The Slovenia Times

On the Path towards Sustainability?



The concept of sustainable tourism development arose out of recognition of both the economic importance of tourism, as well as its realized and potential impacts. Its foundation can be found in the general concept of sustainable development, which first appeared in 1987 in the World Commission on Environment and Development's (WCED) report "Our Common Future", which placed the concept at the centre and promoted it as a vehicle for achieving ecological goals. Such development should, according to WCED, "meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

Although the tourism industry is regarded as being kinder to the environment in general than most other industries, its very size (898 million tourist arrivals in 2007) and widespread presence have created negative environmental impacts, both of a physical and social nature, in certain locations that have led to demands for a more sustainable approach to tourism.

In fact, once having realized that tourism was beginning to destroy the products it sought to promote, the concept of sustainable tourism development has, since the early nineties been developed by applying its main principles to the tourism field. Such forms of tourism should be able to sustain themselves, acknowledge and take into consideration the principle of the future and thereby ensure that any current economic activity will not have negative ecological, social or economic consequences in the future.

What is sustainable tourism?

Even a decade since the term sustainable tourism became generally known, the problem of the concept remains its relatively scarce practical implementation. Initially, the forms of "alternative" tourism such as eco-tourism, soft tourism, green tourism and pro-poor tourism were considered sustainable. However, these tend to be small scale and do little to improve general sustainability of tourism sector where more than 80% of tourist arrivals are still represented by so-called mass tourists.

Therefore, sustainable tourism, as it is perceived nowadays, is not a specific kind of tourism, but a concept for present and future development that aims to improve different kinds of tourism, even the mass type. Such tourism development should respect the natural environment and make optimal use of resources, promote and conserve the socio-cultural authenticity of host populations, provide prosperity and equally distributed benefits for local populations and ensure viable, long-term economic operations. Additionally, sustainable tourism should also maintain high levels of tourist satisfaction, raise tourists' environmental responsibility and require continuous, long-term participation and consensus building between all the stakeholders involved.

Environmental aspects of sustainability

Arguably, the environmental component of the sustainable tourism concept is the one that has gained the most attention and practical application. Since energy costs have constantly been growing, this has led the industry to become aware of the economic benefits of adopting environmental management techniques that decrease energy consumption levels. Moreover, the care for the environment became one of the crucial concerns of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UN WTO) and European Union (EU).

In the abundance of voluntary initiatives and instruments available for the management of tourism in an eco-friendly way there are some that lack credibility. As a remedy, the EU proposed the Flower-European Eco Label. The EU Flower isan officialsign of environmental quality that is both certified by an independent organisation and valid throughout Europe. It is a voluntary scheme with pre-set environmental criteria designed to encourage businesses to market products and services that are kinder to the environment and to allow European consumers to easily identify them.

Sustainable practices in Slovenian tourism

To become internationally competitive, Slovenian tourism has in the past been concerned with the development of new tourism infrastructure. Those efforts have been rewarded, as the World Economic Forum ranked Slovenia at the 36th place out of 130 countries in the 2008 edition of its Travel & Tourism Competitiveness report. According to Marjan Hribar, Director General of Slovenian Directorate for Tourism, it is now time to put an emphasis on developing and managing Slovenian tourism in a sustainable manner.

The first steps towards sustainability have already been taken. Last year, the newly built Grand Hotel Primus on Ptuj became Slovenia's first certified energy efficient hotel. Furthermore, Terme Snovik, a spa resort near Kamnik, was awarded with the EU Flower Eco Label in February and thus represents the first EU Eco labelled accommodation facility in Slovenia. Last but not least, Terme Olimia, a spa resort in Podčetrtek, initiated collaboration with local artisans and chefs by offering their guests holiday packages that contain typical heritage products and tasting of traditional meals.

Lipica Conference

A conference held as a part of Slovenian EU Presidency on 15th April in Lipica was organized by the Slovenian Directorate for Tourism. Before a significant audience, significant speakers, among others Luigi Cabrini, Director of Sustainable Tourism Development Department of UN WTO, presented various examples of sustainable practices and future challenges for European tourism.


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