Sustainable tourism is a form of tourism which involves being conscious of the potential economic, environmental, and cultural impacts of tourism. Sustainable tour companies and tourists who support the idea of sustainable tourism make extra efforts to ensure that their impact on the places they visit is positive, rather than simply neutral or negative. Several certification agencies inspect and accredit tour companies which offer sustainable touring packages, with the goal of creating an industry-wide standard which makes it easier for tourists to select companies to do business with.
The concept of sustainable tourism is closely related to ecotourism, a form of tourism which focuses on environmental and ecological issues associated with tourism, but sustainable touring is wider in scope. While sustainable tours are designed to address environmental issues related to tourism, other considerations such as the impact of tourism on the local economy are also incorporated into the sustainable tourism philosophy. In addition, this industry is very aware of the cultural impacts of tourism, especially on indigenous people.
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Companies which offer sustainable tourism typically address the concerns of their customers in a variety of ways. Many try to create tours with a minimal environmental impact, sometimes purchasing carbon offsets to compensate for the energy used in travel, for example. These companies also invest in the local economy, and encourage their patrons to do the same, promoting visits to local businesses, native craftspeople, and so forth, to ensure that more funds reach the local community.
The cultural impact of tourism is often addressed with sensitive travelers in seminars and classes before the trip. Such courses discuss religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and other issues which tourists may encounter. The goal is to allow people to witness and participate in traditional cultures without altering them.
Sometimes, sustainable tourism also involves an active contribution to the community. For example, tourists might volunteer with local organizations and help provide health care, housing, and other services to needy people in the community. Others might participate in environmental cleanups or donate to nonprofits and charities which serve the area.
You may also hear sustainable tourism referred to as conscious or responsible tourism. This philosophy recognizes the fact that economic, social, and environmental change can be very subtle, gradual, and sometimes irreversible, placing the focus on modifying potentially harmful behaviors before it is too late.