How To Achieve Sustainable Tourism Development

Promoting the well-being of tourism destinations
A large colorful tapestry dwarfs people on the village streets

Photo Credit: Paul Rogers

There’s a lot of talk these days about sustainable tourism development. As an individual operator, you may already be doing everything you can to conduct business sustainably—from serving locally sourced foods and reducing plastic use to directly supporting conservation projects.

But if we’re going to achieve real change—for sustainable tourism to be adopted on an industry-wide, global scale—it’s going to take more than individual effort. It’s going to take carefully planned and data-driven policies enacted by the destinations themselves.

Perhaps nobody knows this better than Paul Rogers. With a Ph.D. in tourism, conservation, and development, Rogers and has been advising destinations on sustainable tourism development for over 25 years.

Currently, Rogers directs Planet Happiness, a non-profit project of the Happiness Alliance which helps destinations use tourism as a vehicle for improving the quality of life in host communities.

What are the benefits of sustainable tourism development?

Sustainable tourism leads to economic well-being for locals, preservation of natural and cultural resources, and a more enjoyable travel experience for visitors.

Rogers uses Nepal’s Everest region as a prime example of what sustainable tourism development should aim for.

“When I first went out there, the park was suffering extensively from deforestation as people were chopping down trees to build lodges and burn firewood. This was at a time when National Geographic Magazine was profiling the area as, ‘follow the litter and toilet-paper trail to the Everest Basecamp’.

“But 30 years later, reforestation programs are not just underway but immensely successful. Just look at the regeneration of the forests inside and outside the park. Look at the way that the Sherpas formed a local group called Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) to manage waste responsibly—to collect it and dispose of it in a responsible manner. Look at the way agricultural systems have adapted to allow people to produce more fruit and vegetables that feed into the tourism economy.

“Honestly, it's one of the world's most successful examples of local economic, environmental, and community development through tourism. They have the best rural education system in the country. They have the best rural health service in the country. And tourism helps fund a lot of these programs. Thirty to fifty percent of the income that is generated from the National Park is spent on community development projects.”

Paul Rogers pictured before a mountainscape in Nepal
Photo Credit: Paul Rogers, all rights reserved

What indicators can be used to measure sustainable tourism development?

Planet Happiness gathers well-being data in eleven different areas, called domains, that are used to measure sustainable tourism development. These domains encompass things like a sense of community, satisfaction with life, physical health, access to health services, trust in government, and satisfaction with the local environment.

The domains are measured using the Happiness Index survey, a 10-15 minute online survey that is based on Bhutan’s pioneering approach to Gross National Happiness.

Planet Happiness partners with destinations to deploy the community-wide survey. This yields in-depth reporting on the well-being of the local population, which is summarized in a handy, one-page scorecard that can be used by the destination to drive evidence-based sustainable tourism development.

How Planet Happiness provides sustainable tourism development guides for local planners

Tourism is developed for the benefit of host communities, or it should be. Host communities should be the primary beneficiaries of tourism activity. And if they're not benefiting or if there's overcrowding and too much tourism... then, the only way that you're going to address those issues is by working with local communities and involving them in decision-making.” -Paul Rogers, Planet Happiness

Planet Happiness employs a 10-step process for helping communities develop more sustainable tourism.

“It’s not rocket science,” says Rogers. It’s “typical of any process that you would follow to prepare a destination management plan. We just add  these extra steps of local consultation that are underpinned by deploying the survey.”

Part of the process that Planet Happiness goes through with a partner community is to share a resource called The Playbook. It acts as a guide to sustainable tourism development with sections covering each of the Happiness Index domains. In it, are examples of the kind of policies or actions that can be implemented to strengthen the quality of life under that domain.

“There might be things like farmers’ markets to access organic fruit and vegetables. There might be handicraft initiatives. There might be creches for hotel workers to have their children looked after while they're at work. There might be environmental cleanup programs...We have a number of conversation starters that we give to local communities for them to propose what is most important for their community,” says Rogers.

Photo Credit: Paul Rogers, all rights reserved

How you can get involved in spreading the Planet Happiness agenda

While Planet Happiness works primarily with destination management organizations, Rogers says there’s a lot that individuals and businesses can do to get involved.

The first thing he suggests is, “review our website, watch our short videos that introduce our work and explain our approach.” Then, “share this information with  your local tourism or hotel association so they can lobby destination managers to join Planet Happiness.”

The Happiness Alliance website also contains resources for individuals, households, and communities who want to engage with the well-being agenda. Rogers says that simply engaging with such resources often sparks ideas for how you can support your community’s well-being.

Finally, Rogers suggests having employees fill out the Happiness Index survey and using it to create policies within your company that promote well-being. This may have the added benefit of reducing employee turnover.

“It’s a reality of the tourism industry, especially in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, that many of the people working in the industry jump from one company to the next, [sometimes] for as little as a $5 increase in their pay package. But if they can see the company is focused on their well-being and their quality of life, they are less likely to leave,” says Rogers.

You can follow Planet Happiness on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Wondering how to promote your sustainable tourism projects?