Sustainable tourism

Related sdgs, promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable ....

promoting sustainable tourism development research



Tourism is one of the world's fastest growing industries and an important source of foreign exchange and employment, while being closely linked to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of many countries, especially developing countries. Maritime or ocean-related tourism, as well as coastal tourism, are for example vital sectors of the economy in small island developing States (SIDS) and coastal least developed countries (LDCs) (see also: The Potential of the Blue Economy report as well as the Community of Ocean Action on sustainable blue economy).

The World Tourism Organization 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".

Based on General assembly resolution 70/193, 2017 was declared as the  International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development SDG target 8.9, aims to “by 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”. The importance of sustainable tourism is also highlighted in SDG target 12.b. which aims to “develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”.

Tourism is also identified as one of the tools to “by 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries” as comprised in SDG target 14.7.

In the Rio+20 outcome document The Future We want, sustainable tourism is defined by paragraph 130 as a significant contributor “to the three dimensions of sustainable development” thanks to its close linkages to other sectors and its ability to create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities. Therefore, Member States recognize “the need to support sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity-building that promote environmental awareness, conserve and protect the environment, respect wildlife, flora, biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural diversity, and improve the welfare and livelihoods of local communities by supporting their local economies and the human and natural environment as a whole. ” In paragraph 130, Member States also “call for enhanced support for sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity-building in developing countries in order to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development”.

In paragraph 131, Member States “encourage the promotion of investment in sustainable tourism, including eco-tourism and cultural tourism, which may include creating small- and medium-sized enterprises and facilitating access to finance, including through microcredit initiatives for the poor, indigenous peoples and local communities in areas with high eco-tourism potential”. In this regard, Member States also “underline the importance of establishing, where necessary, appropriate guidelines and regulations in accordance with national priorities and legislation for promoting and supporting sustainable tourism”.

In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg called for the promotion of sustainable tourism development, including non-consumptive and eco-tourism, in Chapter IV, paragraph 43 of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

At the Johannesburg Summit, the launch of the “Sustainable Tourism – Eliminating Poverty (ST-EP) initiative was announced. The initiative was inaugurated by the World Tourism Organization, in collaboration with UNCTAD, in order to develop sustainable tourism as a force for poverty alleviation.

The UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) last reviewed the issue of sustainable tourism in 2001, when it was acting as the Preparatory Committee for the Johannesburg Summit.

The importance of sustainable tourism was also mentioned in Agenda 21.

For more information and documents on this topic,  please visit this link

UNWTO Annual Report 2015

2015 was a landmark year for the global community. In September, the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a universal agenda for planet and people. Among the 17 SDGs and 169 associated targets, tourism is explicitly featured in Goa...

UNWTO Annual Report 2016

In December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. This is a unique opportunity to devote a year to activities that promote the transformational power of tourism to help us reach a better future. This important cele...

Emerging Issues for Small Island Developing States

The 2012 UNEP Foresight Process on Emerging Global Environmental Issues primarily identified emerging environmental issues and possible solutions on a global scale and perspective. In 2013, UNEP carried out a similar exercise to identify priority emerging environmental issues that are of concern to ...

Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom, We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for su...

15 Years of the UNWTO World Tourism Network on Child Protection: A Compilation of Good Practices

Although it is widely recognized that tourism is not the cause of child exploitation, it can aggravate the problem when parts of its infrastructure, such as transport networks and accommodation facilities, are exploited by child abusers for nefarious ends. Additionally, many other factors that contr...

Towards Measuring the Economic Value of Wildlife Watching Tourism in Africa

Set against the backdrop of the ongoing poaching crisis driven by a dramatic increase in the illicit trade in wildlife products, this briefing paper intends to support the ongoing efforts of African governments and the broader international community in the fight against poaching. Specifically, this...

Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012

Previous Caribbean assessments lumped data together into a single database regardless of geographic location, reef environment, depth, oceanographic conditions, etc. Data from shallow lagoons and back reef environments were combined with data from deep fore-reef environments and atolls. Geographic c...

Natural Resources Forum: Special Issue Tourism

The journal considers papers on all topics relevant to sustainable development. In addition, it dedicates series, issues and special sections to specific themes that are relevant to the current discussions of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)....

Thailand: Supporting Sustainable Development in Thailand: A Geographic Clusters Approach

Market forces and government policies, including the Tenth National Development Plan (2007-2012), are moving Thailand toward a more geographically specialized economy. There is a growing consensus that Thailand’s comparative and competitive advantages lie in amenity services that have high reliance...

Road Map on Building a Green Economy for Sustainable Development in Carriacou and Petite Martinique, Grenada

This publication is the product of an international study led by the Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) in cooperation with the Ministry of Carriacou and Petite Martinique Affairs and the Ministry of Environment, Foreig...

Natural Resources Forum, a United Nations Sustainable Development Journal (NRF)

  Natural Resources Forum, a United Nations Sustainable Development Journal, seeks to address gaps in current knowledge and stimulate relevant policy discussions, leading to the implementation of the sustainable development agenda and the achievement of the Sustainable...

UN Ocean Conference 2025

Our Ocean, Our Future, Our Responsibility “The ocean is fundamental to life on our planet and to our future. The ocean is an important source of the planet’s biodiversity and plays a vital role in the climate system and water cycle. The ocean provides a range of ecosystem services, supplies us with

UN Ocean Conference 2022

The UN Ocean Conference 2022, co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and Portugal, came at a critical time as the world was strengthening its efforts to mobilize, create and drive solutions to realize the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

58th Session of the Commission for Social Development – CSocD58

22nd general assembly of the united nations world tourism organization, world tourism day 2017 official celebration.

This year’s World Tourism Day, held on 27 September, will be focused on Sustainable Tourism – a Tool for Development. Celebrated in line with the 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the Day will be dedicated to exploring the contribution of tourism to the Sustainable Deve

World Tourism Day 2016 Official Celebration

Accessible Tourism for all is about the creation of environments that can cater for the needs of all of us, whether we are traveling or staying at home. May that be due to a disability, even temporary, families with small children, or the ageing population, at some point in our lives, sooner or late

4th Global Summit on City Tourism

The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the Regional Council for Tourism of Marrakesh with support of the Government of Morroco are organizing the 4th Global Summit on City Tourism in Marrakesh, Morroco (9-10 December 2015). International experts in city tourism, representatives of city DMOs, of

2nd Euro-Asian Mountain Resorts Conference

The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and Ulsan Metropolitan City with support of the Government of the Republic of Korea are organizing the 2nd Euro-Asian Mountain Resorts Conference, in Ulsan, Republic of Korea (14 - 16 October 2015). Under the title “Paving the Way for a Bright Future for Mounta

21st General Assembly of the United Nations World Tourism Organization

Unwto regional conference enhancing brand africa - fostering tourism development.

Tourism is one of the Africa’s most promising sectors in terms of development, and represents a major opportunity to foster inclusive development, increase the region’s participation in the global economy and generate revenues for investment in other activities, including environmental preservation.

