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Sustainable Tourism

The word Sustainable has really picked up a lot in the last 10 years. 

David Fennel recommends five goals with sustainable tourism.

1.  to develop greater awareness and understanding of the significant contributions that tourism can make to environment and the economy.

2.  to promote equity and development.

3.  to improve the quality of life of the host community.

4.  to provide a high quality of experience for the visitor. 

5.  to maintain the quality of the environment on which the foregoing objectives depend.

What Sustainability means to ASTC

Generally, there are three common elements with sustainability: 




ASTC believes the proof is in the pudding with sustainability.  It's not the completed paper work, or the medal on your chest.  It's letting stakeholders come over and look underneath the hood and seeing how things work, in person.  It's not about showing a document that shows you are sustainable, it's about showing all of the documents that show you are sustainable.

Such transparency should not be a chore, but part of your organizational practices.  This in turn will attract more investors, clients, and followers, and customers as the 21st century continues, because eventually everyone will have a sustainability certification or an endorsement as a check in the box.  

What makes the word sustainable so interesting is that its essence takes place in the future.

Looking at two extremes with the word:

On one end of the spectrum you have white washing or green washing, where a organization just uses the word as a gimmick to help with branding and marketing, and even to inflate their prices unfairly.  During hard economic times, the sustainability program would most likely be the first to be dropped.  

On the other end of spectrum the organization has done a lot of strategic planning and has created a model that at its core focuses on achieving their mission and vision while looking  at generally what is considered the three elements of sustainability, which are

Environment, Economy, and Society.

Some organizations use People, Profit, and Planet.  


This one appears simple, but requires some thought.  With nature based tourism, the product is the natural environment.  Is your business model going to end you?  How long do you want to stay in business?  What price or value is put on clean air and clean water?  This one is the second hardest to measure, however there are state and federal guidelines that enforce laws to protect the environment. 

Generally, in nature based tourism, the organization will use the environment to improve its economic and social goals; however, some organizations, typically a nonprofit, will do the opposite by using themselves to help the environment.  A model that focuses on ecotourism will at least have a balanced offering.  This can be done by actually taking revenue to improve the environment, or offering opportunities for volunteers to improve the environment.  ASTC calls this Voluntourism.  

ASTC believes that as long as you are complying with current laws you are sustainable.

Here is why:

Most of our five state region has only recently started to invest in tourism in earnest.  Much like a locomotive that is leaving the station, a lot of energy is being used but the train has barley moved.  ASTC recommends patience, but also applauds citizens who keep organizations honest and accountable.  Many organizations have the potential to go back and actively improve the environment later with donations to organizations, volunteer hours, or planting trees and the like.         


This might be the most simple to understand.  This typically involves a single bottom line, which are seen as profits and losses (fiscal).  Politically, this receives the most attention because people need jobs because there are taxes to pay.  If your organization stays in the black financially, then you have a economically sustainable business

A business that closes after so many months or years should not be considered unsustainable.  There are many factors involved.  For example, a owner who is about to retire might not be able to find suitable owners to take over their business and their best option is to close the doors.  Furthermore, they may be rapidly disrupted by advances in technology, politics, mainstream media, or consumer trends.     


This one is the hardest to measure, describe, and gain collaboration with.  People have their own interests and values that they want projected onto society.

For example, one of ASTC's guiding principle's is to revitalize rural Appalachia while preserving small town character.  This is somewhat of a paradox because one changes the other.

If your organization is creating jobs for small communities to keep the lights on in your home town, and also to keep schools from shutting down, then you are passively achieving a social responsibility and are indeed sustainable to ASTC. 


However, other organizations similar to ASTC may demand more active involvement and a double bottom line.


Typically a Nonprofit Corporation and a Benefit Corporation have a double bottom line.  This includes not only fiscal responsibility, but also a social responsibility that are found in their mission and bylaws. 

Interestingly, out of our 5 state service area, TN has the only Tourism related Benefit Corporation called Mountain Challenge.

ASTC identifies as a social enterprise.    Many of our goals and objectives we wish to achieve cannot be measured in the short term to place a $ value on.  Also, are vision can't be quantified (measured) in terms of cash value.  Because there are no quarterly or yearly profits from our social goal of diversifying the economy in our Appalachian region, we must create our own revenue streams and or motivate others to provide financial support.    

More about ASTC & Sustainability:

What ASTC is exited about

Thoughts on Sustainable Tourism Certifications

Generating a regional Trail Crew or Trail Crews for our region

Visit our sub-forum on our Sustainability reporting

@ASTC_LLC Twitter list:

Sustainable Tourism 

Environmental Stability

Economic Stability

Social Stability


Please join the discussion on what sustainability tourism means to you.

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