European countries top sustainable tourism index

A new report from The Economist Intelligence Unit assesses 10 countries on their commitment to developing and promoting sustainable tourism practices. European countries lead the index.

France and Germany topped the index and are the only two countries to receive overall scores in the 70s out of 100. The are also the only two countries in the index that have taken concerted and sustained action at the national level to develop policy, set targets and monitor results.

French regulations, for example, set specific targets and guidelines in areas such as carrying capacity and tourism transport. Germany has systems in place such as mandatory environmental impact assessments to measure, monitor and reduce water and energy usage in the tourism industry as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The third highest ranked country in the list was the UK, with a score of 62.4 out of 100. The average score was 46.3.

Sustainable tourism is quickly becoming a key issue around the world. Tourism is responsible for 5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – a number that is expected to grow in the coming years. Rising tourist numbers are leading to physical degradation of many natural and historical numbers, over-congestion, poor air quality and even rising rental prices.

“We are finding now that there are many destinations around the world, such as Venice, Barcelona, Amsterdam and others, where people are saying ‘Enough tourists; we don’t want any more’,” said Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

The index defines sustainable tourism as “the creation and maintenance of a tourism industry in which growth does not deplete but rather preserves or enhances local stocks of economic, social, cultural or environmental capital”.

Not surprisingly, the report’s authors found that the world’s developed countries have done more at the national level than their emerging-world counterparts to foster sustainable tourism by implementing policies and standards, coordinating with NGOs and the private sector, or ensuring protection of their cultural and historical assets.

But even while the index scores of developing countries are brought down by the lack of such policy, guidance and coordination, India and China score comparatively well – and above some rich-world countries – in the economic sustainability of their tourism industries. China is also the overall leader in the travel and tourism industry category, with India, Brazil and Indonesia making it into the top five, too.

“Twenty years ago I struggled to find examples of sustainable tourism. Now I have no problem finding them,” said Rachel Dodds, director of the consulting firm Sustaining Tourism.


Image credit: Cristiano Medeiros Dalbem via Flickr

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