Sustainable or responsible tourism has often been assimilated by many with ecotourism or community based tourism. After over a decade since the concept of sustainable / responsible tourism really emerged, it is now understood that all forms of tourism in all destinations (including mass tourism) need to become more sustainable. In the early years, the focus was mainly on environmental sustainability, it is now more widely understood that the social and cultural pillars of sustainability also need to be addressed concomitantly to achieve any success towards sustainability, and long term profit for all stakeholders. The social element being more and more recognized as the key pillar stimulating environmental and cultural protection in the long run.

What is the difference between sustainable and responsible tourism?

There is no real difference but we prefer the term ‘responsible’, as it underlines the fact that everyonetour operators, accommodation and transport providers, visitor attraction managers, planning authorities, national, regional/provincial and local governments, international organizations, NGOs as well as touristshas a role to play. Moreover for many, the term ‘sustainability’ mostly refers to the financial and / or environmental sustainability often leaving aside the social and cultural elements, whereas the term ‘responsible’ includes a human dimension.

There are many definitions clarifying what sustainable tourism is, we selected those which are the most universally recognised. Please check our Mekong tourism resource knowledge centre.

According to the Cape Town Declaration (2002) developed in a participative way by the International Center for Responsible Tourism, responsible tourism:

  • Minimises negative economic, environmental, and social impacts;
  • Generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry;
  • Involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances;
  • Makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;
  • provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
  • Provides access for physically challenged people; and
  • Is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence

Responsible Tourism is not a product; it is an approach, an integrated approach, involving many stakeholders in any place or space which attracts tourists.