiaries in the tourism development process.


PPT is not another form of tourism as most people tend to think but it is an approach that seeks to utilise tourism as strategic tool to alleviate poverty among the marginalised communities. Any form of tourism can contribute to poverty reduction. For this to happen, specific ways need to be identified in which tourism businesses as well as tourists can directly and indirectly generate benefits for the poor. This is what Pro-Poor Tourism (PPT) is all about. PPT can be defined as tourism which provides net benefits for poor people. PPT is not a specific tourism product or sector. It is not the same as eco-tourism or community-based tourism, although these forms of tourism can be pro-poor; i.e. they can bring net benefits to the poor., 2010

We warmly thank Prof. Alessia Mariotti and CAST for their contribution. Visit website.

Want to know more? Read this: Tourism must be a tool, not a goal

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