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Sustainable tourism: challenge & Opportunity


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The Day

María Jesús Álvarez

Professor of Tecnun, School of Engineering of the University of Navarra. Researcher at the group of "Sustainable Improvement"

Tourism is a social, cultural and economic phenomenon that encourages large-scale travel and other activities involving expense. In our country it is of great interest as it accounts for 14% of GDP, which places it above other traditional sectors such as the automobile industry and even construction. In many places, tourism can be a driving force for development which generates wealth and creates jobs work in economically disadvantaged areas, but which have a cultural, artistic or landscape attraction subject . 

It has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. But it is also one of the sectors that has taken off most rapidly due to people's desire to travel after a long period of restrictions. Like any human activity, we cannot deny that it also generates negative impacts in terms of environmental and social pollution and exaggerated consumption of resources. The huge increase of issue in travel that took place at the end of the 20th century highlighted the negative effects of excessive and unplanned tourism.

For this reason, from the 1990s onwards, the idea of sustainable tourism began to be introduced as tourism that aims to develop its activity in such a way as to have a minimum impact on the environment. The goal is that the renewal of resources used for tourism activity is above the level of their extraction. In final, tourism with a minimum impact on the environment and respectful of the ecosystem, generating employment and promoting economic activity in the area where it is developed.

The UNWTO (World Tourism Organisation) has been promoting this idea since the last century with the creation of an environmental committee in 1978. In Europe, the Green Pact of December 2019 opens a challenge to this sector which is so important, not only here, but also in Italy (13% of GDP), Germany (9%) and France (8.5%). Our continent has set itself the target of being carbon neutral by 2050, which involves all economic sectors. goal .

Not only the institutional authorities are taking measures, but also the private sector is taking steps in this field. Measures for more efficient processes, water and energy use, as well as an adequate waste management management are reported in the annual reports. In fact, those that have improved energy efficiency have been more resilient to the price rises we have experienced in recent months. Sustainability is not just about caring for the planet. It means being more efficient, therefore more productive, and therefore more economically sustainable. Not to mention the business decisions aimed at using local products and the great challenge of tourism: the decarbonisation of transport.

Another point I would like to stress is that consumers are increasingly taking the sustainability of a product or service into account in their purchasing decisions. Universities and centres at research are also involved. Among other things because there is a lot of technology to develop to facilitate sustainability and make it competitive, as well as new business models.

Much remains to be done at all levels and by society as a whole: by institutions with support and fiscal measures, by companies by committing to strategies, sustainable raw materials and renewable energies, or by the centres of knowledge developing technology and instruments to facilitate it. Not forgetting the role of the consumer, who must be more aware of this aspect when it comes to making choices. This is why it is important that we communicate what we do. Doing things well requires telling them well. This is the only way we can facilitate consumers' choice of sustainable options and contribute to raising public awareness.