Title Type Date
Secretary-General Reports 31-Jul-2018
Secretary-General Reports 30-Jul-2018
Secretary-General Reports 19-Jul-2017
Resolutions and decisions 9-Feb-2017
Secretary-General Reports 19-Jul-2016
Resolutions and decisions 16-Feb-2016
Resolutions and decisions 16-Feb-2016
Resolutions and decisions 16-Dec-2015
Other documents 4-Dec-2015
Secretary-General Reports 31-Jul-2015
Secretary-General Reports 30-Jul-2015
Resolutions and decisions 19-Dec-2014
Meeting reports 24-Nov-2014
Other documents 26-Sep-2014
Other documents 11-Mar-2014
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Session 3.1 15-Nov-2014
Session 2 15-Oct-2014
Session 4.3 15-Oct-2014
Session 4.3 15-Oct-2014
Session 4 15-Oct-2014
Session 3.1 15-Oct-2014
Session 3.1 15-Oct-2014
Session 3.1 15-Oct-2014
Session 3.2 15-Oct-2014
Session 2 15-Oct-2014
Session 2 15-Oct-2014
Session 1 15-Oct-2014
Session 4 15-Oct-2014
Session 5 15-Oct-2014
Session 3.1 15-Oct-2014
  • January 2017 International Year of Tourism In the context of the universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the International Year aims to support a change in policies, business practices and consumer behavior towards a more sustainable tourism sector that can contribute to the SDGs.
  • January 2015 Targets 8.9, 12 b,14.7 The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commits Member States, through Sustainable Development Goal Target 8.9 to “devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”. The importance of sustainable tourism, as a driver for jobs creation and the promotion of local culture and products, is also highlighted in Sustainable Development Goal target 12.b. Tourism is also identified as one of the tools to “increase [by 2030] the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries”, through Sustainable Development Goals Target 14.7.
  • January 2012 Future We Want (Para 130-131) Sustainable tourism is defined as a significant contributor “to the three dimensions of sustainable development” thanks to its close linkages to other sectors and its ability to create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities. Therefore, Member States recognize “the need to support sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity-building that promote environmental awareness, conserve and protect the environment, respect wildlife, flora, biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural diversity, and improve the welfare and livelihoods of local communities” as well as to “encourage the promotion of investment in sustainable tourism, including eco-tourism and cultural tourism, which may include creating small and medium sized enterprises and facilitating access to finance, including through microcredit initiatives for the poor, indigenous peoples and local communities in areas with high eco-tourism potential”.
  • January 2009 Roadmap for Recovery UNWTO announced in March 2009 the elaboration of a Roadmap for Recovery to be finalized by UNWTO’s General Assembly, based on seven action points. The Roadmap includes a set of 15 recommendations based on three interlocking action areas: resilience, stimulus, green economy aimed at supporting the tourism sector and the global economy.
  • January 2008 Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria represent the minimum requirements any tourism business should observe in order to ensure preservation and respect of the natural and cultural resources and make sure at the same time that tourism potential as tool for poverty alleviation is enforced. The Criteria are 41 and distributed into four different categories: 1) sustainability management, 2) social and economic 3) cultural 4) environmental.
  • January 2003 WTO becomes a UN specialized body By Resolution 453 (XV), the Assembly agreed on the transformation of the WTO into a United Nations specialized body. Such transformation was later ratified by the United Nations General Assembly with the adoption of Resolution A/RES/58/232.
  • January 2003 1st Int. Conf. on Climate Change and Tourism The conference was organized in order to gather tourism authorities, organizations, businesses and scientists to discuss on the impact that climate change can have on the tourist sector. The event took place from 9 till 11 April 2003 in Djerba, Tunisia.
  • January 2002 World Ecotourism Summit Held in May 2002, in Quebec City, Canada, the Summit represented the most important event in the framework of the International Year of Ecosystem. The Summit identified as main themes: ecotourism policy and planning, regulation of ecotourism, product development, marketing and promotion of ecotourism and monitoring costs and benefits of ecotourism.
  • January 1985 Tourism Bill of Rights and Tourist Code At the World Tourism Organization Sixth Assembly held in Sofia in 1985, the Tourism Bill of Rights and Tourist Code were adopted, setting out the rights and duties of tourists and host populations and formulating policies and action for implementation by states and the tourist industry.
  • January 1982 Acapulco Document Adopted in 1982, the Acapulco Document acknowledges the new dimension and role of tourism as a positive instrument towards the improvement of the quality of life for all peoples, as well as a significant force for peace and international understanding. The Acapulco Document also urges Member States to elaborate their policies, plans and programmes on tourism, in accordance with their national priorities and within the framework of the programme of work of the World Tourism Organization.
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Article contents

The role of tourism in sustainable development.

  • Robert B. Richardson Robert B. Richardson Community Sustainability, Michigan State University
  • Published online: 25 March 2021

Sustainable development is the foundational principle for enhancing human and economic development while maintaining the functional integrity of ecological and social systems that support regional economies. Tourism has played a critical role in sustainable development in many countries and regions around the world. In developing countries, tourism development has been used as an important strategy for increasing economic growth, alleviating poverty, creating jobs, and improving food security. Many developing countries are in regions that are characterized by high levels of biological diversity, natural resources, and cultural heritage sites that attract international tourists whose local purchases generate income and support employment and economic development. Tourism has been associated with the principles of sustainable development because of its potential to support environmental protection and livelihoods. However, the relationship between tourism and the environment is multifaceted, as some types of tourism have been associated with negative environmental impacts, many of which are borne by host communities.

The concept of sustainable tourism development emerged in contrast to mass tourism, which involves the participation of large numbers of people, often in structured or packaged tours. Mass tourism has been associated with economic leakage and dependence, along with negative environmental and social impacts. Sustainable tourism development has been promoted in various ways as a framing concept in contrast to these economic, environmental, and social impacts. Some literature has acknowledged a vagueness of the concept of sustainable tourism, which has been used to advocate for fundamentally different strategies for tourism development that may exacerbate existing conflicts between conservation and development paradigms. Tourism has played an important role in sustainable development in some countries through the development of alternative tourism models, including ecotourism, community-based tourism, pro-poor tourism, slow tourism, green tourism, and heritage tourism, among others that aim to enhance livelihoods, increase local economic growth, and provide for environmental protection. Although these models have been given significant attention among researchers, the extent of their implementation in tourism planning initiatives has been limited, superficial, or incomplete in many contexts.

The sustainability of tourism as a global system is disputed among scholars. Tourism is dependent on travel, and nearly all forms of transportation require the use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels for energy. The burning of fossil fuels for transportation generates emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change, which is fundamentally unsustainable. Tourism is also vulnerable to both localized and global shocks. Studies of the vulnerability of tourism to localized shocks include the impacts of natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and civil unrest. Studies of the vulnerability of tourism to global shocks include the impacts of climate change, economic crisis, global public health pandemics, oil price shocks, and acts of terrorism. It is clear that tourism has contributed significantly to economic development globally, but its role in sustainable development is uncertain, debatable, and potentially contradictory.

  • conservation
  • economic development
  • environmental impacts
  • sustainable development
  • sustainable tourism
  • tourism development


Sustainable development is the guiding principle for advancing human and economic development while maintaining the integrity of ecosystems and social systems on which the economy depends. It is also the foundation of the leading global framework for international cooperation—the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (United Nations, 2015 ). The concept of sustainable development is often associated with the publication of Our Common Future (World Commission on Environment and Development [WCED], 1987 , p. 29), which defined it as “paths of human progress that meet the needs and aspirations of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Concerns about the environmental implications of economic development in lower income countries had been central to debates about development studies since the 1970s (Adams, 2009 ). The principles of sustainable development have come to dominate the development discourse, and the concept has become the primary development paradigm since the 1990s.

Tourism has played an increasingly important role in sustainable development since the 1990s, both globally and in particular countries and regions. For decades, tourism has been promoted as a low-impact, non-extractive option for economic development, particularly for developing countries (Gössling, 2000 ). Many developing countries have managed to increase their participation in the global economy through development of international tourism. Tourism development is increasingly viewed as an important tool in increasing economic growth, alleviating poverty, and improving food security. Tourism enables communities that are poor in material wealth, but rich in history and cultural heritage, to leverage their unique assets for economic development (Honey & Gilpin, 2009 ). More importantly, tourism offers an alternative to large-scale development projects, such as construction of dams, and to extractive industries such as mining and forestry, all of which contribute to emissions of pollutants and threaten biodiversity and the cultural values of Indigenous Peoples.

