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Sustainable tourism: challenge and opportunity


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The Day

María Jesús Álvarez

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

Tourism is a social, cultural and economic phenomenon that encourages large-scale travel and other activities involving a 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 automotive industry and even construction. In many places, tourism can be an engine of development that generates wealth and creates jobs in economically disadvantaged areas, but which have a cultural, artistic or scenic attraction of subject . 

It has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. But it has also been one of the fastest growing 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 great increase of issue in travel that took place at the end of the 20th century showed the negative effects of excessive and unplanned tourism.

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

The UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) 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 that is so important, not only here, but also in Italy (13% of GDP), Germany (9%) or France (8.5%). Our continent has set itself the target goal to be carbon neutral by 2050, which involves all economic sectors.

It is not only the institutional authorities that are taking measures, but also the private sector is taking steps in this field. Measures for greater efficiency in processes, water and energy use, as well as proper waste management are reported in the annual reports. In fact, those that have improved efficiency in energy use 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, consequently more productive, and therefore more economically sustainable. Not to mention the business decisions aimed at the use of local products and the great challenge of tourism: the decarbonization of transport.

Another point I would like to highlight is that consumers are increasingly taking the sustainability of a product or service into account in their purchasing decisions. Universities and research centers 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: institutions with support and fiscal measures, companies betting on strategies, sustainable raw materials and renewable energies, or the centers of knowledge developing technology and tools to facilitate it. Not forgetting the role of the consumer, who must be more aware of this aspect when making their choices. That is why it is important that we communicate what we do. Doing things well requires telling them well. Only in this way can we facilitate the consumer's choice of sustainable options and contribute to raising public awareness.