What is Sustainable Tourism?


Currently it is said that Tourism has become the largest industry in the world. Worldwide international arrivals have increased from 25,282,000 in 1950 to 476,000,000 in 1990 (WTO, 1990, 1993 quoted from Wearing and Neil, 1999). It creates jobs for up to 55 million people (WTTC 1992). According to the research by Korea National Tourism Organization, accepting one international tourist can contribute to the same economic benefits as exporting 9.4 colour television sets and accepting 5 tourists can contribute as much as exporting one 1500cc car (KNTO, 1999). That is why many countries have involved promoting tourism for the sake of national economic development.
The demand of tourism has been increasing remarkably but it causes a lot of issues. Thus people became aware of the importance of sustainability. It is true that people realised the importance of sustainable tourism because of the ill effects of mass tourism. First, Chapter 2 examines what “mass tourism” is, what the disadvantages of mass tourism are and for whom. Next, Chapter 3 describes how the argument of sustainable tourism is developed and in Chapter 4 the movement of key agencies involving achieving sustainable tourism is mentioned.
However, as it is doubtful that denying mass tourism means developing sustainable tourism, Chapter 5 expresses the limits of developing eco-tourism. Finally what is requisite for actualising sustainable tourism is mentioned in Chapter 6 as a conclusion.


2-1. What is “Mass Tourism”?
International Tourism grew remarkably from the end of the World War II. The general public could have gone abroad for a holiday because mass package tours had been introduced and the tour prices were decreasing. During the last two decades, tourism has become an “industry”. Poon (1993) describes that “international tourism displayed nearly all the characteristics of its manufacturing counterpart -it was mass, standardized and rigidly packaged. By the mid-1970s, tourism was being produced along assembly-line principles, similar to the automobile industry, with tourists consuming travel and leisure services in a similar robot-like and routine manner”.

The key characteristics of mass tourism are expressed best by Poon in her masterpiece; “Tourism Technology and Competitive Strategies”. She suggests that mass tourism exist if the following conditions hold:

1. The holiday is standaedized, rigidly packaged and inflexible. No part of the holiday could be altered except by paying higher prices.
2. The holiday is produced through the mass replication of identical units, with scale economies as the driving force.
3. The holiday is mass marketed to an undifferentiated clientele.
4. The holiday is consumed en masse, with a lack of consideration by tourists for local norms, culture, people or the environments of tourist-receiving destinations.
(Poon, 1993)
During 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, mass tourism developed inevitably. Generally, the trend of the whole industry at that time expressed the word of “McDonaldisation” or “Fordism”, that is from Henry Ford’s assembly lines making mass produced cars (Amin, 1994). Manufacturers produced more and more mass products and consumers enjoyed purchasing the mass products one after another. At that time Henry Mintzberg introduced the idea of “The Machine Organization”. The field of tourism is not the exception. Here it may be helpful to consider some important factors of developing mass tourism.

The most important factor of developing mass tourism is the technological innovation. In 1958 both Boeing and Douglas introduced jet commercial aircraft, the Boeing 707 and DC-8. They can transport more passengers and much faster than before. Simultaneously airline companies introduced “Economy Fare” for the first time. It is obvious that travelling by air became more common at that time. The crucial event to rush into mass tourism era is the appearance of the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. It can carry 450-570 passengers at once. Airline companies introduced promotional fares such as PEX, Inclusive Tour Fare and so on to fill up a lot of vacant seats that remained. Thus the price of international air tours declined so remarkably that ordinary people could go abroad more easily.
Airline companies developed their own CRS (Computer(ised) Reservation System), which enabled not only airline companies but also travel agencies to handle higher numbers of clients. Tourism industry is known as one of the highest labour cost industries and it takes a lot of manpowers to operate. Thus, CRS made the industry more efficient and it could dramatically reduce the running cost.Introducing international credit cards contributed to the development of international mass tourism, as well. In 1958 American Express launched its credit card service. Visa (former Bank America Card) and Master continued the trend. Carrying large amounts of cash is very dangerous and not convenient during travelling. Exchange commission is not ignorable. International credit card can solve these problems.

