Who is the sustainable tourist?

Sustainability is on our daily agenda; it is discussed in business and political debates, we listen about it on media, at schools, etc. But how many of us actually know what this word means and how it encompasses all aspects of life?

By its definition, sustainability refers to the ability to be maintained, to exist over time. In other words, to endure or to prolong. Thus, the concept itself raises issues in the long run, looking at the future, not the present.

A key point to better understand the word sustainable, is to think of the world being structured on 4 pillars; the environment, the society, the economy, and the culture. Essentially, global development depends on the interaction between nature and mankind as well as their evolution.

The document “Our Common Future” states that “sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987: 8). In other words, sustainable development is ensured when the environment, the society and the economy are “not affected” to such an extent that they cannot “serve” future generations. In fact, the management of natural resources determines the evolution of the society and the economy.

Nowadays, climate change has revealed the lack of human’s efficiency to support and fulfill the above role. Soil, water, energy, and waste have reached their limits. Thus, we are currently seeking of solutions in sustainable food, sustainable constructions, sustainable fashion, and generally a more sustainable lifestyle.

One of the biggest challenges that countries are called to face (especially the ones economically dependent on tourism) is finding ways to achieve sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism sounds quite ambiguous since tourism activity inevitably creates pressures on natural resources. Nevertheless, the crucial part to point out is how much pressure can a place possibly sustain or even better, how could a destination effectively manage a set of pressures.

Each destination is different and since there are places that have exceeded the limits, a tourist concerned with sustainability, would wisely choose to visit a different destination (not so crowded, hence not so popular) or decide to enjoy this place during the off-season period. Yet, beside the initial choice, who might be the tourist contributing to the economy, while at the same time caring for the environment and the society?

One way to approach the answer, is to think of the way a tourist acts or behaves or the activities he/she gets engaged to while visiting a place. Thus, the sustainable tourist, in terms of:


Prefers means of transport leaving the lowest footprint and/or lower energy cost
·        Walks or rents a bicycle
·        Uses public transport (bus, train, ship)
·        Shares a taxi, etc.


·        Does not ask for daily towel replacement or daily room cleaning
·        Saves up as much energy and water as possible (e.g. efficiency when using lights, A/C, slow shower)
·        Keeps on borrowing and sharing printed material (maps, guide-books)
·        Does not throw away leftovers but takes back any remaining consumables (e.g. shampoo, toothpaste), etc.

Consumption of food and drinks

·        Avoids the use of single use plastics (e.g. holds own coffee mug or water bottle and reusable bag)
·        Tastes local cuisine and chooses local agricultural goods, supporting local production.

Pursuing services and activities

·        Spends money at local shops and indigenous artisans, to strengthen the local economy and support the community.
·        Enjoys and respects the destination’s nature, culture and tradition.
·        Visits the monuments and learns about the history and customs of the place, by participating in events/festivals or voluntary activities for the community
·        Meets up, talks and gets to know the locals while seeking to experience their culture and learn words from their language.

Generally, a tourist embracing the principles of sustainability, is also considered ethical/responsible and:

·        usually travels for more days and chooses to stay longer
·        joins small tour-groups and trusts small businesses
·        uses applications instead of printing anything out in paper
·        never stops trying for less waste and more recycling
·        constantly adds up more food from plant sources in his/her diet
·        looks to support the fair-trade market

It should be pointed out, that the above-mentioned practices are only some of the proposed actions and can apply to both travel and daily life. By no means, do they accurately and objectively define the concept of a sustainable tourist. This would not be feasible due to the variations since they are referred to behavioral manifestations, thus there are many and different.

Nonetheless, tourism can be considered sustainable when the tourist aims to leave the lowest footprint while coming back with the greatest emotional impact from the experiences gained. Consequently, it refers to businesses, local governance and residents committed to protect the environment and provide equal opportunities to the society for the development the economy.

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