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Looking back on the UN Year of Sustainable Tourism

Looking back on the UN Year of Sustainable Tourism
October 21, 2021

Four years on from the United Nations’ 2017 Year of Sustainable Tourism, what were its results and implications.

It has been the mission of the UN, and specifically the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to bolster worldwide economic growth through tourism and increase intercultural dialogue.

So, after recognising the huge potential of the tourism industry, the UN declared, in its 70th General Assembly in 2015, that 2017 would be the official year for sustainable tourism development.

This was based on the conclusion that with tourism accounting for more than 10% of the world’s economic activity, the focus could contribute greatly in the fight to possibly end poverty and increase mutual understanding.

The UN further acknowledged that with tourism one of the world’s fastest growing industries in the world, the importance of sustainable tourism to the social, environmental and economic growth of many countries including and especially developing countries should be emphasised.

The UN summed up the importance of tourism as follows: “In fostering better understanding among peoples everywhere, leading to a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilizations and bringing about a better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures, thereby contributing to the strengthening of peace in the world.”

What is Sustainable Tourism?
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a specialised UN agency entrusted with the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism, has defined sustainable tourism 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". 

Results and Implications
After proclaiming 2017 as the year for sustainable tourism, the UN tasked the UNWTO with raising awareness of the importance of sustainable tourism to the general public and private and public sector decision makers. 

The UN also set out three tourism goals, namely goals 8, 12 and 14, in their 2030 agenda for sustainable development and the sustainable development goals (SDGs). But because tourism overlaps with so many areas of life, including camping, it was connected to the entire agenda. 

As a result, the UNWTO sought to inspire all stakeholders in the tourism industry to work together to bring positive change in the world through tourism. 

The implementation of this year by the UNWTO resulted in a 7% increase of International Tourist arrivals which reached a total of 1,322 million. 

This was well beyond the projected 4-5% growth which had become a trend since 2010. The UNWTO also concluded that 1 in 11 jobs were provided by the global tourism industry. In addition, tourism contributes 10% of global GDP to the world's economies. 

Hence the UNWTO continued its work throughout the year and in subsequent years to make tourism a force for good.

The Future of Sustainable Tourism
The tourism industry as a whole has benefited greatly from the UN’s stamp of approval. 

As already mentioned, tourism is important to not just the global economy but also in bringing positive change in the world itself. 

In addition, tourism promotes the meeting and mingling of people from different cultures, race and economic status which further breeds mutual understanding and breaks down barriers between people. 

The UN has a goal to increase tourism and the number of international arrivals, but it won’t be possible without global cooperation. 

Therefore, all should play their part in implementing sustainable tourism development. 
Michael Palmer.

Images: Sustainable tourism in Thailand (top, credit: ARIVAL) and best practice in sustainable tourism (below).

About the author

Michael Palmer

Editor, TentHVAC

Michael Palmer is an outdoor enthusiast who likes to go on weekend backpacking trips with his dog Rory.

He likes writing and works as an editor at TentHVAC, a collective of enthusiasts who love travel, backpacking, and camping. . 

Read more from this author

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