Secondly, a socio-cultural aspect is also an important factor. Increasing leisure time and real income have led people to tourism. The growing middle-class in the middle-income economies of the world is also increasingly keen to participate in this pursuit of hedonism (Mowforth and Munt, 1998). After people have exhausted durable consumer goods such as cars, refrigerators, washing machines and so on, they tend to spend on travelling. For example, in Japan, while all kinds of industries were suffering from a serious recession, the number of people going abroad on holiday kept increasing.

Thirdly, the marketing strategy of the private sector led mass tourism. Tourism-related enterprises became bigger and bigger. As it was pointed out in the previous paragraph about airlines, hotel chains spread multinationally and became giants. Certainly, their marketing theory was promoting mass tourism. According to Poon (1993), in the United States the key agencies that developed mass tourism were mainly multinational hotel chains and airlines, and in Europe, on the contrary, they were tour operators and charter flights. In Japan JALPAK, which was a subsidiary holidaymaker of Japan Airlines (JAL), played an important role to make tourism popular. In the 1970s almost all the Japanese Tourists used to carry a red bag depicting the big logo of JAL. JALPAK had become a synonym for mass tourism in Japan.

Not only private sectors but also many governments promoted mass tourism. Many developing countries realised that tourism could help their economic development because it could bring in foreign currency and produce a lot of employment. They were suffering from a monoculture economy whose origin was plantation in the colonialism era. Tourism was regarded as the new resource for economic development. Since the 1960s many developing countries had established ministries of tourism or national tourism organisations.
In addition, airline deregulation has also contributed indirectly to the development of mass tourism. New lower-cost entrant airlines joined in the competition and incumbent airlines could decide new route by themselves. In consequence, competition among the airlines had become so intensified that airfares went down remarkably.
At that time it was obvious that “volume” brought “benefits” to all related organisations. They could enjoy dealing with mass travellers and more and more people tended to go abroad for their holiday.

2-2. Problems of Mass Tourism
The growth of mass tourism had led to a range of problems. People began to become aware that “tourism is a double-edged sword”. The main problem is the sort of destruction. It means destruction to ecology and the environment and destruction to the indigenous cultures and morality. Furthermore, it began to be said that the effectiveness of economy, that was the principal advantage of mass tourism, was doubtful as well.

Firstly, France classified the ecological and environmental impacts of tourism as follows:
l Energy costs of transport
l Loss of aesthetic value
l Noise
l Air pollution
l Water pollution and generation of waste
l Disruption of animal breeding patterns and habits
l Deforestation
l Impacts on vegetation through the collection of flowers and bulbs
l Destruction of beaches, dunes, coral reefs and many National Parks and Wilderness Areas through trampling and/or the use vehicles
l Change of landscape – permanent environmental restructuring
l Seasonal effects on population densities and structures
(France, 1997)On the contrary, some researchers such as Poon (1993) insist that environmental problems caused or reinforced by tourism have merely served to compound the environmental problems already existing on a global scale. However as tourism planning is mistaken, it is unmistakable that tourism can hurt the environment.

Secondly, mass tourism destroyed not only environment but also indigenous cultures and local people’s morality. Tourists always carry so much money that they cannot help but be the targets of the crime. In some tourist destinations prostitution is flourishing. Felsenstein and Freeman (1998) discovered there was a positive correlation between the existence of casino and the number of crimes. Although the concern is not that local people are influenced by Westerners and give up their culture with ease, it is true that most Western tourists do not respect local culture.

