Sustainability is a common term used across seemingly every industry in the world. It’s even been applied to the tourism industry. As the number of people traveling continues to rise, there is a parallel increase in the use of local resources and a strain on some communities as they try and meet the increased demand that tourism places on them.

This is why sustainable tourism has become such a focus for so many organizations, communities, cultures, and landscapes. As part of the Red Rocks Initiative for Sustainable Development, we preach and practice sustainability as a way to care for the natural resources in the Virunga massif region. But not everyone is familiar with these ideas or why they’re important. Join us as we explore the value of sustainable tourism and how it makes a positive impact on our community and on communities across the globe.

Defining Sustainable Tourism

While sustainable tourism looks different from community to community and across different regions, it enjoys a shared definition. Simply put, sustainable tourism is a method of travel and exploration in a region while being mindful of its culture and people, and your impact on the environment around them.

While some might argue that this is the same definition for tourism, the distinguishing feature, of course, is the sustainable aspect.

Why Sustainability in Tourism Matters

Perhaps now more than ever, there is a need for tourism to be mindful and sustainable. That’s because there are more people traveling than ever before. It’s estimated that in 1950, only 25 million tourists traveled internationally every year. Just a few short decades later, in 2017 an estimated 1.32 billion people traveled internationally.

Tourism is more than just a luxury, it’s a major economic motivator for many countries, nations, and regions. In fact, tourism makes up roughly 10% of the global gross domestic product. This means there is big money in tourism, but it also means that more resources are being used every day in a way that cannot be sustained eternally.

The Impacts of Tourism On the Environment

There’s no denying that certain sites and areas receive more tourists than others. As such, the resources in that area, be they natural or cultural, are being used faster than the resources in other areas. This puts the region at risk of losing important materials, icons, and ways of life that define the area. When these resources are exhausted, that area loses any economic viability, as there are no tourists traveling there anymore.

This marks the importance of sustainable tourism. When a region or organization commits to sustainable tourism practices, they’re also committing to minimizing the impact of these activities on local cultures, while also creating opportunities for employment, economic growth, and cultural celebration within a community.

This form of tourism breaks the cycles of dependence and exploitation that can sometimes occur in highly visited regions. By using sustainable tourism practices, communities can maintain their way and standard of life. Ultimately, this allows communities to retain their unique cultural identity and take part in activities that are in keeping with their values rather than relying on a commercial interest that only benefits outside visitors.

How Red Rocks Employs Sustainable Tourism Practices

Our initiative uses sustainable tourism as a foundation for our peacebuilding efforts in the Virunga massif region. It serves as a way to introduce new people to the rich and diverse cultures in the region, while also sparking dialogues about how to better coexist with one another. We believe that tourism is uniquely suited for promoting the values of tolerance, cultural understanding, and mutual respect.

If you’re interested in supporting our efforts to expand our sustainable tourism programs in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, then we invite you to donate to our initiative today.