How sustainable tourism affects the job market

Elena workshop

Although everyone talks about sustainable tourism, there are very few job vacancies in Europe for sustainable tourism experts. Apparently, the market does not push operators enough to evolve in this direction, although dedicated education programmes are slowly being offered. For the time being, It is more probable that an employer will ask the existing staff members to broaden their skills in order to have an eye towards sustainability, but the reverse process also occurs: professionals already trained in this sense raise their employer’s sustainability awareness.

The Sustainability Manager, when present in the team, is the main reference point for policies, actions and resources coordination. However, this is a position that rarely exists in travel companies and destinations, while other staff members are gradually adapting their skills to the new needs in a soft (and probably too slow) transition. Some of the job market changes in progress:

    All those who love statistics, data collection and data processing will have a big advantage: there is in fact nothing that can be defined sustainable if its impact is not measured. Here below a short list of measurements that, for example, are required by sustainable tourism best practices:
    - Measurement of the environmental impact of a company or a destination (energy consumption, emissions, deterioration of infrastructures and habitats, waste management, etc.), possibly using internationally shared measurement systems
    - Measurement of socio-economic impacts (job openings, individual skills increase, emigration reduction, local community benefits, overcrowding, pressure on public transports, increase in property value, etc.)
    - Action planning for impacts reduction and carbon offsetting (and related reporting)
    - Calculation of savings derived from alternative energy systems in place. These are activities that normally involve the administration and the marketing departments but, as they also concern the suppliers of a business and the partners of a destination, the purchasing / product department must make sustainability-driven choices as well.
    Measuring the impacts is not enough: we need to know how to reduce them. To do so, architects and engineers (for accommodations), biologists and ecologists (for parks, destinations and TOs), facilitators and cultural mediators (for TOs and destinations) are required. These are professionals normally hired for external consultancy, but not on a one-off basis: sustainable tourism operates in an adaptive management framework, in which any action plan is regularly monitored and reviewed based on its effects on environment, people, wildlife.
    Sustainable tourism never ignores the well-being of the local community or the protection of its cultural and environmental heritage. To operate in this sense, it is often necessary to involve a facilitator (who doesn’t preferably belong to that specific community) who facilitates the debate, settles the differences, enhances the common goals and helps people to work together. In some areas of the world, the NGOs or other cultural intermediaries are fundamental players to understand the social rules, behaviours and communication codes of the local communities.
    Since sustainable tourism aims to reduce impacts and improve the life of local communities, it often requires the establishment of a fund or the set-up of a financing system intended to secure a structured and long-lasting economic support. It is therefore necessary to create a system that conveys money to the projects that are identified as core (support to local crafts, improvement of infrastructures, preservation of cultural heritage, protection of natural areas, reforestation, etc.). This can be done through:
    - Percentage on overnight stays, tours, activities and other sales. If a tourist tax is already in place, it must be allocated to the core projects or to the established fund.
    - Voluntary donations
    - Merchandising
    - Fundraising campaigns
    The professionals involved can therefore be people with economic / financial backgrounds, fund and charity experts, marketing experts, fund-raisers.
    If their traditional role was mainly about informing and storytelling, tour guides who operate in sustainable tourism dynamics have at least two additional responsibilities:
    - Training and education, informing tourists about responsible codes of conducts;
    - Fund-raising, involving tourists in the local core projects and inviting them to give their contribution (strategy and necessary tools decided and provided beforehand by the Marketing and Finance departments).
    With sustainable tourism, the product acquires a centrality that it did not have in mass tourism. Mass tourism is above all marketing and sales, absolute maximization of numbers and turnover: the success of a product is measured mainly on the inflows and income increase. Sustainable tourism is quite another thing: it aims at a visitation rate equal only to the one that the destination can bear without being compromised. Furthermore, the assessment of its success also takes into account the benefits to the local community, the state of natural or architectural resources, and the qualitative improvement of the cultural offer. In this way, the tourists can also benefit from an incredibly more authentic and pleasant experience. The most important implication of this shift is that the market targeting becomes more difficult, as the customer profiling needs to be much more accurate. Today the responsible tourist is asked to pay a little extra on his trip, which must be justified not only by the project it funds, but also by the type of experience that is offered. The WOW factor or a remarkable USP become essential, while the results of the responsible tourism project have to be made absolutely tangible to all visitors.
    Those who work in communication and deal with sustainable tourism must be sure to highlight the salient elements of the project:
    - Spreading correct codes of conduct
    - Making reports and analysis available to travellers
    - Encouraging a more investigative and scientific journalism
    These are important guidelines for press offices, journalists, bloggers and anyone involved in tourism communication.

    Given the above, the shift towards sustainable practices implies an increase in individual professional skills, a greater involvement of external consultants and a quite radical change in the product strategy and in the communication responsibilities.

Elena Torresani
Written by Elena Torresani
Tourism Marketing and Product consultant, specialised in nature-based and wildlife tourism. GWU-certified Sustainable Tourism Manager.