Finally, mass tourism would be expected to bring economic development. It was true that in appearance the earning of foreign exchange had increased and their GDP had grown up because of tourism. However it was doubtful that all the countries that promote tourism could be wealthy.
The main factor is high leakage. Because many goods and services essential for the operation of the industry must be imported, profits are repatriated. Moreover it caused inflation and the price for land got higher than appropriate levels. It became inconvenient for local people. In addition, according to Burns and Holden (1995), by allocating resources such as land, manpower, training and the use of public and private sector funds, the opportunity for the development of other economic alternatives to tourism is reduced.
It is certain that mass tourism can create job opportunities. However, they are mainly part-time jobs and sometimes only seasonal. Therefore they are low paid. Furthermore the managerial jobs are often occupied by non-locals. Therefore local people still stay at lower levels.
The condition around the third world has not been improved. The Western countries always play a leading part in tourism development and there is no room to incorporate the locals. Thus Burns and Holden (1995) described tourism as “mono-crop”. It means that tourism could not be an alternative for plantation. Besides Britton equated that “Tourism = Imperialism + Colonialism” (Mowforth and Munt, 1998). Tourism broadened the gap between the First World and the Third World rather than improving it.


In Chapter 2, problems caused by mass tourism were considered. As it turned out, mass tourism began to be denied and the concept of “sustainability” made an appearance. This Chapter follows the process of developing sustainable development and sustainable tourism briefly.
The origin of sustainable development is found in the early 1970s. In this sense 1972 is the turning point because Meadows published “Limits to Growth” and the UN conference on Human Environment was held in Stockholm. Although the concept appeared, people did not become aware of the importance of it at that time.
In the 1980s some organisations began to consider nature conservation more positively. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) argued that conservation could contribute to development objectives and published “The World Conservation Strategy”. The current of Expo, which showed off the most advanced technology to uphold national dignity, began to change at that time. The main theme of Tsukuba Expo held in 1985 was “Dwellings and Surroundings: Science and Technology for Man at Home”. However these appeals were still vague and idealistic.
The first example that the concept of sustainable development was introduced clearly was the report of the World Commission on the Environment and Development (WCED) in 1987, commonly known as the “Brundtland Report”. Five basic principles of sustainability were identified in this report.
1. The idea of holistic planning and strategy-making.
2. The importance of preserving essential ecological processes.
3. The need to protect both human heritage and biodiversity.
4. The need to develop in such a way that productivity can be sustained over the long term for future generations.
5. The goal of achieving a better balance of fairness and opportunity between nations.
(Hall, 2000)The milestone that we cannot overlook when we talk about sustainable tourism is the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development called the Rio Summit held in Brazil. At that time a global action plan named “Agenda 21” was endorsed. Although it was originally for governments and educators, not for tourism, tourism is also responsible for sustainable development. It focus on the legal framework and management practice to improve pricing and subsidies for tourism, to conserve threatened area and species and promoting environmentally sound leisure and tourism. Since then discussion about sustainability and sustainable tourism has flourished.
This year, the Expo is held in Hannover. Because it takes over the concept of Agenda 21, it is called the Environment Expo. Agenda 21 still has an influence in various aspects.

After the 1990s many researchers have stated alternatives to mass tourism that might contain a lot of problems. To understand the meaning of sustainable tourism, the alternatives they stated need to be examined in detail.
In 1993 Poon predicted the decline of mass tourism. She predicted it from the perspective of consumers’ behaviour and technological innovation. She described New Tourism as post-mass tourism. The main characteristics of New Tourism she emphasised are flexibility, customer-centred individualism and competitive price with mass tourism. Burns and Holden (1995) introduced the idea of metatourism. It is the alternative of mass tourism through the viewpoint of marketing.
Many researchers tried to define the alternative form of mass tourism but Mowforth and Munt (1998) mentioned that there is no clear agreement on the definitions and conceptual and practical boundaries. However through the process of developing the concept of sustainable tourism, mainly pressure groups emphasised especially the importance of ecological sustainability. That is why eco-tourism or green tourism was generally placed as the alternative of mass tourism. However, currently some researchers insist that eco-tourism or green tourism cannot solve the problems caused by flourishing (mass) tourism. Butler (1999) indicated that the meaning of sustainable tourism was changing. The old definition is “tourism which is in a form which can maintain its viability in an area for an indefinite period of time”. On the contrary, the new definition is “tourism which is developed and maintained in an area in such a manner and at such a scale that it remains viable over an infinite period and does not degrade or alter the environment in which it exists to such a degree that it prohibits the successful development and well being of other activities and process” (Butler, 1999). In the new definition, sustainable tourism implies not only ecological sustainability but also political, social and economical sustainability (Swarbrooke, 1999).