Environmental quality in destination areas is inextricably linked with tourism, as visiting natural areas and sightseeing are often the primary purpose of many leisure travels. Some forms of tourism, such as ecotourism, can contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and the protection of ecosystem functions in destination areas (Fennell, 2020 ; Gössling, 1999 ). Butler ( 1991 ) suggests that there is a kind of mutual dependence between tourism and the environment that should generate mutual benefits. Many developing countries are in regions that are characterized by high levels of species diversity, natural resources, and protected areas. Such ideas imply that tourism may be well aligned with the tenets of sustainable development.

However, the relationship between tourism and the environment is complex, as some forms of tourism have been associated with negative environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater use, land use, and food consumption (Butler, 1991 ; Gössling & Peeters, 2015 ; Hunter & Green, 1995 ; Vitousek et al., 1997 ). Assessments of the sustainability of tourism have highlighted several themes, including (a) parks, biodiversity, and conservation; (b) pollution and climate change; (c) prosperity, economic growth, and poverty alleviation; (d) peace, security, and safety; and (e) population stabilization and reduction (Buckley, 2012 ). From a global perspective, tourism contributes to (a) changes in land cover and land use; (b) energy use, (c) biotic exchange and extinction of wild species; (d) exchange and dispersion of diseases; and (e) changes in the perception and understanding of the environment (Gössling, 2002 ).

Research on tourism and the environment spans a wide range of social and natural science disciplines, and key contributions have been disseminated across many interdisciplinary fields, including biodiversity conservation, climate science, economics, and environmental science, among others (Buckley, 2011 ; Butler, 1991 ; Gössling, 2002 ; Lenzen et al., 2018 ). Given the global significance of the tourism sector and its environmental impacts, the role of tourism in sustainable development is an important topic of research in environmental science generally and in environmental economics and management specifically. Reviews of tourism research have highlighted future research priorities for sustainable development, including the role of tourism in the designation and expansion of protected areas; improvement in environmental accounting techniques that quantify environmental impacts; and the effects of individual perceptions of responsibility in addressing climate change (Buckley, 2012 ).

Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries, and it has linkages with many of the prime sectors of the global economy (Fennell, 2020 ). As a global economic sector, tourism represents one of the largest generators of wealth, and it is an important agent of economic growth and development (Garau-Vadell et al., 2018 ). Tourism is a critical industry in many local and national economies, and it represents a large and growing share of world trade (Hunter, 1995 ). Global tourism has had an average annual increase of 6.6% over the past half century, with international tourist arrivals rising sharply from 25.2 million in 1950 to more than 950 million in 2010 . In 2019 , the number of international tourists reached 1.5 billion, up 4% from 2018 (Fennell, 2020 ; United Nations World Tourism Organization [UNWTO], 2020 ). European countries are host to more than half of international tourists, but since 1990 , growth in international arrivals has risen faster than the global average, in both the Middle East and the Asia and Pacific region (UNWTO, 2020 ).

The growth in global tourism has been accompanied by an expansion of travel markets and a diversification of tourism destinations. In 1950 , the top five travel destinations were all countries in Europe and the Americas, and these destinations held 71% of the global travel market (Fennell, 2020 ). By 2002 , these countries represented only 35%, which underscores the emergence of newly accessible travel destinations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific Rim, including numerous developing countries. Over the past 70 years, global tourism has grown significantly as an economic sector, and it has contributed to the economic development of dozens of nations.

Given the growth of international tourism and its emergence as one of the world’s largest export sectors, the question of its impact on economic growth for the host countries has been a topic of great interest in the tourism literature. Two hypotheses have emerged regarding the role of tourism in the economic growth process (Apergis & Payne, 2012 ). First, tourism-led growth hypothesis relies on the assumption that tourism is an engine of growth that generates spillovers and positive externalities through economic linkages that will impact the overall economy. Second, the economic-driven tourism growth hypothesis emphasizes policies oriented toward well-defined and enforceable property rights, stable political institutions, and adequate investment in both physical and human capital to facilitate the development of the tourism sector. Studies have concluded with support for both the tourism-led growth hypothesis (e.g., Durbarry, 2004 ; Katircioglu, 2010 ) and the economic-led growth hypothesis (e.g., Katircioglu, 2009 ; Oh, 2005 ), whereas other studies have found support for a bidirectional causality for tourism and economic growth (e.g., Apergis & Payne, 2012 ; Lee & Chang, 2008 ).

The growth of tourism has been marked by an increase in the competition for tourist expenditures, making it difficult for destinations to maintain their share of the international tourism market (Butler, 1991 ). Tourism development is cyclical and subject to short-term cycles and overconsumption of resources. Butler ( 1980 ) developed a tourist-area cycle of evolution that depicts the number of tourists rising sharply over time through periods of exploration, involvement, and development, before eventual consolidation and stagnation. When tourism growth exceeds the carrying capacity of the area, resource degradation can lead to the decline of tourism unless specific steps are taken to promote rejuvenation (Butler, 1980 , 1991 ).

The potential of tourism development as a tool to contribute to environmental conservation, economic growth, and poverty reduction is derived from several unique characteristics of the tourism system (UNWTO, 2002 ). First, tourism represents an opportunity for economic diversification, particularly in marginal areas with few other export options. Tourists are attracted to remote areas with high values of cultural, wildlife, and landscape assets. The cultural and natural heritage of developing countries is frequently based on such assets, and tourism represents an opportunity for income generation through the preservation of heritage values. Tourism is the only export sector where the consumer travels to the exporting country, which provides opportunities for lower-income households to become exporters through the sale of goods and services to foreign tourists. Tourism is also labor intensive; it provides small-scale employment opportunities, which also helps to promote gender equity. Finally, there are numerous indirect benefits of tourism for people living in poverty, including increased market access for remote areas through the development of roads, infrastructure, and communication networks. Nevertheless, travel is highly income elastic and carbon intensive, which has significant implications for the sustainability of the tourism sector (Lenzen et al., 2018 ).

Concerns about environmental issues appeared in tourism research just as global awareness of the environmental impacts of human activities was expanding. The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm in 1972 , the same year as the publication of The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al., 1972 ), which highlighted the concerns about the implications of exponential economic and population growth in a world of finite resources. This was the same year that the famous Blue Marble photograph of Earth was taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft (Höhler, 2015 , p. 10), and the image captured the planet cloaked in the darkness of space and became a symbol of Earth’s fragility and vulnerability. As noted by Buckley ( 2012 ), tourism researchers turned their attention to social and environmental issues around the same time (Cohen, 1978 ; Farrell & McLellan, 1987 ; Turner & Ash, 1975 ; Young, 1973 ).

The notion of sustainable development is often associated with the publication of Our Common Future , the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, also known as the Brundtland Commission (WCED, 1987 ). The report characterized sustainable development in terms of meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987 , p. 43). Four basic principles are fundamental to the concept of sustainability: (a) the idea of holistic planning and strategy making; (b) the importance of preserving essential ecological processes; (c) the need to protect both human heritage and biodiversity; and (d) the need to develop in such a way that productivity can be sustained over the long term for future generations (Bramwell & Lane, 1993 ). In addition to achieving balance between economic growth and the conservation of natural resources, there should be a balance of fairness and opportunity between the nations of the world.

Although the modern concept of sustainable development emerged with the publication of Our Common Future , sustainable development has its roots in ideas about sustainable forest management that were developed in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries (Blewitt, 2015 ; Grober, 2007 ). Sustainable forest management is concerned with the stewardship and use of forests in a way that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, and regeneration capacity as well as their potential to fulfill society’s demands for forest products and benefits. Building on these ideas, Daly ( 1990 ) offered two operational principles of sustainable development. First, sustainable development implies that harvest rates should be no greater than rates of regeneration; this concept is known as maximum sustainable yield. Second, waste emission rates should not exceed the natural assimilative capacities of the ecosystems into which the wastes are emitted. Regenerative and assimilative capacities are characterized as natural capital, and a failure to maintain these capacities is not sustainable.

