Updated June 2023 – In recent years, the demand for green tourism has skyrocketed as more and more travelers seek out eco-friendly and sustainable travel options. As a tour operator, you have a unique opportunity to play a critical role in sustainable tourism and leave a positive impact on the destinations you visit.

But how can tour operators contribute to sustainable tourism in a way that benefits both the environment and their business?

In this guide, we’ll explore the important role of tour operators in sustainable tourism and provide practical tips for creating environmentally-friendly experiences that delight travelers while minimizing harm to the planet.

What does sustainable tourism actually mean?

sustainable tour operator

The World Tourism Organisation defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that 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.”

The role of tour operators in sustainable tourism involves more than just reducing the negative environmental impacts you make. Sustainable tourism tour operators actively help their local communities and raise support for conservation, ensuring that their destination remains pristine for generations to come.

Why should you care about sustainable tourism?

Sustainable tourism is not just a buzzword: it’s an essential practice that tour operators must implement in their business operations. 

Preserve the beauty of your destination

Sustainable tourism practices are an integral part of preserving the natural beauty and cultural heritage of your destination. As a tour operator, you are responsible for showcasing the best of your destination to your customers. By implementing sustainable practices, you can minimize the negative impact of tourism on the environment, such as pollution, deforestation, and damage to wildlife habitats. To put it simply, by becoming a sustainable tour operator, you can ensure that your destination remains attractive to tourists for generations to come.

Social responsibility

Tour operators have a social responsibility to the communities in which they operate. Sustainable tour operators contribute to the social and economic well-being of the local communities. This may take the form of hiring local guides, using locally sourced products, and supporting community-based tourism initiatives. All of this can help to create a positive relationship between your tour business and the local community, leading to increased goodwill and customer loyalty.

Cost savings

tour pricing

It’s also important to note that sustainable tourism practices can actually help you save costs in the long run. By reducing your energy and water consumption, for example, you can lower your utility bills. Similarly, using eco-friendly transportation options can actively reduce your fuel costs. All of these savings add up over time and contribute to the profitability of your tour business.

Attract eco-conscious travelers

It’s safe to say that the future of tourism is green. Against this backdrop, sustainable tourism practices can help you attract eco-conscious travelers who are willing to pay a premium for environmentally friendly and socially responsible travel experiences. These sustainable practices can differentiate your tour business from competitors and tap into this growing market segment, leading to increased revenue and profitability for your business.

Future proof your tour business

The tourism industry is evolving rapidly, and travelers are increasingly demanding sustainable and responsible tourism practices. By adopting these practices, sustainable tour operators can ensure that their business remains relevant and competitive in the years to come. As well as being a moral imperative, sustainable tourism practices provide a strong baseline for a practical business strategy.

8 steps to becoming a sustainable tour operator

The role of tour operators in sustainable tourism is just as important as the duty of travelers when it comes to protecting the environment.

But how can tour operators contribute to sustainable tourism in practical, cost-effective ways?

Here are 8 suggestions taken from the Global Sustainable Tourism (GST) Council and Sustainable Tourism on how to promote sustainable tourism as a tour operator:

1. Make the switch to sustainability at the office

A lot of the time, sustainability begins at home. And in the case of business practices, the home is the office.

When promoting sustainable tourism, tour operators should first consider the numerous ways they can tweak their office practices.

Some proactive steps to reducing your carbon footprint at the office are:

  • Switch to LED lights
  • Implement a recycling program
  • Permit flexible WFH options for roles where it works
  • Eliminate or limit paper use with digital alternatives, contactless solutions or a mobile booking app
  • Install water-saving fixtures
  • Incorporate renewable energy
  • Check machine energy efficiency and replace older, less efficient machines
  • Use hand dryers in the bathroom instead of paper towels

2. Support local communities

Tour operators possess the unique opportunity to drive positive change in their local community and help stimulate economic growth.

sustainable tourism tour operators

Supporting local economies will help instill a level of self-sufficiency into the future of your wider community. In turn, this will help attract new tourists to your destination. Here are some tips on how to support local communities as a sustainable tour operator:

  • Recommend locally-owned hotels, restaurants, and shops rather than international chains
  • Run partnerships with local businesses to offer gift vouchers on tours
  • If you provide food on your tour, source your ingredients from local businesses
  • Hire from the local community and provide a fair income for your employees
  • Encourage customers to purchase ethically and responsibly.

3. Reinvest into your community

Consider reinvesting a percentage of your profit back into the broader community. This money can be used to:

  • Invest in infrastructure, clean water, and education
  • Protect local resources and wildlife
  • Donate to local social and environmental projects

4. Choose appropriate travel destinations

While customers find authentic experiences appealing, this authenticity shouldn’t come at the cost of damaging precious resources, sacred cultural sites or the local environment.

Respect local cultures by ensuring that the sites you take your customers to can be exposed to increased foot traffic. Some locations may require visitors to dress or behave in a certain way. Respect will look different from place to place. This makes it particularly important to keep customers informed of what is expected from them.

5. Offer or promote low-emissions travel options

Vehicular travel plays a significant role in the amount of emissions transmitted into the atmosphere. Organizing eco-friendly transportation is a key measure you can take to actively cut down your carbon footprint and support green tourism.

You can also encourage low-emission travel to customers by recommending alternative, low-emission modes of transport to your location. Discourage customers from flying to their location if it isn’t necessary or consider promoting public transport by providing instructive information on your website on how to use local trains or buses to get to your site.

If your tour or activity business incorporates a shuttle service, consider investing in an electric or hybrid vehicle.

6. Promote cultural sensitivity among customers

Most of the time when travelers display ignorance of local customers, they are not purposefully trying to be disrespectful. Rather, inappropriate behavior while traveling often arises from a lack of awareness of local cultures.

Take the time to teach your tour customers about local cultural practices and discuss practical ways how customers can respect culture both during and after your tour. Inform your customers about local cultures in a fun and interesting way in order to inspire change.

7. Discourage littering

Everyone knows littering is bad for the environment, but sometimes people litter out of convenience. Encourage your customers to dispose of their litter properly by providing them with rubbish or recycling bags and limiting single-use plastics on your tour. Keep an eye out for littering and step in quickly if you spot out-of-line behavior amongst your customers.

8. Prevent wildlife interruption

role of tour operators in sustainable tourism

Tourists should never alter the well-being of animals, whether that be by leaving rubbish or being in a close enough proximity to cause the animal stress. Ensure that any interaction between your guests and wild animals takes place at a distance. Teach your guests the importance of limiting interactions with wild animals and avoiding any kind of conduct that damages an animal’s habitat.

Key takeaways

A major component of embracing eco-friendly practices in the office is abandoning paper in favor of digital alternatives. By doing so, not only will you be contributing to the environment, but you’ll also be streamlining your processes as well.

Tour bookings are evolving and it’s about time that the travel industry does too. By using an online booking software like Rezdy, you’ll be limiting paper use in your business and automating your admin duties. Rezdy allows you to access real-time digital manifests and manage your bookings in an entirely paperless system. By switching to an online booking system, you’ll be enhancing your customer’s booking journey and simplifying your business operations. Saving you time, money, and the hassles and headaches of performing all your admin duties manually.

Are you ready to reduce your environmental impact and smoothen your business processes? Start a FREE 21-day trial or book a demo with our team of experts, so you can test-drive high-quality reservation technology for yourself.

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