Private Sector
Generally speaking, private sector tourism tends to involve mass tourism because it is said that it can earn more profit. Thus there are few private companies which like the current of alternative tourism. Recently, however, some private companies have become aware of the importance of sustainability. For example, many airlines declared environmentally friendly strategies. British Airways introduced an environmental management programme that includes reducing fuel, water, waste and replacing current stock with more silent and higher efficiency models of aeroplane. Yet they are still promoting the mass product as well. Moreover, considering airline companies’ environmental programmes, they might have developed through cost-saving aspects rather than environmental protection reasons. Although some tour operators supply specialised forms of tourism, the actual numbers of tourists in these forms of tourism are still extremely small compared to mass tourism (Butler, 1999). It may be quite difficult for private enterprise to dispense with mass tourism completely.
On the other hand, organisations which consist of enterprises in the tourism industry are taking an active part in promoting sustainable tourism. For example, World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), which is organised by major travel agencies, supported large amounts of research into sustainable tourism. In 1994 they established the Green Globe scheme which was an international environmental management and awareness programme. Green Globe has been designed to encourage all travel companies to make a commitment to continuous environmental improvement (Mowforth and Munt, 1998). The International Hotels Environment Initiative (IHEI) developed its “Charter for Environmental Action in the International Hotel and Catering Industry” in 1991.
Because private sector tends to put priority on a short-term perspective, it may be difficult for each company to develop a non-profitable scheme. Therefore it is important that such organisations take the initiative. If, however, each company does not make a marketing plan with talking to other members of the organisation about sustainable tourism as well as tourists’ hedonistic demand, the discussion on the agenda will be meaningless. From now on enlightenment of tourists about sustainability will be one of the important tasks of travel agencies.

Public Sector
On the contrary, the Public Sector plays one of the most important roles in achieving sustainable tourism.
For instance, the Gambian Government is often introduced as one of the most active nations for developing tourism. After the falling prices for groundnuts in the 1980s, Gambia decided to begin economic reform planning named the 1985 IMF-inspired Economic Reform Programme and 1990 Programme for Sustained Development. Both programmes emphasised the importance of tourism for economic development. (Mowforth and Munt, 1998) However the Gambian Government found mass tourism did not contribute local economy well. European tour operator dealt in mainly “all inclusive tour” which meant that all the expenditure by tourists was packaged and permitted eating, drinking and recreation as much as they like inside the resort. As a result tourists kept staying inside the resort and did not want to visit the local community and did not use any local restaurants. That is why the Gambian Government decided to ban all-inclusive tour since winter period of 1999 (Tourism in Focus, 1999 and The Gambia Tourism Concern, 1997).
However is it a good decision for sustainable tourism? It is necessary to consider why the all-inclusive tour became popular. Here, I would like to draw upon my own experience in Cancun, Mexico. When I went to Cancun for a holiday, I stayed in the Ritz Carlton Hotel. I would like to experience local culture, and I travelled to the local village by bus. At the beginning, I did not understand how much and how to pay on the bus. After arriving at the market, local people looked at me in the hope of selling something or that I was only welcome here as a target of crime. I was so scared that I went back to the hotel immediately. I was grateful for the all-inclusive tour at that time. All-inclusive tours make tourists relieved. Tour operators must present safety and reliability. That is why it is obvious all-inclusive tours became popular and they are still on the increase.

Firstly Government must establish national order before banning all-inclusive tours. Government should not ban all-inclusive tours but local people’s bad behaviours such as overcharging tourists, and double price lists for tourists. Government must promote local people’s warm welcoming mind.
In this meaning, the activities of Korea National Tourism Organization (KNTO) are very significant. In Korea, taxi drivers ALWAYS deceived tourists awfully. A lot of complaints about overcharging by bad taxi drivers were received by KNTO one after another. Thus Mobom Taxi (Model Taxi) which is driven by more reliable drivers is introduced. Moreover KNTO distributes Taxi Complaint Card to tourists. Tourists can claim more easily. KNTO is active in domestic preparation for international tourists as well as advertisement in foreign countries. It is a significant activity compared with other NTOs.
In Chapter 2 it is mentioned that the managerial jobs are often occupied by non-locals. To improve such a situation, KNTO introduced the examination for qualification for managers in the tourism industry. It has been very effective to increase local participation for manager level job and to limit non-local managers.