Shortly after the emergence of the concept of sustainable development in academic and policy discourse, tourism researchers began referring to the notion of sustainable tourism (May, 1991 ; Nash & Butler, 1990 ), which soon became the dominant paradigm of tourism development. The concept of sustainable tourism, as with the role of tourism in sustainable development, has been interpreted in different ways, and there is a lack of consensus concerning its meaning, objectives, and indicators (Sharpley, 2000 ). Growing interest in the subject inspired the creation of a new academic journal, Journal of Sustainable Tourism , which was launched in 1993 and has become a leading tourism journal. It is described as “an international journal that publishes research on tourism and sustainable development, including economic, social, cultural and political aspects.”

The notion of sustainable tourism development emerged in contrast to mass tourism, which is characterized by the participation of large numbers of people, often provided as structured or packaged tours. Mass tourism has risen sharply in the last half century. International arrivals alone have increased by an average annual rate of more than 25% since 1950 , and many of those trips involved mass tourism activities (Fennell, 2020 ; UNWTO, 2020 ). Some examples of mass tourism include beach resorts, cruise ship tourism, gaming casinos, golf resorts, group tours, ski resorts, theme parks, and wildlife safari tourism, among others. Little data exist regarding the volume of domestic mass tourism, but nevertheless mass tourism activities dominate the global tourism sector. Mass tourism has been shown to generate benefits to host countries, such as income and employment generation, although it has also been associated with economic leakage (where revenue generated by tourism is lost to other countries’ economies) and economic dependency (where developing countries are dependent on wealthier countries for tourists, imports, and foreign investment) (Cater, 1993 ; Conway & Timms, 2010 ; Khan, 1997 ; Peeters, 2012 ). Mass tourism has been associated with numerous negative environmental impacts and social impacts (Cater, 1993 ; Conway & Timms, 2010 ; Fennell, 2020 ; Ghimire, 2013 ; Gursoy et al., 2010 ; Liu, 2003 ; Peeters, 2012 ; Wheeller, 2007 ). Sustainable tourism development has been promoted in various ways as a framing concept in contrast to many of these economic, environmental, and social impacts.

Much of the early research on sustainable tourism focused on defining the concept, which has been the subject of vigorous debate (Bramwell & Lane, 1993 ; Garrod & Fyall, 1998 ; Hunter, 1995 ; Inskeep, 1991 ; Liu, 2003 ; Sharpley, 2000 ). Early definitions of sustainable tourism development seemed to fall in one of two categories (Sharpley, 2000 ). First, the “tourism-centric” paradigm of sustainable tourism development focuses on sustaining tourism as an economic activity (Hunter, 1995 ). Second, alternative paradigms have situated sustainable tourism in the context of wider sustainable development policies (Butler, 1991 ). One of the most comprehensive definitions of sustainable tourism echoes some of the language of the Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainable development (WCED, 1987 ), emphasizing opportunities for the future while also integrating social and environmental concerns:

Sustainable tourism can be thought of as meeting the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. Sustainable tourism development is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that we can fulfill economic, social and aesthetic needs while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems. (Inskeep, 1991 , p. 461)

Hunter argued that over the short and long terms, sustainable tourism development should

“meet the needs and wants of the local host community in terms of improved living standards and quality of life;

satisfy the demands of tourists and the tourism industry, and continue to attract them in order to meet the first aim; and

safeguard the environmental resource base for tourism, encompassing natural, built and cultural components, in order to achieve both of the preceding aims.” (Hunter, 1995 , p. 156)

Numerous other definitions have been documented, and the term itself has been subject to widespread critique (Buckley, 2012 ; Hunter, 1995 ; Liu, 2003 ). Nevertheless, there have been numerous calls to move beyond debate about a definition and to consider how it may best be implemented in practice (Garrod & Fyall, 1998 ; Liu, 2003 ). Cater ( 1993 ) identified three key criteria for sustainable tourism: (a) meeting the needs of the host population in terms of improved living standards both in the short and long terms; (b) satisfying the demands of a growing number of tourists; and (c) safeguarding the natural environment in order to achieve both of the preceding aims.

Some literature has acknowledged a vagueness of the concept of sustainable tourism, which has been used to advocate for fundamentally different strategies for tourism development that may exacerbate existing conflicts between conservation and development paradigms (Garrod & Fyall, 1998 ; Hunter, 1995 ; Liu, 2003 ; McKercher, 1993b ). Similar criticisms have been leveled at the concept of sustainable development, which has been described as an oxymoron with a wide range of meanings (Adams, 2009 ; Daly, 1990 ) and “defined in such a way as to be either morally repugnant or logically redundant” (Beckerman, 1994 , p. 192). Sharpley ( 2000 ) suggests that in the tourism literature, there has been “a consistent and fundamental failure to build a theoretical link between sustainable tourism and its parental paradigm,” sustainable development (p. 2). Hunter ( 1995 ) suggests that practical measures designed to operationalize sustainable tourism fail to address many of the critical issues that are central to the concept of sustainable development generally and may even actually counteract the fundamental requirements of sustainable development. He suggests that mainstream sustainable tourism development is concerned with protecting the immediate resource base that will sustain tourism development while ignoring concerns for the status of the wider tourism resource base, such as potential problems associated with air pollution, congestion, introduction of invasive species, and declining oil reserves. The dominant paradigm of sustainable tourism development has been described as introverted, tourism-centric, and in competition with other sectors for scarce resources (McKercher, 1993a ). Hunter ( 1995 , p. 156) proposes an alternative, “extraparochial” paradigm where sustainable tourism development is reconceptualized in terms of its contribution to overall sustainable development. Such a paradigm would reconsider the scope, scale, and sectoral context of tourism-related resource utilization issues.

“Sustainability,” “sustainable tourism,” and “sustainable development” are all well-established terms that have often been used loosely and interchangeably in the tourism literature (Liu, 2003 ). Nevertheless, the subject of sustainable tourism has been given considerable attention and has been the focus of numerous academic compilations and textbooks (Coccossis & Nijkamp, 1995 ; Hall & Lew, 1998 ; Stabler, 1997 ; Swarbrooke, 1999 ), and it calls for new approaches to sustainable tourism development (Bramwell & Lane, 1993 ; Garrod & Fyall, 1998 ; Hunter, 1995 ; Sharpley, 2000 ). The notion of sustainable tourism has been reconceptualized in the literature by several authors who provided alternative frameworks for tourism development (Buckley, 2012 ; Gössling, 2002 ; Hunter, 1995 ; Liu, 2003 ; McKercher, 1993b ; Sharpley, 2000 ).

Early research in sustainable tourism focused on the local environmental impacts of tourism, including energy use, water use, food consumption, and change in land use (Buckley, 2012 ; Butler, 1991 ; Gössling, 2002 ; Hunter & Green, 1995 ). Subsequent research has emphasized the global environmental impacts of tourism, such as greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity losses (Gössling, 2002 ; Gössling & Peeters, 2015 ; Lenzen et al., 2018 ). Additional research has emphasized the impacts of environmental change on tourism itself, including the impacts of climate change on tourist behavior (Gössling et al., 2012 ; Richardson & Loomis, 2004 ; Scott et al., 2012 ; Viner, 2006 ). Countries that are dependent on tourism for economic growth may be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (Richardson & Witkoswki, 2010 ).

