November 1, 2022

What are the Biggest Challenges of Sustainable Tourism Today?

Tourism has experienced immense changes in the recent past. The COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions of 2020 and 2021 made the last three years very challenging. Now that we are rapidly unravelling the post-pandemic era, there is hope for a rapid shift toward sustainable tourism, but the industry still faces numerous challenges. What are these challenges? How can destinations and businesses address them? Whether you own/run a hotel, travel agency or planning to start one, this post highlights some of these biggest challenges. We also highlight the best answers to the challenges.


A Brief History of Sustainable Tourism 

To appreciate the challenges facing sustainable tourism, it is prudent to go back to the beginning and look at its definition. 

Sustainable tourism, according to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), is the development that meets the needs of present tourists, businesses, and regions involved while protecting and promoting opportunities for the future. It focuses on managing the resources in a manner that social, economic, and aesthetic needs are achieved without compromising essential ecological processes, cultural integrity, life support, and biodiversity. 

Between 1995 and 2020, tourism growth reached 25%, and it now accounts for approximately 10% of the global economic activity. Before COVID-19 struck in 2020, tourism arrivals had reached a peak of 900 million. In 2022, the numbers have gained momentum, but it has also become a major threat to biological diversity at all levels. As we are going to see shortly, threats such as overcrowding and excessive waste are already threatening to tear fragile ecosystems apart. 

As the list of challenges facing ecotourism grows, it only indicates why urgent solutions are required. This is why every industry player should be involved to try and cut down travel carbon footprint and take tourism to the next level.  

Challenges for Sustainable Tourism Today

There are many challenges facing sustainable tourism today, threatening to reverse the gains achieved over the last few decades. Let’s highlight them: 

Poor Understanding of the Concept of Sustainability

The biggest threat to sustainable tourism is a poor understanding of the concept. Although it has been around for some time, the idea of sustainable tourism still looks pretty complex to many players in the hospitality industry. This is why most of them consider it an additional cost and opt to forego it to optimise profitability. For example, efforts such as replacing energy-intensive lighting with more efficient models appear expensive, but the truth is that they help to cut down the overall cost and reduce travel carbon footprint in the long term.

Failure to understand the concept of sustainability implies that the hotel industry is unable to take advantage of available opportunities. For example, failure to improve the environment and communities around a hotel is likely to lower the sustainability rating of a facility. For your facility to be considered a green hotel, it should factor in all three areas of sustainability, including environmental, social, and governance (ESG). 


Today, guests and visitors looking forward to having a unique experience or holiday prefer green hotels because they are more sustainable. However, some hospitality facilities present themselves as sustainable, whereas they are not. This is known as greenwashing and it is a great threat because it discourages others who are focused on operating sustainably. 

The most common form of greenwashing is failing to factor in all impacts of a hotel’s operations. If your company has adopted strategies to cut down travel carbon footprint only in its facilities, this might not be enough to claim it has hit zero carbon emissions. To correctly present your travel carbon footprint, you have to look at the extended supply chain. For example, are the suppliers of your hotel having high rates of emission to produce what you need? 

Large Amounts of Waste Released into the Environment 

Like other organisations, hotels release a lot of waste into the environment. Once in the environment, these wastes rapidly damage different components, from polluting water resources to choking ecological systems. For example, approximately eight million tonnes of plastic find their way into the oceans per year. These are from water bottles, gloves, packaging materials, and packaging containers. 

The main challenge with plastic waste is that they clog the water systems, damage spawning sites for fish, and easily result in fatalities when ingested. They also damage the aesthetic appeal of beaches and other visitor sites.  

In addition to plastic, organic waste presents a huge challenge to sustainable tourism. The bulk of this comes from materials used to prepare delicacies and food remains. Although they are decomposable, many of them are dumped in open dumpsites, wilderness, and forests. The problem becomes worse when the organics are combined with harmful chemicals that poison flora and fauna. 

High Energy Consumption 

To run a hotel or motel, almost every aspect requires electricity and energy. From the gym to the kitchen and guest rooms, hotels use a lot of energy to ensure that guests are comfortable. However, the high levels of energy consumption can quickly raise the travel carbon footprint and compromise sustainability efforts. 

High energy consumption also means that you will be getting more power-related bills. This will not only eat into the hotel's profits but could also get your business into conflict with the law. For example, most governments have installed laws and policies to help cut down emissions and match the UN's target of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Therefore, you can be penalised for not following these policies or have the licence cancelled. 

High Consumption of Water 

Although about 70% of the earth is made of water, only about 3% is fresh. Indeed, way less than that is available for human use because the bulk of it is locked in glaciers. This is why conserving water is very important for all parties. In the hospitality industry, about 150 gallons of water are wasted per day by each guestroom. This high rate of water consumption means that the hotel industry is adding to the current precarious situation, where about two billion people do not have access to clean water globally. 

Working in Silos 

One crucial thing about sustainability is that it requires all parties to work in cooperation. However, players in the hospitality industry operate in silos, making it a serious threat to success. When working alone, it is almost impossible to make any significant progress on matters of sustainability. This problem comes from: 

  1. Direct competition from other threats.
  2. Fear of sharing important information with other stakeholders: 
  3. Limited focus on matters of sustainable 

Missing the Sense of Urgency in Addressing ESG Challenges 

Most hospitality facilities, like other businesses, are busy working on ways to grow profits and expand globally. As a result, some players do not see the urgency of addressing the challenges for sustainability. This is a major challenge because failure to improve the environment, such as parks and biodiversity, could result in reduced visitor numbers to your region, country, or facility. 

Solutions for Challenges Facing Sustainable Tourism

Now that we have listed most of the challenges facing sustainable tourism, the next question is, "what are the solutions?" The good thing is that there is a long list of things that you can do to not only improve your hotel's sustainability rating but also help make the planet a better place for all. 

One of the most recommended methods is improving the energy efficiency of your facility. Green hotels today are using CONTINEWM nets to cut down energy use in their HVAC systems. This is a device that improves efficiency of a HVAC system by clearing positive electrostatic charges that cause resistance to air flow. CONTINEWM is installed on the front part of the HVAC's heat exchanger. The device is affordable, easy to install, and can reduce AC bill by up to 25% on average.

Other solutions for addressing the challenges to sustainable tourism include: 

  • Adopting a good sustainability plan for your facility which helps define clear goals for your hotel and partners. 
  • Making sure to include parties in your supply chain for greater impacts from your sustainability efforts. 
  • Partner with international organisations, such as Climate Fresk, for assistance with capacity building. The organisations have experts in matters of sustainability, and you can count on them to cut down your travel carbon footprint. 
  • Support the local community’s initiatives, such as cultural events. This can help to make them part of sustainable tourism so that they can also benefit. You should also consider sourcing some of the materials, such as food, from them. 
  • Support the development of legislation that promotes green hotels. This is crucial in ensuring that all hotels and players follow the same guidelines and principles for growth. 
  • Encourage the adoption of sustainable tourism education at all levels of education. This can help to demonstrate the importance of protecting our planet so that more parties are involved. When taught from an early age, sustainability can become a stronger pillar to reduce the danger of further damage to the planet. 

In this post, we have highlighted the major challenges facing sustainable tourism. They have proved to be serious threats not just to the tourism industry but to almost every enterprise out there. This is why every party should be involved. The solutions we have listed above can help investors to cut down their travel carbon footprint and improve the sustainability rating of green hotels. Remember that sustainability is a progressive journey where every achievement becomes a support for the next action.