Sustainability is often overlooked in difficult economic times, but Travel Foundation acting chief executive Salli Felton argues it’s more relevant than ever

I often ask why there isn’t a greater appetite for sustainable tourism in the travel industry.

The easy answer is it’s just too much to think about, especially with more immediate economic concerns.

But through my work at the Travel Foundation I have found there are five key misconceptions about sustainable tourism.

1. It doesn’t apply to mainstream companies

A lot of people believe sustainable tourism only needs to be considered by small, niche eco-tourism companies. That couldn’t be more wrong.

Sustainable tourism respects local people and travellers, cultural heritage and the environment, and is relevant to every type of company – big, small, specialist or mainstream.

2. It is just about the environment

Yes, protecting coral reefs, forests and wildlife is part of sustainable practice, but it is as much about local communities as about the environment.

It’s about supporting people who rely on tourism for a living, and making sure they are paid fairly.

For example, it can involve connecting local farmers with hotel owners so they are able to supply locally produced fruit and vegetables.

3. It only applies to eco holidays

Sustainable tourism is just as relevant to a family going to Europe for a week of sun as to a couple going trekking in Nepal.

It is about all the small things that make a difference, like encouraging customers to try new tastes in a local restaurant or getting out on an excursion to experience a destination’s natural and cultural heritage.

4. Sustainable can’t mean luxury

Wrong! There is strong evidence that luxury travellers have the highest expectations.

High-end customers want to engage with destinations and have memorable experiences.

Luxury consumers often seek authenticity and, as with fashion, there is growing demand for quality craftsmanship. It’s less about hotel ‘bling’ and more about the fact that simplicity can be luxurious too.

5. Being sustainable costs more

Integrating sustainable principles into a business is really just about reviewing current practices, adding sustainability considerations into existing systems.

Although it may mean a time commitment, the costs do not have to be high. In fact, done properly, being sustainable can save money.

It’s important we plug the knowledge gap in the industry so all travel staff understand how sustainable tourism helps the environment, communities and, ultimately, the holiday product.

Our new training site does just that. The first quiz available on the site, Go Greener Holidays, is a great starting point – and can be completed in less than 30 minutes.