The early focus on environmental issues in sustainable tourism has been broadened to include economic, social, and cultural issues as well as questions of power and equity in society (Bramwell & Lane, 1993 ; Sharpley, 2014 ), and some of these frameworks have integrated notions of social equity, prosperity, and cultural heritage values. Sustainable tourism is dependent on critical long-term considerations of the impacts; notions of equity; an appreciation of the importance of linkages (i.e., economic, social, and environmental); and the facilitation of cooperation and collaboration between different stakeholders (Elliott & Neirotti, 2008 ).

McKercher ( 1993b ) notes that tourism resources are typically part of the public domain or are intrinsically linked to the social fabric of the host community. As a result, many commonplace tourist activities such as sightseeing may be perceived as invasive by members of the host community. Many social impacts of tourism can be linked to the overuse of the resource base, increases in traffic congestion, rising land prices, urban sprawl, and changes in the social structure of host communities. Given the importance of tourist–resident interaction, sustainable tourism development depends in part on the support of the host community (Garau-Vadell et al., 2018 ).

Tourism planning involves the dual objectives of optimizing the well-being of local residents in host communities and minimizing the costs of tourism development (Sharpley, 2014 ). Tourism researchers have paid significant attention to examining the social impacts of tourism in general and to understanding host communities’ perceptions of tourism in particular. Studies of the social impacts of tourism development have examined the perceptions of local residents and the effects of tourism on social cohesion, traditional lifestyles, and the erosion of cultural heritage, particularly among Indigenous Peoples (Butler & Hinch, 2007 ; Deery et al., 2012 ; Mathieson & Wall, 1982 ; Sharpley, 2014 ; Whitford & Ruhanen, 2016 ).

Alternative Tourism and Sustainable Development

A wide body of published research is related to the role of tourism in sustainable development, and much of the literature involves case studies of particular types of tourism. Many such studies contrast types of alternative tourism with those of mass tourism, which has received sustained criticism for decades and is widely considered to be unsustainable (Cater, 1993 ; Conway & Timms, 2010 ; Fennell, 2020 ; Gursoy et al., 2010 ; Liu, 2003 ; Peeters, 2012 ; Zapata et al., 2011 ). Still, some tourism researchers have taken issue with the conclusion that mass tourism is inherently unsustainable (Sharpley, 2000 ; Weaver, 2007 ), and some have argued for developing pathways to “sustainable mass tourism” as “the desired and impending outcome for most destinations” (Weaver, 2012 , p. 1030). In integrating an ethical component to mass tourism development, Weaver ( 2014 , p. 131) suggests that the desirable outcome is “enlightened mass tourism.” Such suggestions have been contested in the literature and criticized for dubious assumptions about emergent norms of sustainability and support for growth, which are widely seen as contradictory (Peeters, 2012 ; Wheeller, 2007 ).

Models of responsible or alternative tourism development include ecotourism, community-based tourism, pro-poor tourism, slow tourism, green tourism, and heritage tourism, among others. Most models of alternative tourism development emphasize themes that aim to counteract the perceived negative impacts of conventional or mass tourism. As such, the objectives of these models of tourism development tend to focus on minimizing environmental impacts, supporting biodiversity conservation, empowering local communities, alleviating poverty, and engendering pleasant relationships between tourists and residents.

Approaches to alternative tourism development tend to overlap with themes of responsible tourism, and the two terms are frequently used interchangeably. Responsible tourism has been characterized in terms of numerous elements, including

ensuring that communities are involved in and benefit from tourism;

respecting local, natural, and cultural environments;

involving the local community in planning and decision-making;

using local resources sustainably;

behaving in ways that are sensitive to the host culture;

maintaining and encouraging natural, economic, and cultural diversity; and

assessing environmental, social, and economic impacts as a prerequisite to tourism development (Spenceley, 2012 ).

Hetzer ( 1965 ) identified four fundamental principles or perquisites for a more responsible form of tourism: (a) minimum environmental impact; (b) minimum impact on and maximum respect for host cultures; (c) maximum economic benefits to the host country; and (d) maximum leisure satisfaction to participating tourists.

The history of ecotourism is closely connected with the emergence of sustainable development, as it was born out of a concern for the conservation of biodiversity. Ecotourism is a form of tourism that aims to minimize local environmental impacts while bringing benefits to protected areas and the people living around those lands (Honey, 2008 ). Ecotourism represents a small segment of nature-based tourism, which is understood as tourism based on the natural attractions of an area, such as scenic areas and wildlife (Gössling, 1999 ). The ecotourism movement gained momentum in the 1990s, primarily in developing countries in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, and nearly all countries are now engaged in some form of ecotourism. In some communities, ecotourism is the primary economic activity and source of income and economic development.

The term “ecotourism” was coined by Hector Ceballos-Lascuráin and defined by him as “tourism that consists in travelling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific object of studying, admiring, and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals” (Ceballos-Lascuráin, 1987 , p. 13). In discussing ecotourism resources, he also made reference to “any existing cultural manifestations (both past and present) found in these areas” (Ceballos-Lascuráin, 1987 , p. 14). The basic precepts of ecotourism had been discussed long before the actual use of the term. Twenty years earlier, Hetzer ( 1965 ) referred to a form of tourism “based principally upon natural and archaeological resources such as caves, fossil sites (and) archaeological sites.” Thus, both natural resources and cultural resources were integrated into ecotourism frameworks from the earliest manifestations.

Costa Rica is well known for having successfully integrated ecotourism in its overall strategy for sustainable development, and numerous case studies of ecotourism in Costa Rica appear in the literature (Chase et al., 1998 ; Fennell & Eagles, 1990 ; Gray & Campbell, 2007 ; Hearne & Salinas, 2002 ). Ecotourism in Costa Rica has been seen as having supported the economic development of the country while promoting biodiversity conservation in its extensive network of protected areas. Chase et al. ( 1998 ) estimated the demand for ecotourism in a study of differential pricing of entrance fees at national parks in Costa Rica. The authors estimated elasticities associated with the own-price, cross-price, and income variables and found that the elasticities of demand were significantly different between three different national park sites. The results reveal the heterogeneity characterizing tourist behavior and park attractions and amenities. Hearne and Salinas ( 2002 ) used choice experiments to examine the preferences of domestic and foreign tourists in Costa Rica in an ecotourism site. Both sets of tourists demonstrated a preference for improved infrastructure, more information, and lower entrance fees. Foreign tourists demonstrated relatively stronger preferences for the inclusion of restrictions in the access to some trails.

Ecotourism has also been studied extensively in Kenya (Southgate, 2006 ), Malaysia (Lian Chan & Baum, 2007 ), Nepal (Baral et al., 2008 ), Peru (Stronza, 2007 ), and Taiwan (Lai & Nepal, 2006 ), among many other countries. Numerous case studies have demonstrated the potential for ecotourism to contribute to sustainable development by providing support for biodiversity conservation, local livelihoods, and regional development.

Community-Based Tourism

Community-based tourism (CBT) is a model of tourism development that emphasizes the development of local communities and allows for local residents to have substantial control over its development and management, and a major proportion of the benefits remain within the community. CBT emerged during the 1970s as a response to the negative impacts of the international mass tourism development model (Cater, 1993 ; Hall & Lew, 2009 ; Turner & Ash, 1975 ; Zapata et al., 2011 ).

Community-based tourism has been examined for its potential to contribute to poverty reduction. In a study of the viability of the CBT model to support socioeconomic development and poverty alleviation in Nicaragua, tourism was perceived by participants in the study to have an impact on employment creation in their communities (Zapata et al., 2011 ). Tourism was seen to have had positive impacts on strengthening local knowledge and skills, particularly on the integration of women to new roles in the labor market. One of the main perceived gains regarding the environment was the process of raising awareness regarding the conservation of natural resources. The small scale of CBT operations and low capacity to accommodate visitors was seen as a limitation of the model.

