When we think about sustainability, we usually automatically think of environmental sustainability. But sustainability encompasses much more than just protecting the physical environment. In fact, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation says:

Sustainable tourism takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.

Couple sitting on the verandah of Kestrel Nest Eco Hut in Mount Adrah, NSW enjoying a drink.
Above: Kestrel Nest Eco Hut, Mt Adrah, NSW. Photo Credit: Stephanie Hunter

While there are lots of different definitions out there, I really like this one because:

  1. It’s authoritative (from the UN).
  2. It is as relevant to ‘developed’ economies as it is to ‘developing’ ones.
  3. Both guests and hosts are invited to reflect on these issues.
  4. It highlights that sustainable tourism considers the socio-cultural and economic impacts as well as environmental impacts.

So sustainable tourism is much more than simply eco-tourism.

It’s a big concept, isn’t it? And of course we need to consider our current context. We live in an imperfect world, full of industrialised systems, regulations and social inequalities. We are already seeing the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. We cannot control or change everything personally (however much we might want to) – a lot is beyond our individual control.

But rather than despair about how big the problems are, what we can do is start by acknowledging our impact on the world around us and then consider what actions we can take to make it a more positive one.

As short-stay accommodation hosts, we can ask ourselves:

  • How does my getaway address the needs of visitors (guests)?
  • How does it address the needs of the industry?
  • How does it address the need to protect our environment?
  • How does it address the needs of my community?
  • What are the economic, social and environment impacts of my property currently?
  • What can I change – feasibly – to make them more positive and to limit negative impacts?

I’m sure if you asked yourself these questions you would uncover many ways in which you are already striving to meet these needs and have a positive impact. In such a complex area, there is no ‘perfect’ (say it again: there is no ‘perfect’!). But that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to improve over time.

We are all on this adventure together and in my future blog posts for Hosting with Heart I look forward to prompting further reflections. We are all on this adventure together!

Louise Freckelton is the co-owner of Kestrel Nest Eco Hut at Highfield Farm and Woodland in Mt Adrah, NSW. She also featured on episode 49 of Hosting With Heart. Listen to this episode here.