Additionally, as tourism is becoming increasingly dominated by major multinational corporations, intergovernmental co-operation is really important in developing more sustainable forms of tourism. As the Rio summit and Agenda 21 are mentioned in Chapter 3, WTO (World Tourism Organization) took initiative to publish outline how Agenda 21 might be applied to the travel and tourism industry, in co-operation with WTTC and the Earth Council in 1997. Supranational organisations such as the United Nations, UNESCO, WTO expect more positive and pro-active roles to achieve sustainable environment. Currently, after the ending of the Cold War, the world hegemony became one-sided. It is not to say that IMF and World Bank could contribute prosperity of the Third World. To avoid uneven and unequal benefit distribution, nations of the Third World had better take more initiative in supranational organisations.

Voluntary Sector or NGO
It is not too much to say that the voluntary sector was the pioneer of appealing the importance of sustainable tourism. The voluntary sector is categorised to following groups;
l Tourism-specific pressure groups whose main focus is sustainable tourism.
l General environmental pressure groups which also take an interest in tourism.
l Religious based organisations which are particularly concerned with social impacts of tourism.
l Voluntary trusts to achieve a particular purpose.
First of all, the most popular example of tourism-specific pressure groups is Tourism Concern. It set up in 1989 to bring together British people with an active concern for tourism’s impact on community and environment, both in the UK and worldwide. It says “Tourism Concern takes the view that all sectors involved in tourism -governments, industry, media, educators and holiday makers themselves- have contributed to its negative impacts and must all be involved in challenging and changing it” (Tourism Concern, 1998). It publishes their opinion magazine; “Tourism in Focus” and often makes an appearance in television to suggest policies. It enjoys strong support among academics and students but Swarbrooke (1999) insists that “its effectiveness is limited by the fact that only a modest number of tourism industry figures are members”.

Secondly, general environmental pressure groups such as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth and religious based organisations such as Tearfund or End Child Prostitution in Asia Tourism (ECPAT) clearly support the idea of sustainable tourism by raising awareness of issues and campaigning for change. However, they can sometimes be accused of being a self-appointed ‘elite’ or of taking a too much simplistic view of problems. Moreover, they consist of people who live outside the destination in issues so there are issues about the right of outsiders to seek to influence what happens in an area. In addition, they sometimes insist on banning of tourism to protect the environment. However, sustainable tourism has to achieve not only “ecological” sustainability but also “economic” sustainability. The Third World has to become economic independent of some particular developed countries but, eventually, their activities sometimes prevent the Third World developing economy. It is important to be not only idealistic but also realisable when sustainable tourism is planned.

Finally, Voluntary trusts may play a positive role in the development of more sustainable forms of tourism. Their contributions are protecting valuable heritage sites and developing them as tourist destinations. Generally, however, their interest is so narrow and so specific that they cannot make universal policies of sustainable tourism.
In this section, the advantages and limits of voluntary sector are examined. Yet it is obvious that voluntary sector plays an important role in achieving sustainable tourism. Currently the governments, media and each company in tourism industry cannot ignore their opinions. It is important for every organisation concerned with the tourism industry to make a wise choice.


