What Research Says about Sustainable Tourism Development

By Burr, Steven W. | Parks & Recreation, September 1995 | Go to article overview
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What Research Says about Sustainable Tourism Development

Burr, Steven W., Parks & Recreation

Sustainable development is a relatively recent concept that has emerged only during the past two decades. This concept was given further impetus in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in a report entitled, Our Common Future (WCED, 1987). Known as The Brundtland Report," its findings and recommendations made sustainable development a buzzword in the international development community. Although certainly controversial in nature and not without its critics, the WCED'S report has been received enthusiastically by the international community since its publication; and attempts are being made worldwide to investigate, initiate, and achieve sustainable approaches to development.

According to the WCED (1987), sustainable development is "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (p.43). This concept often is tied to sustainable use, referring to the notion that careful and sensitive economic development is possible without degrading or depleting natural and human resources needed by present and future generations. Sustainable use has become a central organizing principle for global environmental policy. As recently as June of 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, governments attempted to forge an action agenda based on sustainable development and use (Linden, 1993).

One recommendation of the WCED is that industries should be more efficient in resource use, generate less pollution and waste, be based on the use of renewable resources, and minimize irreversible adverse impacts on human health and the environment. Tourism often is presented as an ideal, non-polluting, and environmentally friendly, labor intensive industry.

Tourism relies on the development and utilization of natural, historical, cultural, and human resources in the local environment as tourist attractions and destinations. It is dependent both on these resources and on a clean and safe environment.

Although tourism is a potential source of negative impact and stress on the environment and host communties, Swinnerton and Hinch (1994) believed "increased emphasis is being placed on those forms of tourism that are particularly sensitive to promoting and retaining the integrity of natural and socio-cultural environments" (p.5). In many areas worldwide, especially in rural areas in both developing and developed countries, new development initiatives have begun to place more emphasis on the sustainable development of tourism resources as part of a viable economic base. Hunt (1992) suggested the concept of sustainable tourism development is "one of the healthiest insights of tourism" (p.2). However, the concept is not easily understood and - as policy - certainly not easily implemented (Burr and Walsh, 1994; Haider and Johnston, 1992).

Sustainable Tourism


A definition of sustainable tourism is rather clear. Sustainable tourism may be thought of as "tourism which is in a form which can maintain its viability in an area for an indefinite period of time" (Butler, 1993, p.29). The definition of sustainable tourism development is quite different and more elusive, as it is a relatively recent concept whose definition win continue to evolve. Yet, a number of notions advanced by the WCED contribute to the definition. Inskeep (1991) thought of sustainable tourism development as "meeting the needs of present tourism and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future" (p.461). Sustainable tourism development involves management of all resources in such a way that "economic, social, and aesthetic needs [are fulfilled] while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems" (p.461). Butler (1993) believed that a working definition of sustainable development in the context of tourism could be taken as tourism which remains viable over an indefinite period and does not degrade or alter the environment (human and physical) in which it exists to such a degree that it prohibits the successful development and well-being of other activities and processes" (p.

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