Sustainable tourism is becoming more popular worldwide, with a recent survey by finding that 61% of global travellers want to travel more sustainably in the future. The trend is particularly popular across Asia, especially in parts of Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal and the Philippines.  

What is sustainable tourism? 

The Global Ecotourism Network defines it as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, socially and economically sustains the well-being of the local people, and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved” 

But in practice, what does sustainable tourism look like? An article by Nikkei Asia presented an excellent example of the concept in practice, focusing on the Sekai Hotel Fuse in Tokyo.  

The hotel has purposefully linked with 11 partnering businesses on the market street it is based on, offering guests discounts at local coffee shops, yakitori chicken restaurants and bakeries. In return, the business owners get more custom along with payments from the hotel. For the guests, there’s a chance to really experience local life, rather than the usual tourist traps.  

By involving the community in the hotel’s operations, the aim is not to attract large numbers of tourists, but to get the most revenue – for everyone on the street – from those who do visit.   

Industry leaders embrace sustainability 

The Sekai Hotel Fuse in Tokyo is quite unique, but bigger brands are also recognising increasing demand for ethical tourism among holidaymakers – which seems to have intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The world’s largest hotel operator Marriott International recently launched a new Good Travel program across the Asia-Pacific region. Speaking to Nikkei Asia, the hotel giant’s chief sales and marketing officer explained the motivation behind the initiative, which offers new community engagement experiences to guests: 

“I think we have an obligation,”  

“We believe that as a result of lockdowns and reflection, people have become more conscious about the environment and the world we live in.” 

“As they plan their travel, we believe that they are looking for opportunities to have some more meaningful travel,” 

What happens when the pandemic eases? 

Interest in sustainable tourism may have risen during the pandemic, but what happens when international borders reopen and the travel industry is back to full strength?  There are concerns that travellers will fall back into old habits, wanting fun and escape at low cost – and they won’t care as much about the impact on destinations, including local residents and wildlife.  

And with rising numbers of tourists flooding back into popular locations, can sustainable tourism stand its ground? Putting people before profit is the noble aim, but how easy is this to do when your industry has been ravaged by a global health crisis?   

There’s also the danger of sustainable tourism becoming just of a marketing term, with brands using it to attract customers without making real commitments to work with resorts and operators to make travel experiences sustainable.  

Here at Blank Canvas, we know just how much hard work goes into putting ethical tourism into practice. It takes an enormous amount of time, effort and cooperation from everyone involved, often in several different countries.  

But the end result is worth it – as our travel experiences help to create local jobs, boost local economies, safeguard culture, protect wildlife and many other benefits.  

Crucially, they also offer travellers an authentic, meaningful and often eye-opening experience. It’s a unique chance to really get under the skin of a destination and understand its people.