What is sustainable tourism?

By: Dave Roos

Sustainable Tourism in Developing Countries

Some of the world's poorest countries are rich in natural beauty and cultural heritage. In 2007, tourist destinations in developing countries around the world generated $319 billion in tourism spending. Unfortunately, much of this money doesn't stay in the developing country. Instead, it "leaks" out through imported goods and services, foreign-owned hotels and developments, and foreign airlines. Leakage of tourism income hovers around 40 percent in India, 70 percent in Thailand and scores as high as 85 percent in some African nations [source: UNCTAD].

Sustainable tourism is critical to the economic and health of developing countries because it keeps more money in the hands of local workers, businesspeople and entrepreneurs. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which helps develop and implement sustainable tourism initiatives around the world, sustainable tourism breeds small and micro business opportunities in places where few other employment options exist. Women and young people, in particular, can find stable work to help lift their families out of poverty [source: USAID].


The United Nations is a big believer in the power of sustainable tourism to resurrect struggling economies. The UN's World Tourism Organization runs a program called Sustainable Tourism - Eliminating Poverty (ST-EP) that trains local guides and assists communities in developing tourist destinations around existing cultural heritage sites. The ST-EP program also provides funding for small businesses and marketing help for promoting tourist destinations to the wider world [source: World Tourism Organization].

Aside from economic concerns, the negative environmental impacts of tourism are also felt much stronger in developing nations, because they lack the technology, infrastructure and government regulation to protect their resources [source: GRID-Arendal]. In Jamaica, for example, poor regulatory oversight allowed for hotels and restaurants in some of the country's most pristine and beautiful coastal areas to dump untreated sewage and other waste directly into the ocean.

In 1997, as part of a USAID partnership, the owners and staff of small local hotels in Jamaica were trained in the best practices in environmental conservation. Some of these hotels eventually qualified for international "green" certification and recognition as environmentally responsible destinations. The new environmental management systems employed in these Jamaican hotels have resulted in huge short-term savings from decreased energy and water consumption while preserving the long-term viability of the coastal habitat [source: USAID].

To learn more about sustainability revolution, see the the green living links below.

Related Articles


  • Coral Reef Alliance. "Threats to Coral Reefs" (Accessed April 22, 2011.)
  • GRID-Arendal. "Tourism and the environment: Enemies or allies?" February 4, 1999 (Accessed April 22, 2011.)
  • The World Bank. Global Economic Prospects. "Recovery in remittances, tourism, and commodity prices were positives for low-income countries." January 12, 2011 (Accessed April 23, 2011.)
  • United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. "Helping developing countries to become autonomous" (Accessed April 22, 2011.)
  • USAID. "Jamaica: Environmental Audits for Sustainable Tourism (EAST) Project" (Accessed April 22, 2011.)
  • USAID. USAID Sustainable Tourism. "Tourism as a Global Development Tool" (Accessed April 23, 2011.)
  • World Tourism Organization. "Sustainable Development of Tourism" (Accessed April 22, 2011.)
  • World Tourism Organization. Sustainable Tourism - Eliminating Poverty. "ST-EP Projects" (Accessed April 22, 2011.)
  • World Tourism Organization. "Why Tourism?" (Accessed April 23, 2011.)