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Editorial

The largest industry in the world looks for sustainability

25 million tourists in 1950. 702 million in 2000. 1500 million in 2020. These round numbers showing the worldwide tourist flow reveal the growing importance of tourism as an industry. However, they also reveal a unique growth rate which generates both expectations and worries.

With the equivalent to 20% of the world population involved in tourist flows, and given that these tripled between 1995 and 2020, the issue of sustainability is unavoidable. The impacts of tourism can be seen in various aspects, such as the excessive use of natural resources, environmental damage and pollution, cultural erosion motivated by commodification, deterioration of living conditions for the local population subjected to predatory forms of tourism, scarcity and redefinition of priorities in public policies generated by tourism at a local level, and so forth. On the other hand, tourism has many virtues in terms of creating wealth, employment and innovation.

Within this context, global and local agendas have been placing sustainable tourism at the centre of the development policies. Tourism is increasingly the central axis of sustainable development agendas. A Resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on the 22nd December 2015 (A/RES/70/193) proclaims 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, assuming that “tourism can make a significant contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development, has close linkages to other sectors and can create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities”. At the same time, the resolution invites “all States, the United Nations system and all other actors to take advantage of the International Year to promote actions at all levels, including through international cooperation, and to support sustainable tourism as a means of promoting and accelerating sustainable development, especially poverty eradication”.

Sustainable development has also invaded the agendas of large tourism multinationals. For example, Booking.com, the largest worldwide online booking service, has been increasingly involved in issues of sustainable tourism. In 2014, the launching of Booking Cares provided the group's employees volunteer programs in non-governmental organizations, so to “take responsibility for the negative effects of tourism and keep the industry sustainable for future generations”. In 2017 the Booking Booster Programme was announced, designed “to turn tourism into a force for good by supporting a select group of extraordinary startups as they look to scale their businesses and impact globally, working together toward a more sustainable future for the global tourism industry”.

In Portugal, where the number of international tourists is steadily growing, where tourism is a priority in terms of development, and where Lisbon has registered the fifth largest increase in demand among European cities, it is an urgent priority to avoid exhausting the main focal points of tourist attraction. Within this context, the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development places essential challenges not only for national policies, but particularly for sectoral, regional and local policies.

Carlos Fortuna | Paulo Peixoto

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