What are the Sustainable Development Goals and How Can They Be Applied in the Tourism Industry?

In this day and age, almost all industries and sectors are becoming more aware of the environmental consequences we are facing due to the climate emergency we are in. Because of this, a call for climate action is being carried out through various agendas and roadmaps that all lead to sustainability. The tourism sector in particular is an economic powerhouse and is the third highest world category in export earnings in 2015, representing 10% of world GDP, 30% of services exports and 1 out of every 10 jobs in the world. 

Additionally, sustainable tourism is now on the radar for many organizations, establishments, and individuals alike who all strive to make better and sustainable choices for our future. But how can we fully transform tourism for sustainability and what steps do we need to take?  

In 2015, The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), officially known as "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" were adopted and 2017 designated The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (#IY2017) by the United Nations. 

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the specialized agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.

Tourism has the potential to contribute directly or indirectly to all of the goals

As the 17 SDGs and 169 corresponding targets offer the world a new direction, tourism can and must play a significant role in delivering sustainable solutions for people, the planet, prosperity and peace. It is specifically mentioned in three SDGs (#8, #12, #14) and has the potential to contribute, directly or indirectly, to all of the goals, in more ways than most industries. Here’s how SDGs can provide guidance for tourism development and practise and enable the sector to play a better role in achieving the 2030 Agenda:

1. End poverty

Tourism creates income, jobs and economic growth and promotes small businesses, empowering particularly youth and women.

2. End Hunger

Tourism encourages the sale of local produce and promotes agricultural productivity - which is key to food security.

3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Foreign earnings and tax income contributed by tourism can be reinvested in heath care relating to maternal health and disease prevention.

4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

By investing in education and vocational training, it levels the playing field for more vulnerable groups like youth, senior citizens, women, indigenous peoples and those with special needs - promoting inclusiveness in tourism. 

5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Tourism has one of the highest shares of women employed entrepreneurs and it empowers women with income through job provision.

6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Tourism uses 300 to 2000 litres per tourist per day with facilities like pools, drinking, waste management and cooling. Through effective stewardship over the scarce resource in big sector, tourism can play a critical role in achieving water access and security.

7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Tourism's energy consumption is substantial. Because of its sheer volume and changing attitudes of consumers (Eg. Eco-tourism) it can accelerate the shift to renewable energy.

8. Promote sustained inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work

Tourism provides 1 in 11 jobs worldwide. By providing access to decent tourism work particularly to youth and women, they can benefit from increased skills and professional development.

9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

Tourism incentivises national governments to improve their infrastructure and industries as a means to attract more tourists and foreign investments.

10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

Tourism is a way for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to participate in the global economy and contribute to the country's progression.

11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Sustainable tourism can advance urban infrastructure and universal accessibility, preserve places of heritage and support regeneration of areas in decay.

12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

By adopting sustainable consumption and production (SCP) practices, tourism can be integral in accelerating the global shift towards sustainability.

13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

By lowering energy consumption and utilising renewable energy sources, tourism can help tackle climate change - a phenomenon it both contributes to and is affected by.

14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Coastal and maritime tourism rely on healthy marine ecosystems. Tourism can help enforce marine protection and serve as a vehicle to promote a blue economy.

15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Scenic landscapes, pristine forests, rich biodiversity and natural heritage sites are often main reasons for tourism travel. Tourism in this sector can help foster a respect for terrestrial ecosystems.

16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Tourism lays the foundation for more peaceful societies by creating a platform for interactions between people of diverse cultural backgrounds.

17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Tourism can strengthen collaboration amongst multiple stakeholders - international, national, regional and local - to work together to achieve the SDGs.


From these targets, we can see how tourism greatly impacts us environmentally, socially, and culturally. For tourism to contribute to sustainable development, a fundamental transformation of tourism is essential and urgent. 

More reading resources and recommendations here:

Green Tourism

Travellers for SDGs

Tourism and SDGs (Source)

Transforming Tourism

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