A recent study published by the World Tourism Organization presents an alarming figure: it is estimated that by 2030 world travelers will reach almost 2 billion. The exponential growth of tourism has given rise to a phenomenon named ‘mass tourism’, responsible for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, considering the impact of travel by air, car and ship, added to construction and maintenance of hotels, industrial foods in hotels and shopping done by traveling tourists. In addition, international tourist arrivals have increased from 25 million in 1950 to 1.32 billion in 2017. They also state that travel and tourism made up 10% of total GDP in 2016, and the average international tourist receipt is over 700 US dollars per person.

For these reasons, in the most delicate period of the climate crisis, sustainable tourism is making its way as a possible solution to fight emissions from the leisure sector. Sustainable tourism is defined by the UN Environment Program and UN World Tourism Organization as “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.” This may be possible through joint actions between companies working in the sector and travelers that should be made aware of the harmful effects of out-of-control tourism on the environment.

Therefore, sustainable tourism should aim at making good use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity. Moreover, it should recognize and respect the socio-cultural identities of host communities, working towards the conservation of their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance. Finally, it should also ensure viable, long-term economic collaborations, providing all stakeholders with socio-economic benefits that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.

For this purpose, the Destination Sustainability (DSI) index comes to the rescue. This newly introduced instrument aims at measuring and monitoring the impact and effectiveness of the actions taken by any territory (city, region or entire nation) in favor of sustainability. The tool is in fact aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN 2030 Agenda, the proposals set out by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) for the measurement of tourism sustainability and the set of data indicated by the European System of Tourism Indicators (ESTI). In addition, the DSI was created thanks to the use of a huge data pool combined with dozens of data sources, satellite resources, national education reports and official transport statistics.

Therefore, starting from the values ​​of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), the index aims to profile the most sustainable destinations with the aim of benefiting from the choices of travelers and suggesting to operators in the sector, at the same time, the measures to be adopt to achieve sustainability goals. In fact, this system guarantees to measure aspects and data related to various factors such as the environment, or the impact of tourism on the environmental resources of the place; the economy, considering how tourism promotes the local economy; society, measuring the impact of tourism on local inhabitants; and the governance of the destinations of interest, which evaluates the management of policies aimed at promoting the environmental and cultural sustainability of local businesses.

The path of sustainable tourism is therefore indispensable. Greater investments, such as the creation of the DSI to promote green tourism, are therefore the priority to ensure the monitoring and measurement of the initiatives undertaken, promoting actions aimed at improving the quality of life, protecting the environment and ecosystems and conserving resources. natural for today’s and future generations.

By Ingrid Garosi

Ingrid Garosi is a recent joint master graduate in European Studies at the University of Uppsala and University of Strasbourg. She is a project manager and research advisor in European fundings and European projects at the University of Bologna.

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