Various organisations especially voluntary sector emphasise the importance of eco-tourism, green tourism and alternative tourism to achieve sustainable development. However is it true that these kinds of tourism can bring sustainability?
Firstly, mass tourism can offer more reasonable price. If mass tourism was avoided completely, the tour prices should rise much higher. Actually the prices of eco-tourism or green tourism are generally higher than packaged tour’s. If mass tourism was avoided, tourism might return the privilege of only richer class. Realistically mass tourism is absolutely popular in these days and is not going to disappear or be replaced by alternative tourism (Butler, 1999). Mowforth and Munt (1998) state ‘Ecotourist’ has a double meaning. One is those who has an interest in environment (ecology) and the other is those who has an ability to pay the high prices for a holiday (economic capital). If the reputation become popular that eco-tourism is really good, people are apt to join it. If more people gather it, it has never kept small scale. Even if one destination success to keep small-scale eco-tourism, it is clear that competitors will soon come into the market. It is very difficult to maintain higher prices especially in the tourism area. If the prices decline, more tourists will be sure to come in. Butler (1999) indicated that eco-tourism or green tourism would become one varieties of mass tourism from now on. We have to recognise that all the mass tourist destinations began small at first. However those who criticise mass tourism and approve only eco-tourism insist to keep small and privileged. That is why Holden (1995, and the lecture at UNL in 2000) and other researchers describe “eco-tourism is ego-tourism”.

Secondly, when a tourist destination wants to prevent mass tourism, it is said that it has to deal with higher price tours. However if the prices are high, customers’ demands will be much more luxurious. In this sense, the capital of Western hegemonies is superior to the local capital in the field of the technical standard, the service standard and quantity. After all, Western investment is needed to acquire the high service standard and to prepare good quality of equipment.

Thirdly, not all small-scale ‘ecotourist’ ventures are sustainable and many ecotourists may actually damage more local environment than mass tourists do. For example, according to Mowforth and Munt (1998), Nepal accepted trekking tour that was categorised into eco-tourism or alternative tourism. However, Nepal’s forest area in heavily trekked spot is decreasing at a rate of 3% per year. After all 10% of total Nepal’s forest area has gone (Ogushi, 1999). On the contrary, according to Ogushi (1999), Bhutan, the neighbouring country on Nepal, has highly restricted the entrance of tourists. Thus it can still preserve more forest resources than Nepal. Needless to say, the forest resources can contribute to the local economic sustainability. We must recognise the fact that eco-tourism can hurt environment.
To quote Schumacher’s term, “Small is NOT ALWAYS beautiful”. The discussion of eco-tourism is sometimes still contradictory.


-What is Requisite for Actualising Sustainability? –
As discussed in the previous chapter, only reducing a scale is not able to bring sustainability. The critique of mass tourism conceals real problems. In fact, it is impossible to ban mass tourism completely. Now then, what is really needed to actualise sustainability in tourism?
The most important point is the responsible behaviour of tourists and locals. Tourists, who are not interested in culture and language of a destination, require only easiness at a destination. They try what they would like to do but cannot get away with in their own country. That is why their behaviour goes extreme. Noisy party night, hedonism tours and sex tourism is good example of it. On the other hand, destinations require easiness to accept tourists’ bad behaviour. Some bad locals consider how they can overcharge innocent tourists. Everyone concerned with tourism seeks only easiness.
The relationship between “tourists” and “locals” in the destination must become one between “guest” and “host”. Currently, however, tourists look down locals, and locals live in peace in their position. Thus in the present, the relationship is no more than “guest” and “servant”. Whilst the relationship between “guest” and “servant” continue, sustainable tourism is just idealistic. Tourists must visit as they visit their family. Locals must welcome tourists as their old friends. If they do so, tourists will never hurt environment, never waste resources and never dump rubbish, and locals will never overcharge innocent tourists and offer good service with warm hospitality. To remind it, it may be a good idea that locals let tourists sign the declaration that tourists swear to make much of local culture and heritage, when they pass through immigration. It is necessary for both tourists and locals to innovate their mind.
As has been pointed out at the beginning, accepting one international tourist can contribute to the same economic benefits as exporting 9.4 colour television sets and accepting 5 tourists can contribute as much as exporting one 1500cc car (KNTO, 1999). When an automobile company produces cars or an electric company produces TV sets, it is sure that the factory waste is generated. However, tourism can generate no waste if both tourists and locals are conscious of sustainability of the destination. Again, the problem is not quantity of tourists. If consciousness of both sides appears, even mass tourism will not hurt environment. After all, the atmosphere that both tourists and locals respect each other makes tourism sustainable.


Amin, A (1994)




Takashi Shimakawa



島川 崇





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