Nine Big Business Benefits of Sustainable Tourism

Discover why sustainable tourism is the smart choice for your organisation

Published June 20, 2023

The importance of sustainability in tourism: Benefits and advantages

What makes sustainable tourism important, and are there tangible benefits and advantages for travel businesses and destination marketing organisations that prioritise sustainability?

Philippa Harrison, Managing Director at Tourism Australia says, “Sustainable practices by tourism operators are no longer a nice-to-do; they are good business hygiene.

The increasing importance of sustainability in response to consumer demand and the many benefits sustainable tourism offers highlight the urgent need to focus on the design and development of sustainable and responsible products, services and business operations on a global scale.

What is sustainable tourism development?

Sustainable tourism development refers to creating and maintaining a sustainable tourism sector by focusing on the needs of the environment, society, culture and economy in a host destination. Through sustainable and circular economy principles, tourism is designed to work for and benefit the community, preserve culture, regenerate ecosystems and provide long-term economic rewards locally. 

The effects of tourism without sustainability

Tourism is closely tied to other industries, such as transport, logistics, supply chain, food production, and the clearing of land to support these economic activities. Traditional tourism methods have been harmful to local economies and nature–their outdated practices have resulted in the degeneration of culture, tradition and indigenous knowledge, the breakdown of communities, employment challenges, economic leakage and a number of other drawbacks.

An increasing number of tourism organisations struggle to attract younger employees because these people are looking for jobs with organisations that are purpose-driven, values-aligned and environmentally conscious. 

When culture, communities and biodiversity are displaced, a destination also becomes less attractive to visitors.

The importance of sustainable tourism practices

Sustainable and regenerative tourism practices can help to repair the negative impacts created by traditional forms of tourism by working with people, place and planet to transform a location into a destination that flourishes—this includes protecting and developing natural environments, thriving communities, the celebration of culture and indigenous knowledge, along with delivering more successful business operations. 

Why sustainable tourism makes good business sense

Practising sustainability within your organisation is as important as offering guests sustainable travel choices and experiences.

Tourism businesses that view sustainability as optional are missing out on catering to growing visitor demands. Elissa Keenan, the Chief Executive of Ecotourism Australia, tells us that “establishing a sustainability ethos within your business brings with it sustainability-driven customers looking to find holiday experiences that align with their values, as well as employees seeking an opportunity to work for a greater purpose.

Many recent studies show a steady rise in the number of consumers and potential employees who are actively seeking out businesses that embrace a more sustainable tourism model. 

Nine reasons to switch to a more sustainable tourism business model

Here are nine compelling reasons why having a sustainable tourism business makes good business sense.

1. Risk management and future-proofing

Practising sustainable tourism can help to manage organisational risk by mitigating environmental, social, economic, and reputational risks, ensuring more successful trade well into the future.

Travel organisations and destinations can benefit from sustainability in tourism in a number of ways including, but not limited to:
As experienced with COVID-19, the risks associated with economic downturns or dependency on a single industry can have long-lasting effects on an organisation’s operational efficiency and financial performance. Tourism companies play a vital role in bolstering the economic stability of a destination by actively supporting local businesses, creating local employment opportunities and making strategic investments in community development projects.
Through the diversification of tourism services and product offerings, destinations and travel businesses can effectively mitigate the risks associated with over-reliance on a single destination, attraction, or season. This strategic approach enables them to better withstand macro changes and environmental disasters that occur in one destination.
Looking through the lens of regulatory adherence, various governments and destinations are enacting guidelines, regulations, accreditations and norms that revolve around delivering sustainability in tourism. By taking a proactive approach and embedding sustainability within their business model, tourism organisations can meet compliance requirements and effectively minimise future regulatory and legal risks they might face.
Climate change is a risk for both destinations and tourism organisations, and this is increasing. Without considering our impact on the environment and our operations’ contribution to climate change, we are also jeopardising the future of the entire tourism economy. Moreover, travellers want to travel with businesses that are addressing issues like climate change by taking action.
Introducing sustainable practices into your business model offers protection against the risks of market share erosion and reputational harm arising from negative publicity or consumer backlash linked to unsustainable practices.

Integrating sustainable principles into tourism operations allows tourism businesses and destination marketing organisations to safeguard their interests while actively contributing to the long-term sustainability and prosperity of the destinations they serve. 

