A Journey Toward Sustainable Tourism

by Linda Giudice

More and more, mountain resort destinations and operators are engaging in “responsible tourism” as a pathway towards sustainable tourism.

Responsible tourism and sustainable tourism both seek to achieve the same thing: environmental stewardship, social justice, and balanced economic development. The major difference between the two is that, in responsible tourism, individuals, organizations and businesses are asked to take “direct” responsibility for their actions and the impacts of their actions. For this reason, responsible tourism has been adopted as a more practical term and approach used by industry and companies.

There is no “blueprint” for responsible tourism: it may be realized in different ways depending on the respective tourist market and/or destination.

Focusing in particular on businesses, according to the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism, it will have the following characteristics (as excerpted from source):

  • minimizes negative economic, environmental, and social impacts;

  • generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry;

  • involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances;

  • makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;

  • provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;

  • provides access for physically challenged people; and

  • is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence

While the challenges of sustainable tourism are boundless, some U.S. ski resorts and companies are trying to embrace these features and aspects of responsible mountain tourism. But achieving true sustainability is not a quick fix; “it is a journey not a destination.”

From this diversified portfolio of projects and initiatives, Aspen Skiing Company appears to be well on its way toward transforming its business operations and culture into a more sustainable one. Its environmental and social programs represent significant contributions to not only help reduce the company’s impact on the environment but to be a sustainable partner in the Aspen/Snowmass community and beyond.

In ASC’s own words: “Whether through our sustainability report, green development, habitat protection and enhancement, on-mountain education, climate protection or green purchasing efforts, our goal is to lead the skiing industry toward more sustainable practices. It’s a long slog, and we’re frankly struggling with the challenges, but we think we're moving in the right direction.”

As one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries, tourism will continue to place stress on natural environments, habitats, communities, and cultures. Along with businesses like Aspen Skiing Company, responsible tourists also can help reduce the impact of tourism and support the integrity of local cultures by seeking out destinations and businesses that are environmentally conscious, conserve natural resources, support local economies, and preserve community heritage and values for generations to come.

To this end, I encourage you take a look at the case study posted that examines the Aspen Skiing Company’s contributions to responsible tourism, its unique journey toward sustainable tourism, and the lessons it has learned along the way.

In Tourism in Mountain Regions: Hopes, Fears, and Realities, the case study Skiing and Sustainable Tourism in Aspen, Colorado, USA appears on page 49.

If you have an example of responsible mountain tourism in our region please share in the comments.