Spenceley ( 2012 ) compiled case studies of community-based tourism in countries in southern Africa, including Botswana, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In this volume, authors characterize community-based and nature-based tourism development projects in the region and demonstrate how community participation in planning and decision-making has generated benefits for local residents and supported conservation initiatives. They contend that responsible tourism practices are of particular importance in the region because of the rich biological diversity, abundant charismatic wildlife, and the critical need for local economic development and livelihood strategies.

In Kenya, CBT enterprises were not perceived to have made a significant impact on poverty reduction at an individual household level, in part because the model relied heavily on donor funding, reinforcing dependency and poverty (Manyara & Jones, 2007 ). The study identified several critical success factors for CBT enterprises, namely, awareness and sensitization, community empowerment, effective leadership, and community capacity building, which can inform appropriate tourism policy formulation in Kenya. The impacts of CBT on economic development and poverty reduction would be greatly enhanced if tourism initiatives were able to emphasize independence, address local community priorities, enhance community empowerment and transparency, discourage elitism, promote effective community leadership, and develop community capacity to operate their own enterprises more efficiently.

Pro-Poor Tourism

Pro-poor tourism is a model of tourism development that brings net benefits to people living in poverty (Ashley et al., 2001 ; Harrison, 2008 ). Although its theoretical foundations and development objectives overlap to some degree with those of community-based tourism and other models of AT, the key distinctive feature of pro-poor tourism is that it places poor people and poverty at the top of the agenda. By focusing on a very simple and incontrovertibly moral idea, namely, the net benefits of tourism to impoverished people, the concept has broad appeal to donors and international aid agencies. Harnessing the economic benefits of tourism for pro-poor growth means capitalizing on the advantages while reducing negative impacts to people living in poverty (Ashley et al., 2001 ). Pro-poor approaches to tourism development include increasing access of impoverished people to economic benefits; addressing negative social and environmental impacts associated with tourism; and focusing on policies, processes, and partnerships that seek to remove barriers to participation by people living in poverty. At the local level, pro-poor tourism can play a very significant role in livelihood security and poverty reduction (Ashley & Roe, 2002 ).

Rogerson ( 2011 ) argues that the growth of pro-poor tourism initiatives in South Africa suggests that the country has become a laboratory for the testing and evolution of new approaches toward sustainable development planning that potentially will have relevance for other countries in the developing world. A study of pro-poor tourism development initiatives in Laos identified a number of favorable conditions for pro-poor tourism development, including the fact that local people are open to tourism and motivated to participate (Suntikul et al., 2009 ). The authors also noted a lack of development in the linkages that could optimize the fulfilment of the pro-poor agenda, such as training or facilitation of local people’s participation in pro-poor tourism development at the grassroots level.

Critics of the model have argued that pro-poor tourism is based on an acceptance of the status quo of existing capitalism, that it is morally indiscriminate and theoretically imprecise, and that its practitioners are academically and commercially marginal (Harrison, 2008 ). As Chok et al. ( 2007 ) indicate, the focus “on poor people in the South reflects a strong anthropocentric view . . . and . . . environmental benefits are secondary to poor peoples’” benefits (p. 153).

Harrison ( 2008 ) argues that pro-poor tourism is not a distinctive approach to tourism as a development tool and that it may be easier to discuss what pro-poor tourism is not than what it is. He concludes that it is neither anticapitalist nor inconsistent with mainstream tourism on which it relies; it is neither a theory nor a model and is not a niche form of tourism. Further, he argues that it has no distinctive method and is not only about people living in poverty.

Slow Tourism

The concept of slow tourism has emerged as a model of sustainable tourism development, and as such, it lacks an exact definition. The concept of slow tourism traces its origin back to some institutionalized social movements such as “slow food” and “slow cities” that began in Italy in the 1990s and spread rapidly around the world (Fullagar et al., 2012 ; Oh et al., 2016 , p. 205). Advocates of slow tourism tend to emphasize slowness in terms of speed, mobility, and modes of transportation that generate less environmental pollution. They propose niche marketing for alternative forms of tourism that focus on quality upgrading rather than merely increasing the quantity of visitors via the established mass-tourism infrastructure (Conway & Timms, 2010 ).

In the context of the Caribbean region, slow tourism has been promoted as more culturally sensitive and authentic, as compared to the dominant mass tourism development model that is based on all-inclusive beach resorts dependent on foreign investment (Conway & Timms, 2010 ). Recognizing its value as an alternative marketing strategy, Conway and Timms ( 2010 ) make the case for rebranding alternative tourism in the Caribbean as a means of revitalizing the sector for the changing demands of tourists in the 21st century . They suggest that slow tourism is the antithesis of mass tourism, which “relies on increasing the quantity of tourists who move through the system with little regard to either the quality of the tourists’ experience or the benefits that accrue to the localities the tourist visits” (Conway & Timms, 2010 , p. 332). The authors draw on cases from Barbados, the Grenadines, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago to characterize models of slow tourism development in remote fishing villages and communities near nature preserves and sea turtle nesting sites.

Although there is a growing interest in the concept of slow tourism in the literature, there seems to be little agreement about the exact nature of slow tourism and whether it is a niche form of special interest tourism or whether it represents a more fundamental potential shift across the industry. Conway and Timms ( 2010 ) focus on the destination, advocating for slow tourism in terms of a promotional identity for an industry in need of rebranding. Caffyn ( 2012 , p. 77) discusses the implementation of slow tourism in terms of “encouraging visitors to make slower choices when planning and enjoying their holidays.” It is not clear whether slow tourism is a marketing strategy, a mindset, or a social movement, but the literature on slow tourism nearly always equates the term with sustainable tourism (Caffyn, 2012 ; Conway & Timms, 2010 ; Oh et al., 2016 ). Caffyn ( 2012 , p. 80) suggests that slow tourism could offer a “win–win,” which she describes as “a more sustainable form of tourism; keeping more of the economic benefits within the local community and destination; and delivering a more meaningful and satisfying experience.” Research on slow tourism is nascent, and thus the contribution of slow tourism to sustainable development is not well understood.

Impacts of Tourism Development

The role of tourism in sustainable development can be examined through an understanding of the economic, environmental, and social impacts of tourism. Tourism is a global phenomenon that involves travel, recreation, the consumption of food, overnight accommodations, entertainment, sightseeing, and other activities that simultaneously intersect the lives of local residents, businesses, and communities. The impacts of tourism involve benefits and costs to all groups, and some of these impacts cannot easily be measured. Nevertheless, they have been studied extensively in the literature, which provides some context for how these benefits and costs are distributed.

Economic Impacts of Tourism

The travel and tourism sector is one of the largest components of the global economy, and global tourism has increased exponentially since the end of the Second World War (UNWTO, 2020 ). The direct, indirect, and induced economic impact of global travel accounted for 8.9 trillion U.S. dollars in contribution to the global gross domestic product (GDP), or 10.3% of global GDP. The global travel and tourism sector supports approximately 330 million jobs, or 1 in 10 jobs around the world. From an economic perspective, tourism plays a significant role in sustainable development. In many developing countries, tourism has the potential to play a unique role in income generation and distribution relative to many other industries, in part because of its high multiplier effect and consumption of local goods and services. However, research on the economic impacts of tourism has shown that this potential has rarely been fully realized (Liu, 2003 ).

Numerous studies have examined the impact of tourism expenditure on GDP, income, employment, and public sector revenue. Narayan ( 2004 ) used a computable general equilibrium model to estimate the economic impact of tourism growth on the economy of Fiji. Tourism is Fiji’s largest industry, with average annual growth of 10–12%; and as a middle-income country, tourism is critical to Fiji’s economic development. The findings indicate that an increase in tourism expenditures was associated with an increase in GDP, an improvement in the country’s balance of payments, and an increase in real consumption and national welfare. Evidence suggests that the benefits of tourism expansion outweigh any export effects caused by an appreciation of the exchange rate and an increase in domestic prices and wages.