2. Save your business money

Embracing sustainability in your business operations results in real bottom-line savings. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, Keenan tells us that “implementing sustainability practices saves businesses money; reducing waste, water and energy consumption means using less resources that could be allocated to different operations in your business.

As an example, tourism organisations which have reduced their annual waste to landfill are reaping the benefits when it comes to the additional income they are making on recyclables and compost generated from food and garden waste.

Apart from a lower expenditure and new opportunities for income, your business can also qualify for tax incentives. Small to medium-sized enterprises can get a bonus tax deduction when implementing energy-saving measures in the workplace, such as installing batteries, heat pumps and solar panels. 

3. Attract and retain top talent

One often overlooked aspect of sustainable tourism is its positive impact on an organisation’s workforce. With so many young people entering the tourism industry and others seeking out more environmentally and socially conscious employers, it’s vital that tourism businesses, government agencies and destination marketing organisations consider the huge advantages that a sustainable tourism strategy can deliver from an employee engagement perspective.

Employee turnover is costly for any tourism organisation. Recruiting, hiring, and training new employees requires considerable time, effort, and financial resources. However, when employees are actively engaged in the business’ purpose and values, they are more likely to feel a stronger sense of loyalty, belonging, job satisfaction and pride. This leads to higher employee retention rates and reduced turnover costs.

Engaged employees are also more likely to develop their skills, stay up-to-date with industry trends, and demonstrate a commitment to their roles, reducing the need for repeated training.

Moreover, employees who are proud of their organisation’s sustainable practices become enthusiastic advocates. They actively promote their workplace to their network of friends, family, and professional contacts. Employee referrals tend to attract individuals who align with a business purpose, vision, mission, and values, resulting in a higher probability of finding the right talent. Not only does this reduce recruitment costs, but it also contributes to a more cohesive and aligned workforce who share the same values. 

4. Appeal to new, young employees conscious of sustainability

Younger people entering the tourism sector are now more aware of adverse environmental impacts than ever before, and they are keen to serve a deeper purpose in their careers. Maureen Pillon, 2023 Chair of the Young Tourism Network, tells us that young people understand sustainability practices, and they are “essential for creating an equitable and responsible tourism industry that can support local communities and preserve our planet’s natural and cultural heritage.”

The Young Tourism Network’s 2022 Workplaces Report revealed that:

  • 1 in 3 young people feel their workplace increases their climate anxiety
  • 9 out of 10 young people felt that having a purpose that goes beyond profit is crucial

When you co-design your sustainability efforts with your staff, your local community and the environment in mind, your teams and employees will thrive knowing their employers share the same values and goals as the organisation they choose to work with. 

5. Attract consumers focused on sustainable travel

The latest travel consumer feedback and statistics from Australia and around the world prove that consumers are seeking out more sustainable travel experiences, products and services:

Booking.com’s 2022 Sustainable Travel Report indicated that up to 25% of global travellers would be willing to pay more for travel activities that support local communities.

Additionally, Booking.com’s 2022 report confirmed that 71% of global travellers wish to travel more sustainably, 53% are determined to make more sustainable travel choices, 66% want authentic experiences representative of local culture and 38% look for information on an accommodation’s sustainability efforts.

According to Tourism Australia’s 2022 Future of Global Tourism Demand, sustainability is a growing consideration in travel decision-making, with research showing more than a whopping 75% of travellers are committed to sustainability in some way.

Sustainability influences traveller choices when deciding where to visit and stay, how to get there and which experiences they engage with at their chosen destination. These statistics and research should encourage and motivate tourism providers and operators to improve their sustainability efforts and cater to rising sustainable travel demands internationally. 

6. Growth from mutually-beneficial sustainable tourism activities

By keeping up with and creating a greater demand for more responsible travel through new, innovative sustainable options that are co-designed with the communities your business operates within, your organisation benefits in multiple ways.

Apart from growing your business through mutually-beneficial tourism activities, the relationships you develop with the local communities your business operates within are fundamental to its success and sustainable growth, not to mention the contribution your business can make to the local economy. In addition to this, your guests will experience more authentic and immersive travel experiences, resulting in increased customer satisfaction, improved brand loyalty, positive reviews and repeat customers willing to pay more for other unique experiences your organisation or destination offers.

