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5 Ethical Considerations for Destination Marketing: Community Impact, Sustainability and Ecotourism

Posted on: July 26, 2019

The growth of tourism has resulted in a pushback from communities around popular attractions. As the harmful effects of tourism become more widespread, destination marketers have become more mindful of the ethical balance they need to maintain between attracting visitors to a place and limiting their impact. These concerns about ‘overtourism’ demonstrate the necessity for ‘virtuous’ destination marketing, focusing on limiting community impact, sustainability, and ecotourism. Here are some factors to consider for marketers in the tourism industry, with more information available in these titles from Apple Academic/Routledge.


Go off the beaten track

When marketing your destination, be aware of rising tensions in locations around the world. According to Responsible Travel, overtourism occurs when too many visitors overload the destination community. Symptoms include: increased house rents and property prices; traffic congestion; and environmental impact. Many government authorities are now responding to this backlash, so be aware of how changes will affect your destination – increased tourist taxes being only one example. For those marketers and salespeople who can identify changing tastes in their destinations and in their target market, this can present an opportunity. Promoting destinations ‘off the beaten track’, or working with authorities to keep tourist revenue in the local economy are two ways of presenting the ethical benefits of your product to tourists with changing tastes or hankering for new ‘authentic’ experiences.


Connect with the community

Responding to overtourism, efforts are underway to ensure local communities feel the benefits of tourism, not just the ill effects. Highlighting how communities benefit can open up opportunities for marketing destinations, and introduce new packages catering to experience-led tourists looking for more ‘authentic’ encounters with their destination. Being aware of how the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are driving community benefits can help - goal 11 highlights making cities and settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. In Portugal for example this has provided an opportunity to support community-led sustainable development with tourism driving the renewal of traditional villages, building short supply chains and local markets as a means of improving market access, and the eradication of poverty for many communities.

Leverage conservation

Promoting wildlife experiences as tourist destinations can expose many ethical issues. Whilst trophy hunting is treated with much opprobrium, examples exist of national parks using managed hunting to funnel funds into conservation efforts, to manage populations and natural environments, and to bring money into some of the poorest regions in the world. It is important that these tourist destinations treat the wildlife responsibly, and marketing can help promote good practice, ensuring this is a USP to attract today’s ethically-minded tourists. Demonstrating that animals are not harassed or kept in captivity, and that ecological impact is kept to a minimum, are key to a successful ethical wildlife destination. These principles apply outside of safaris too. The ‘blue economy’ promotes awareness of responsible stewardship of the world’s oceans, with countries now looking at sustainable coastal and marine tourism within their communities. Many private sector enterprises are becoming increasingly aware of the mutually beneficial relationship between the preservation of natural ecosystems and tourism revenues. Natural marine environments including beaches, coral reefs, rivers and lakes are considered prime tourism assets, and their preservation can be aided by sustainable tourism. Marketing these destinations with a consideration of the SDGs and the ethical benefits of tourism could be key to attracting visitors.


Sustainability sells

Sustainability can be a key competitive advantage for businesses within the tourism industry, providing them with a key selling point for their destinations, and not just limited to reducing the impact of tourism on communities and the environment. Some global brands have gone further, aligning their Corporate Social Responsibility policies with the UN Sustainable Development Goals –identifying a way to ensure CSR policies promote sustainability and competitiveness.

Marketers can play a key role in driving competitiveness through sustainable tourism - understanding and encouraging ethical consumer behaviour, and creating and promoting sustainable offerings in response. Additionally, marketers can play a key role in encouraging their organisations to operate profitably and ethically, taking into account all stakeholders and ensuring that a destination serves the needs of visitors and stakeholders now and into the future.

Go green

Nature-based tourism is one of the sector’s fastest growing segments, offering opportunities for ethical destination marketing. According to The International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is defined as:

“responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the
well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015)

Ecotourism unites sustainability, positive community engagement and conservation of natural resources, ensuring the impact of tourism is beneficial to all stakeholders. Principles of successful ecotourism include promoting awareness of the host countries’ social and environmental conditions, ensuring that the benefits of tourism funnel back into local communities for conservation or local economic development, and that facilities and activities are low-impact and minimize the detrimental effects on destination communities. The positive stories available to marketers can help frame successful destination marketing strategies, especially as tourist tastes change to include positive experiences, adventure, or a connection with their destination, rather than more traditional tourist hotspots and relaxation.


Want to know more?  Check out the collection on the hospitality and tourism industry.