Seetanah ( 2011 ) examined the potential contribution of tourism to economic growth and development using panel data of 19 island economies around the world from 1990 to 2007 and revealed that tourism development is an important factor in explaining economic performance in the selected island economies. The results have policy implications for improving economic growth by harnessing the contribution of the tourism sector. Pratt ( 2015 ) modeled the economic impact of tourism for seven small island developing states in the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the Indian Ocean. In most states, the transportation sector was found to have above-average linkages to other sectors of the economy. The results revealed some advantages of economies of scale for maximizing the economic contribution of tourism.

Apergis and Payne ( 2012 ) examined the causal relationship between tourism and economic growth for a panel of nine Caribbean countries. The panel of Caribbean countries includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. The authors use a panel error correction model to reveal bidirectional causality between tourism and economic growth in both the short run and the long run. The presence of bidirectional causality reiterates the importance of the tourism sector in the generation of foreign exchange income and in financing the production of goods and services within these countries. Likewise, stable political institutions and adequate government policies to ensure the appropriate investment in physical and human capital will enhance economic growth. In turn, stable economic growth will provide the resources needed to develop the tourism infrastructure for the success of the countries’ tourism sector. Thus, policy makers should be cognizant of the interdependent relationship between tourism and economic growth in the design and implementation of economic policy. The mixed nature of these results suggest that the relationship between tourism and economic growth depends largely on the social and economic context as well as the role of tourism in the economy.

The economic benefits and costs of tourism are frequently distributed unevenly. An analysis of the impact of wildlife conservation policies in Zambia on household welfare found that households located near national parks earn higher levels of income from wage employment and self-employment than other rural households in the country, but they were also more likely to suffer crop losses related to wildlife conflicts (Richardson et al., 2012 ). The findings suggest that tourism development and wildlife conservation can contribute to pro-poor development, but they may be sustainable only if human–wildlife conflicts are minimized or compensated.

Environmental Impacts of Tourism

The environmental impacts of tourism are significant, ranging from local effects to contributions to global environmental change (Gössling & Peeters, 2015 ). Tourism is both dependent on water resources and a factor in global and local freshwater use. Tourists consume water for drinking, when showering and using the toilet, when participating in activities such as winter ski tourism (i.e., snowmaking), and when using swimming pools and spas. Fresh water is also needed to maintain hotel gardens and golf courses, and water use is embedded in tourism infrastructure development (e.g., accommodations, laundry, dining) and in food and fuel production. Direct water consumption in tourism is estimated to be approximately 350 liters (L) per guest night for accommodation; when indirect water use from food, energy, and transport are considered, total water use in tourism is estimated to be approximately 6,575 L per guest night, or 27,800 L per person per trip (Gössling & Peeters, 2015 ). In addition, tourism contributes to the pollution of oceans as well as lakes, rivers, and other freshwater systems (Gössling, 2002 ; Gössling et al., 2011 ).

The clearing and conversion of land is central for tourism development, and in many cases, the land used for tourism includes roads, airports, railways, accommodations, trails, pedestrian walks, shopping areas, parking areas, campgrounds, vacation homes, golf courses, marinas, ski resorts, and indirect land use for food production, disposal of solid wastes, and the treatment of wastewater (Gössling & Peeters, 2015 ). Global land use for accommodation is estimated to be approximately 42 m 2 per bed. Total global land use for tourism is estimated to be nearly 62,000 km 2 , or 11.7 m 2 per tourist; more than half of this estimate is represented by land use for traffic infrastructure.

Tourism and hospitality have direct and indirect links to nearly all aspects of food production, preparation, and consumption because of the quantities of food consumed in tourism contexts (Gössling et al., 2011 ). Food production has significant implications for sustainable development, given the growing global demand for food. The implications include land conversion, losses to biodiversity, changes in nutrient cycling, and contributions to greenhouse emissions that are associated with global climate change (Vitousek et al., 1997 ). Global food use for tourism is estimated to be approximately 39.4 megatons 1 (Mt), about 38% than the amount of food consumed at home. This equates to approximately 1,800 grams (g) of food consumed per tourist per day.

Although tourism has been promoted as a low-impact, nonextractive option for economic development, (Gössling, 2000 ), assessments reveal that such pursuits have a significant carbon footprint, as tourism is significantly more carbon intensive than other potential areas of economic development (Lenzen et al., 2018 ). Tourism is dependent on energy, and virtually all energy use in the tourism sector is derived from fossil fuels, which contribute to global greenhouse emissions that are associated with global climate change. Energy use for tourism has been estimated to be approximately 3,575 megajoules 2 (MJ) per trip, including energy for travel and accommodations (Gössling & Peeters, 2015 ). A previous estimate of global carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions from tourism provided values of 1.12 gigatons 3 (Gt) of CO 2 , amounting to about 3% of global CO 2 -equivalent (CO 2 e) emissions (Gössling & Peeters, 2015 ). However, these analyses do not cover the supply chains underpinning tourism and do not therefore represent true carbon footprints. A more complete analysis of the emissions from energy consumption necessary to sustain the tourism sector would include food and beverages, infrastructure construction and maintenance, retail, and financial services. Between 2009 and 2013 , tourism’s global carbon footprint is estimated to have increased from 3.9 to 4.5 GtCO 2 e, four times more than previously estimated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Lenzen et al., 2018 ). The majority of this footprint is exerted by and within high-income countries. The rising global demand for tourism is outstripping efforts at decarbonization of tourism operations and as a result is accelerating global carbon emissions.

Social Impacts of Tourism

The social impacts of tourism have been widely studied, with an emphasis on residents’ perceptions in the host community (Sharpley, 2014 ). Case studies include research conducted in Australia (Faulkner & Tideswell, 1997 ; Gursoy et al., 2010 ; Tovar & Lockwood, 2008 ), Belize (Diedrich & Garcia-Buades, 2008 ), China (Gu & Ryan, 2008 ), Fiji (King et al., 1993 ), Greece (Haralambopoulos & Pizam, 1996 ; Tsartas, 1992 ), Hungary (Rátz, 2000 ), Thailand (Huttasin, 2008 ), Turkey (Kuvan & Akan, 2005 ), the United Kingdom (Brunt & Courtney, 1999 ; Haley et al., 2005 ), and the United States (Andereck et al., 2005 ; Milman & Pizam, 1988 ), among others. The social impacts of tourism are difficult to measure, and most published studies are mainly concerned with the social impacts on the host communities rather than the impacts on the tourists themselves.

Studies of residents’ perceptions of tourism are typically conducted using household surveys. In most cases, residents recognize the economic dependence on tourism for income, and there is substantial evidence to suggest that working in or owning a business in tourism or a related industry is associated with more positive perceptions of tourism (Andereck et al., 2007 ). The perceived nature of negative effects is complex and often conveys a dislike of crowding, traffic congestion, and higher prices for basic needs (Deery et al., 2012 ). When the number of tourists far exceeds that of the resident population, negative attitudes toward tourism may manifest (Diedrich & Garcia-Buades, 2008 ). However, residents who recognize negative impacts may not necessarily oppose tourism development (King et al., 1993 ).

In some regions, little is known about the social and cultural impacts of tourism despite its dominance as an economic sector. Tourism is a rapidly growing sector in Cuba, and it is projected to grow at rates that exceed the average projected growth rates for the Caribbean and the world overall (Salinas et al., 2018 ). Still, even though there has been rapid tourism development in Cuba, there has been little research related to the environmental and sociocultural impacts of this tourism growth (Rutty & Richardson, 2019 ).

