Policies for sustainable tourism

When my friend and I were planning our holiday last summer, we were happily surprised to find a five-day ticket for unlimited public transport for only 16 euros in Luxembourg. Later on I learned that mobility can be a struggle in Luxembourg, however. With 660 motor vehicles per 1000 inhabitants, it has one of the highest vehicle per capita ratios in the world. No wonder that the country is developing solutions to make mobility more sustainable and green. For me, it is now very interesting to see how policies can make sustainable tourism more attracting.


Since tourism has economic, socio-cultural and ecological connections, it can have a big impact on countries. Governments and other leaders in tourism are often criticised for not addressing social impacts of increased tourism and not promoting community based tourism that benefits local people. Policy on tourism is important since it could help countries to spread benefits, address inequalities and improve economic resilience. Moreover, long-term strategies and policies are essential to achieve sustainable and inclusive tourism growth.  In this article, I want to give you more insight into the status of policy making intended to make tourism more responsible.



In the last few years, the role of tourism in sustainable development has been widely recognized. In 2008, the Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria developed a set of criteria  to guide the tourism industry. The criteria were mainly focused on four themes: sustainable management, socioeconomic impacts, cultural impacts and environmental impacts. These criteria are the minimum which businesses, governments and destinations should achieve to approach sustainable tourism.

More recently, in 2015, the United Nations General Assembly established seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) , a framework that encourages states, civil society and the private sector to contribute to sustainable development towards 2030. Tourism has the potential to contribute to all of the seventeen goals, but is directly included in three of these: Goal 8: decent work and economic growth, Goal 12: responsible consumption and production, and Goal 14: the sustainable use of oceans and marine resources. On top of that, the United Nations declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Further attention to the sustainable tourism agenda is reflected in tourism policies. Many countries have given priority to policies to create a competitive and inclusive industry. The main priorities of the policies are:

  • the improvement of transport and accessibility in order to reduce barriers

  • the expansion of domestic tourism in order to reduce the dependence of international markets

  • the improvement of the overall business environment

  • the expansion of skills, careers and employment opportunities in order to cope with labour shortages and poor services due to unskilled staff.

Furthermore, many countries refer to sustainable development in their policies on tourism. Some have made formal commitments during the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, like Mexico where different groups of people involved in tourism have signed the National Commitment for Sustainable Tourism for Development. A variety of actions to put policies on sustainable tourism into practice are being pursued, including the enhancement of knowledge and the control of sustainability impacts in the tourist sector, the maintenance of environmental or sustainability certification schemes for tourist businesses, the growing movement to certify and recognize local destinations for their sustainable practices, the support of environmentally friendly technology and operations, and the utilization of investment and finance instruments to support capacity building and to promote the uptake of green energy and reduce greenhouse emissions.


Example: Slovenia

An example of a country that promotes and encourages sustainable tourism is Slovenia, which was the first country in the world to be declared a green destination by the organisation Green Destinations in 2016. The government is caretaker of the national brand called ‘I feel Slovenia’  which supports and promotes sustainable investments and tourism. The country has a national tool and certification program for promoting sustainable tourism: The Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism (GSST), which has already been identified as successful by Interreg Europe. It is focused on offering tools to destinations and service providers that enable them to evaluate and improve their sustainability goals and help to promote these goals with the ‘Slovenia Green’ brand. When destinations, accommodation providers, travel agencies or parks have obtained the Slovenia Green label, their level of visibility and promotion they receive through national and international channels will be increased. Currently, there are 37 destinations, 22 accommodations, 3 natural parks and 2 agencies that have obtained the Slovenia Green label. Although the GSST has a national character it is based on global and European indicators and could therefore be applied in other countries as well.



In order to stimulate the shift towards more sustainable tourism, some recommendations can be made. First of all, investment and financing is essential for the transition to sustainable tourism. Governments can stimulate growth towards sustainable tourism by funding projects. However, public budgets are tight and governments are searching for new tools to finance sustainable projects more efficiently with a stronger focus on the private sector. With growing awareness of the need for sustainability and the environmental and social benefits, there is an increasing motivation to invest in sustainable tourism both for private and public sector. In order to further promote and mainstream investment and financing for sustainable tourism development, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) makes four policy recommendations :

  • Promote access to finance for sustainable tourism investment projects of all sizes

  • Stimulate the transition toward low carbon, climate resilient investments and encourage more responsible business practices in touris

  • build capacity and better coordinate action across government to support the shift to more sustainable tourism investment and financing practices.

  • Improve data and analysis on finance and investment in sustainable tourism development, including the use of green finance in tourism.   


In order to achieve the sustainable development goals, the UNWTO has given the following recommendations to policymakers on how they can increase tourism’s role:

  • Partner with civil society networks to provide education and entrepreneurial skills training (e.g. tour guides, local artisans, local cooks).

  • Create programs (e.g., internships, work-study programs, traineeships, etc.) that give students earlier access to the corporate environment and demonstrate employment opportunities in tourism.

  • Create policies that prohibiting the use of chemicals and materials that can be particularly detrimental to water quality if improperly disposed.

  • Engage in public-private dialogues, partnerships and collective action in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, anti-corruption and the rule of law.

  • Create policies that encourage minimizing manufacturing impacts by substituting virgin raw materials in products with post-consumer materials through recycling and upcycling

  • Foster regional and international cooperation and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination among existing mechanisms, in particular at the United Nations level, and through a global technology facilitation mechanism.

In a further elaborated document, the UNWTO gives specific recommendations per goal.


With the growing awareness for sustainable development in tourism, governments can make the industry more inclusive and sustainable by making the right long-term policies. Although governments play a big role, we have to be aware that it is not the only actor in growing to a more sustainable industry. Governments, industry and civil society have to collaborate in order to make tourism more sustainable and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.



Sources & Read more:


OECD tourism trends and policies 2018:

This report provides a global perspective of good practices and key policy and governance reforms in tourism. Information about tourism policies and programmes is given per country.



Tourism for SDGs platform (UNWTO)



Download the recommendations given by the UNWTO per SDG for policymakers to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals through tourism.



Green Destinations



I feel Slovenia