Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, sustainable tourism was becoming a trending topic. It was something that travellers were just starting to become aware of, and were trying to adapt their habits too. However, the pandemic put a screeching halt to the travel industry, and for several years, the tourism sector was simply just finding a way to move forward.

Today, the world is starting to get back to its new normal, and travel is on the rise once again. In the post-pandemic era, sustainable tourism is a top priority among most travellers. Many are now acutely aware of how a destination’s environment and culture can be impacted by travel.

New Zealand has been leading the sustainable tourism industry since 1999, and today, most countries and communities look to New Zealand for ideas and inspiration. Recent research shows that consumers are very interested in booking sustainable trips and tours, and it’s very likely that they will choose the eco-friendly option if it’s available. The trouble is that many tourists who are interested in sustainable travel do not know where to go or how to book the most environmentally-conscious vacation.

By understanding the rise of sustainable tourism in New Zealand and learning how to adapt your offerings at your tour and activity company, you can take advantage of this trend and increase your bookings among the most motivated travellers.

What is sustainable tourism?

what s responsible tourism

Sustainable tourism is a movement in the travel industry. Its goal is to develop practices that reduce the ecological impact of travel on both the environment and culture of a destination. Generally speaking, those in the sustainable tourism sector seek to acknowledge that there are both positive and negative impacts of travel in any given destination. For many countries and communities, the travel industry plays a major role in their economy, providing jobs to many in the local area and generating revenue within the community. However, at the same time, an influx of travellers who are not mindful of their ecological impact can have a negative impact on the environment, lead to increased pollution in a community, and have a detrimental impact on the local culture and traditions in the region.

Sustainable tourism is still considered a niche sector of the travel industry as a whole, but in the aftermath of the pandemic, there are more travellers who are making responsible tourism a top priority when they travel. Tour operators need to understand what sustainable tourism is and how they can incorporate these practices into their own business to attract the attention of motivated travel consumers.

The challenges facing travellers and tour operators who are interested in sustainable tourism

While most travellers are interested in sustainable tourism practices and many tour operators know that their customers are craving these options, there are still challenges facing both travellers and tourism businesses. The top challenges facing those interested in sustainable tourism include:

  • Many travellers find that there is a lack of information available regarding the best sustainable tourism practices, and they are unsure of how to implement these practices into their own experiences.
  • Tourists who are searching for sustainable travel packages often find that they do not have many options available to them, which can limit the scope of their experiences.
  • It can be difficult for responsible travellers to find tour and activity companies that offer sustainable packages and options.
  • Tour operators who are interested in updating their offerings to make them more sustainable are still dealing with lingering issues related to the pandemic, including ongoing restrictions and protocols, continued supply chain issues and staffing shortages.

What is responsible tourism: how New Zealand is leading the way

New Zealand has long been a destination that has appealed to people who love exploring natural, untouched environments and who appreciate the thrill of adventure. In addition, the local people who call New Zealand home have always been committed to caring for their community. 

what is sustainable tourism

According to the Responsible Tourism Partnerships Organisation, Responsible Tourism is about “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” Responsible Tourism requires that operators, hoteliers, governments, local people, and tourists take responsibility, and take action to make tourism more sustainable in their local communities.

As a result, it’s not surprising that the sustainable tourism industry is thriving in New Zealand, and even less surprising to find out that they are leading the way when it comes to developing the best, most viable, and even profitable responsible tourism practices.

Due to the local community’s efforts in promoting these responsible tourism practices, the sustainable tourism sector in New Zealand is expected to grow by more than 16 percent in the coming year. with an anticipated value of more than $8.1 million U.S. dollars. Some of the ways that New Zealand is leading the way in this sector are by:

  • Promoting the recreational activities that can be enjoyed in New Zealand while still protecting its culture and people.
  • Encouraging tourism businesses to participate in regenerative tourism, in which they plant additional local trees and plants to restore the environment that may be negatively impacted by travellers.
  • Partnering with other local tourism businesses in developing a strategic plan for implementing responsible tourism practices.
  • Creating marketing campaigns that accurately represent the local people and promote the ideals, cultures, and values of New Zealand.

The role of tour operators in sustainable tourism

Tour operators quite literally serve as the guide to a local destination, which means that they have an important role to play when it comes to implementing sustainable tourism practices. Tour operators also can actively work to overcome some of the challenges that need to be addressed to effectively promote and design sustainable tourism packages.

These are a few steps that tour operators can take to take advantage of the sustainable tourism trend and attract customers who are interested in adopting these responsible practices:

  • Tour operators can begin to minimise the emissions produced through each tour by relying more heavily on electric vehicles and alternative transportation options.
  • Tour and activity companies can create carbon-free excursions, such as guided hikes through a local area or bike rides into town to visit the best local restaurants.
  • Tour companies can partner with other local businesses, such as restaurants, shops or other service providers, to keep as much revenue as possible within the local economy.
  • Tour and activity companies can partner with local suppliers and hire local residents to maximise the positive impacts of the travel industry on the local community.
  • Tour operators can actively promote their sustainable practices to raise awareness about responsible travel options in the local area.

Your target audience: understanding the responsible traveller

Sustainable tour operator

As you begin to adapt your offerings and take the lead from New Zealand, you will want to develop an intimate understanding of your new target audience. The responsible traveller is quickly becoming a major demographic within the tour and activity industry, and you need to know how to reach this type of traveller through your marketing and promotional materials.

Generally speaking, responsible travellers span across all age groups, and they are becoming increasingly mindful of the impact that their excursions have on the local area. They are often:

  • Going to be insightful, open-minded, and craving information about the local culture, environment, and community
  • Looking to visit a destination where they can enjoy the natural beauty of the area and typically enjoy adventurous tours and activities
  • Prefer to work with local suppliers and support the local economy as much as possible

To attract this demographic, the tourism professionals in New Zealand have developed an innovative marketing campaign that promotes the local people, the spoken language and natural beauty of their country. They are actively inviting travellers to visit their country in a way that is respectful and responsible. So far, the campaign has been very successful, and it’s attracting sustainable travellers from across the globe.

Sustainable tourism examples to inspire you

If you are looking to be inspired by New Zealand’s commitment to responsible tourism, consider these examples they have implemented in their country:

  • Motu Kaikōura is a lodge in Auckland that invites visitors to come, stay and enjoy the spectacular views of the Fitzroy Harbour. However, the catch is that travellers need to volunteer to participate in the ongoing maintenance and environmental projects that they do to preserve the area.
  • The Wairaurahiri Jet is a jet boat tour through the Fiordland National Park that invites travellers to enjoy an immersive tour through the park to learn more about the natural species who call it home. In addition, guests can sponsor a trap that will remove local invasive predators from the area.


When you make changes to your offerings and begin to create more sustainable options for your clients, you will see that your bookings begin to quickly rise. To manage this influx in inquiries and bookings, you will need to have an online booking system in place that is designed specifically for tour and activity operators. Rezdy is the leading online booking and channel management system for the tour and activity sector, and we can help you seamlessly incorporate responsible tourism options into your business.

Curious to see how Rezdy can fit within your tour and activity business? Start your FREE 21-day trial or book a demo today.

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