How can tour operators contribute
to sustainable tourism?
Sustainable tourism is defined by the UN World
Tourism Organisation 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”. A functioning
tourism industry relies on the natural environment, but also the wellbeing of
the community, businesses and people.
Tour operators play a central role in the tourism industry. As intermediaries
between tourists and tourism service providers, tour operators can influence the choices of
consumers, the practices of suppliers and the development patterns of destinations and can make an
important contribution to furthering the goals of sustainable tourism development and protecting the
environmental and cultural resources on which the tourism industry depends for its survival and
So, how can tour operators help?
1. Maximize social benefits for the local community
a. Suggest that your customers purchase local products to support the local community.
b. Don’t purchase products made from endangered species, and educate your customers if they may make
c. Support local projects – for example, by donating a percentage of your profits to wildlife
protection or social causes
d. Inform your customers of cultural or religious issues where they should be considerate
e. Make sure that none of your suppliers exploit children or break human rights conduct
2. Maximize social benefits for the local community
a. Invest in the area where your business operates – for example, by sending profit to the local
community to help preserve and protect the area your customers frequent. b. Contribute to the
preservation of resources which your company uses
c. Hire local staff, and provide adequate training
d. Source your supplies locally to support your local community
3. Reduce negative impacts on the environment
a. Take responsibility for damage to the environment by your potential use, and make sure to use
energy efficient measures
b. Use conservation and reduction measures for water, waste and energy
c. Offer incentives for your staff and guest to carpool or use public transport d. Provide your
staff with information and training on how to be more environmentally responsible
e. Reduce, reuse, and recycle – reduce waste, water and energy where possible f. Create an
environmental policy – and stick to it!
g. In walking tours, consider the size of your tour groups. Traveling in groups of small numbers has
less impact on the flora and fauna in an area than having hundreds visit at once
Tour operators can implement sustainable practices in all sections of their operations:
a. In their offices, companies should reduce the use of paper, water and other resources. b.
Companies should ensure labour rights are respected, and that staff are trained to implement
c. Tour operators should use sustainability criteria to plan tourism activities, for example by
avoiding places where tourism causes environmental damage. By advertising these criteria, they will
encourage destinations to meet them and attract new customers.
d. Tour operators must select local suppliers based on sustainability criteria and help suppliers to
become more sustainable. For example, they can promote suppliers who employ and train local staff in
e. Tour operators have access to tourists before, during and after their trip. Tourists should use
all these opportunities to encourage responsible behaviour.
The Tour Operators’
The Tour Operators’ Initiative (TOI) is a network that brings together tour operators who have
recognised the urgency of incorporating sustainable development principles into their operations.
The TOI’s mission is to improve the sustainability of the tourism industry, and to encourage tour
operators to make a voluntary yet firm corporate commitment to sustainable development.
The members of the TOI are taking actions in three key areas:
1. Supply chain management, to develop a common framework for the integration of sustainability
criteria into the selection and contracting of service suppliers. Common tools such as a guide for
good practice in the hotel sector (see Box) and sustainability purchasing guidelines are also
developed and used by all members.
2. Cooperation with destinations, to exert a positive influence and work with a collective voice to
influence the actions of all partners in destinations.
3. Sustainability reporting, to develop and test reporting guidelines and performance indicators on
sustainable development. One of the major achievements of the TOI is the development of the tour
operators’ performance indicators, which supplement the 2002 GRI Sustainability Reporting
Guidelines. The tour operators’ supplement is the result of a nine month process that included
numerous meetings and on-line exchanges with UNEP and the Global Reporting Initiative acting as
facilitators, and the active participation of all relevant stakeholders
The tour operations business has the potential to make an important contribution to sustainable
development because it reaches so many different people involved in the tourism industry, including
staff, clients, business partners and governments.