Sustainable tourism, or how to combine attractiveness and sustainability

(c) Will Langenberg/Unsplash

Over the last few decades, tourism has become more readily available and more diversified, and has experienced a period of unprecedented growth. 2016 saw more than 1.2 billion international tourists, and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) forecasts 1.8 billion in 2030.

Tourism is an integral part of the economic development and the prosperity of many regions, but it is also closely linked to the management of waste, and of resources in general. On the eve of the summer tourist season, which will also see many outdoor events, how can tourism be combined with sustainability?


Tourism: a constantly growing factor of development that impacts local resources

Certain regions benefit from their natural, social and human assets to attract tourists, who contribute to local growth. The UNWTO estimates that tourism accounts for 10% of worldwide GDP and one in ten jobs, in catering, hotels, agriculture, retailing ... When they are away from home, tourists consume more in their quest for new discoveries and leisure, mainly on accommodation, food, transport and shopping.  These alternative modes of consumer behaviour increase the consumption of resources, such as food and water, and the production of waste, and in particular of organic waste, disposable products and the packaging of food that can be consumed on the move. This situation becomes all the more complex when the tourists are unfamiliar with local habits or waste sorting systems. And they sometimes forget their usual habits when travelling abroad.

These high concentrations and fluctuations of visitors, in restricted areas and for short periods, also make waste management much more complex in tourist resorts, which are not always up to the task.

The events industry resembles the tourism industry in many ways, and faces the same waste management issues: short events, visitors instead of residents, multiple players and the diversity of the waste. On average, an event that attracts 1,000 people, consumes 200 KWh of energy, 100 kg of paper and produces 500 kg of waste, which is about the equivalent of the annual production of one French citizen (ADEME). Events play a leading role in tourism, as demonstrated by the rising number of visitors to events like the Cannes film festival, the bullfights in Nîmes, the Tour de France, or the Glastonbury festival.

To find out more about waste and events, discover the interview with Paul Berthet from the AREMACS


Professionals have been working towards greater sustainability for several years

Striking images of natural landscapes spoilt by masses of waste have appeared in the media. Faced with the risks of environmental pollution that can be both the fruit and the threat of the growth of tourism, numerous players have launched initiatives to prevent any negative consequences and to make their activities more sustainable. Lyon and Helsinki, voted the capitals of sustainable tourism by the European Union in 2019, have both adopted more environmentally-friendly practices.

Sustainability is gradually emerging as a differentiating factor that attracts visitors looking for authenticity, who want to have a positive impact on the places they visit. A survey by in 2018, revealed the rising concerns amongst travellers about sustainability. 87% of tourists want to further limit their impact on the environment.

Numerous players now support the visibility and the promotion of the ecologically responsible practices of professionals, including the Vaovert, FairTrip or Voy'Agir localisation and booking applications, or labelling systems, such as Clé Verte and EU Ecolabel, or other more specialised systems, like Pavillon Bleu for ports and bathing resorts, Flocon Vert for mountain resorts and Eco-Table for restaurants.

Professionals operating in the tourism industry can adopt various solutions to reduce, reuse, recycle or recover their waste, depending on the local context, their priorities and the type of establishment. Remunerative solutions - anti-waste applications that enable restaurants to sell their left-overs instead of disposing of them ; radical solutions - in Thailand, the government temporarily closed Maya Bay beach, so that it could be cleaned and restored - ; collective solutions - in Corsica, in the Rispettu programme, hoteliers have joined forces to protect the environment and promote local know-how ; inclusive solutions (Westin is working with Clean the World to collect, transform and redistribute used soap and sheets) ; original solutions - at the Puy du Fou, ravens have been trained to collect cigarette butts ;  or commitments – visitors to Palau and New Zealand have to make a pledge to respect nature as they enter the territory.


An open and collaborative toolbox to improve waste management in the tourism and special events sectors

Faced with these challenges, Future of Waste, the programme launched in 2014 by SUEZ and makesense in favour of the circular economy, committed to reducing, reusing, recycling and recovering waste from tourism and special events in 2018.

In view of the multitude and the diversity of the waste flows (bedding, signage, biowaste, paper, cigarette ends, packaging, etc.) that professionals in the sector face, Future of Waste has created a freely accessible and standalone toolbox that is designed to help professional and voluntary organisers of tourism projects and special events to make the transition towards the circular and inclusive economy.




Developed in collaboration with professionals, this toolbox is constantly enhanced by members of the Future of Waste community through a database of solutions and references.

This toolbox contains a broad selection of content and tools:

  • Solutions fact sheets for 12 waste flows, with articles, videos and data sheets
  • A ten-step methodology and the associated tools
  • Testimonials by organisations that have adopted new practices.
  • A database of circular suppliers and projects.

If you want to launch an accessible responsible waste management initiative, check out the toolbox!


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