Intrepid Travel, rated among the most innovative travel companies of 2022, is a great example. They developed a community-based tourism project by collaborating with Action Aid and three remote villages in Myanmar. They researched whether the community wanted to be involved in tourism, what they needed to achieve through tourism and to understand what they were able to provide Intrepid travellers in the future. This allowed Intrepid to design new tourism experiences that catered to the community’s needs and traveller interests. The customised activities developed through this project allowed Intrepid to contribute to the local economy, community and destination in more meaningful and impactful ways. This approach to designing tourism in collaboration with the community left Intrepid’s guests with authentic memories and a deeper appreciation for the local culture and people. The villagers were actively involved in choosing what they wanted to share with visitors, and they directly benefited from the income generated.

Geoff Manchester, Co-founder of Intrepid Travel, tells us that due to the increase in positive passenger ratings and demand for this type of new travel experience, “there was also affirmation that this business model was viable and could be duplicated in many other parts of the world.”

Listen to the full interview with Geoff Manchester and the founder of Mankind Digital, Keeley Warren, on SoundCloud.

7. Cater to the demand for authentic local cuisine

It’s well-known that local, authentic food connects people to places. By embracing this in your sustainable tourism strategy, your tourism and travel business can deliver an improved customer experience that results in more positive reviews, greater social media exposure and increased future bookings.

When your organisation partners with local farmers, growers and artisan producers to create unique dishes symbolic of the region, this also creates cross-promotional opportunities with other local businesses. Through marketing collaborations, you can appeal to an increased number of travellers seeking meaningful local experiences and products. These visitors are also often willing to pay more for products that benefit local communities and the surrounding region.

Local produce also doesn’t need to travel far, saving your organisation money on unnecessary transport and storage costs.  

8. Meet the need for Indigenous tourism experiences

Tourism Australia’s 2022 research indicated that 30% of global travellers were interested in Indigenous sites and 27% in Indigenous guided tours. By including indigenous tourism experiences in a destination’s offering, this can attract a broader range of visitors who seek immersive and authentic cultural experiences, thereby enhancing the destination’s competitiveness in the global tourism market.

Indigenous tourism can generate significant economic benefits for indigenous communities. Income from tourism activities can be reinvested in community development projects, education, healthcare, and the preservation of cultural sites.

The strong connections that indigenous communities have to the environment, their traditional ecological knowledge and environmental stewardship are incredibly important. Indigenous guides can educate visitors about the importance of protecting the environment and sustainable resource management.

Tourism and travel organisations who partner with local indigenous tourism providers and First Nations people to create authentic visitor experiences contribute to preserving natural biodiversity and indigenous culture through knowledge sharing and the celebration of Aboriginal customs and traditions.

By offering visitors authentic learning opportunities through indigenous tourism experiences, like those offered by wawa biik on Taungurung Country in Australia, guests can connect with Country and the natural world like never before. They learn about restoring and regenerating the natural environment, along with gaining insight into customs, language, storytelling and spiritual practices.

These experiences foster a deeper appreciation of indigenous culture and environmental stewardship, whilst creating meaningful memories that last a lifetime. 

9. Rise above the competition

In this post-COVID era, travellers are looking to businesses that actually implement sustainable tourism practices,” says Manchester.

With so much evidence to support that such a high number of people are actively looking for sustainable travel options, your efforts to embed sustainable tourism practices and principles throughout your business model will attract more of the right visitors and guests to your destination and organisation.

The key is to clearly communicate your sustainability credentials and practices so travellers can verify your business or destination as sustainable before choosing to support your business over others.

Effective storytelling and communication strategies that share your sustainability stories in ways that visitors, staff and the community understand will convey your commitment to sustainability and give tangible examples of how your organisation operates to provide impact. By partnering with tourism marketing experts who share your vision for a more sustainable tourism sector, you will reach your target audience and inspire visitors to choose your sustainable tourism business or destination over your competitors when they’re in the planning and booking stages of their travel journey. 

Get started with sustainability in tourism and reap the rewards

There is no better time than now to take the first step to become a more sustainable tourism business or destination, whilst providing travellers with what they’re actively looking for. 

To learn more about sustainable, responsible and regenerative tourism and the broad range of business benefits available to your organisation, contact Mankind Digital about the courses, training and workshops on offer through our network of recommended partners and facilitators.

Published June, 23

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