In some international tourism contexts, studies have found that residents are generally resentful toward tourism because it fuels inequality and exacerbates racist attitudes and discrimination (Cabezas, 2004 ; Jamal & Camargo, 2014 ; Mbaiwa, 2005 ). Other studies revealed similar narratives and recorded statements of exclusion and socioeconomic stratification (Sanchez & Adams, 2008 ). Local residents often must navigate the gaps in the racialized, gendered, and sexualized structures imposed by the global tourism industry and host-country governments (Cabezas, 2004 ).

However, during times of economic crisis, residents may develop a more permissive view as their perceptions of the costs of tourism development decrease (Garau-Vadell et al., 2018 ). This increased positive attitude is not based on an increase in the perception of positive impacts of tourism, but rather on a decrease in the perception of the negative impacts.

There is a growing body of research on Indigenous and Aboriginal tourism that emphasizes justice issues such as human rights and self-empowerment, control, and participation of traditional owners in comanagement of destinations (Jamal & Camargo, 2014 ; Ryan & Huyton, 2000 ; Whyte, 2010 ).

Sustainability of Tourism

A process or system is said to be sustainable to the extent that it is robust, resilient, and adaptive (Anderies et al., 2013 ). By most measures, the global tourism system does not meet these criteria for sustainability. Tourism is not robust in that it cannot resist threats and perturbations, such as economic shocks, public health pandemics, war, and other disruptions. Tourism is not resilient in that it does not easily recover from failures, such as natural disasters or civil unrest. Furthermore, tourism is not adaptive in that it is often unable to change in response to external conditions. One example that underscores the failure to meet all three criteria is the dependence of tourism on fossil fuels for transportation and energy, which are key inputs for tourism development. This dependence itself is not sustainable (Wheeller, 2007 ), and thus the sustainability of tourism is questionable.

Liu ( 2003 ) notes that research related to the role of tourism in sustainable development has emphasized supply-side concepts such as sustaining tourism resources and ignored the demand side, which is particularly vulnerable to social and economic shocks. Tourism is vulnerable to both localized and global shocks. Studies of the vulnerability of tourism to localized shocks include disaster vulnerability in coastal Thailand (Calgaro & Lloyd, 2008 ), bushfires in northeast Victoria in Australia (Cioccio & Michael, 2007 ), forest fires in British Columbia, Canada (Hystad & Keller, 2008 ); and outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom (Miller & Ritchie, 2003 ).

Like most other economic sectors, tourism is vulnerable to the impacts of earthquakes, particularly in areas where tourism infrastructure may not be resilient to such shocks. Numerous studies have examined the impacts of earthquake events on tourism, including studies of the aftermath of the 1997 earthquake in central Italy (Mazzocchi & Montini, 2001 ), the 1999 earthquake in Taiwan (Huan et al., 2004 ; Huang & Min, 2002 ), and the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in western Sichuan, China (Yang et al., 2011 ), among others.

Tourism is vulnerable to extreme weather events. Regional economic strength has been found to be associated with lower vulnerability to natural disasters. Kim and Marcoullier ( 2015 ) examined the vulnerability and resilience of 10 tourism-based regional economies that included U.S. national parks or protected seashores situated on the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean coastline that were affected by several hurricanes over a 26-year period. Regions with stronger economic characteristics prior to natural disasters were found to have lower disaster losses than regions with weaker economies.

Tourism is extremely sensitive to oil spills, whatever their origin, and the volume of oil released need not be large to generate significant economic losses (Cirer-Costa, 2015 ). Studies of the vulnerability of tourism to the localized shock of an oil spill include research on the impacts of oil spills in Alaska (Coddington, 2015 ), Brazil (Ribeiro et al., 2020 ), Spain (Castanedo et al., 2009 ), affected regions in the United States along the Gulf of Mexico (Pennington-Gray et al., 2011 ; Ritchie et al., 2013 ), and the Republic of Korea (Cheong, 2012 ), among others. Future research on the vulnerability of tourist destinations to oil spills should also incorporate freshwater environments, such as lakes, rivers, and streams, where the rupture of oil pipelines is more frequent.

Significant attention has been paid to assessing the vulnerability of tourist destinations to acts of terrorism and the impacts of terrorist attacks on regional tourist economies (Liu & Pratt, 2017 ). Such studies include analyses of the impacts of terrorist attacks on three European countries, Greece, Italy, and Austria (Enders et al., 1992 ); the impact of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States (Goodrich, 2002 ); terrorism and tourism in Nepal (Bhattarai et al., 2005 ); vulnerability of tourism livelihoods in Bali (Baker & Coulter, 2007 ); the impact of terrorism on tourist preferences for destinations in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands (Arana & León, 2008 ); the 2011 massacres in Olso and Utøya, Norway (Wolff & Larsen, 2014 ); terrorism and political violence in Tunisia (Lanouar & Goaied, 2019 ); and the impact of terrorism on European tourism (Corbet et al., 2019 ), among others. Pizam and Fleischer ( 2002 ) studied the impact of acts of terrorism on tourism demand in Israel between May 1991 and May 2001 , and they confirmed that the frequency of acts of terrorism had caused a larger decline in international tourist arrivals than the severity of these acts. Most of these are ex post studies, and future assessments of the underlying conditions of destinations could reveal a deeper understanding of the vulnerability of tourism to terrorism.

Tourism is vulnerable to economic crisis, both local economic shocks (Okumus & Karamustafa, 2005 ; Stylidis & Terzidou, 2014 ) and global economic crisis (Papatheodorou et al., 2010 ; Smeral, 2010 ). Okumus and Karamustafa ( 2005 ) evaluated the impact of the February 2001 economic crisis in Turkey on tourism, and they found that the tourism industry was poorly prepared for the economic crisis despite having suffered previous impacts related to the Gulf War in the early 1990s, terrorism in Turkey in the 1990s, the civil war in former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, an internal economic crisis in 1994 , and two earthquakes in the northwest region of Turkey in 1999 . In a study of the attitudes and perceptions of citizens of Greece, Stylidis and Terzidou ( 2014 ) found that economic crisis is associated with increased support for tourism development, particularly out of self-interest. Economic crisis diminishes residents’ concern for environmental issues. In a study of the behavior of European tourists amid an economic crisis, Eugenio-Martin and Campos-Soria ( 2014 ) found that the probability of households cutting back on travel expenditures depends largely on the climate and economic conditions of tourists’ home countries, and households that do reduce travel spending engage in tourism closer to home.

Becken and Lennox ( 2012 ) studied the implications of a long-term increase in oil prices for tourism in New Zealand, and they estimate that a doubling of oil prices is associated with a 1.7% decrease in real gross national disposable income and a 9% reduction in the real value of tourism exports. Chatziantoniou et al. ( 2013 ) investigated the relationship among oil price shocks, tourism variables, and economic indicators in four European Mediterranean countries and found that aggregate demand oil price shocks generated a lagged effect on tourism-generated income and economic growth. Kisswani et al. ( 2020 ) examined the asymmetric effect of oil prices on tourism receipts and the sensitive susceptibility of tourism to oil price changes using nonlinear analysis. The findings document a long-run asymmetrical effect for most countries, after incorporating the structural breaks, suggesting that governments and tourism businesses and organizations should interpret oil price fluctuations cautiously.

Finally, the sustainability of tourism has been shown to be vulnerable to the outbreak of infectious diseases, including the impact of the Ebola virus on tourism in sub-Saharan Africa (Maphanga & Henama, 2019 ; Novelli et al., 2018 ) and in the United States (Cahyanto et al., 2016 ). The literature also includes studies of the impact of swine flu on tourism demand in Brunei (Haque & Haque, 2018 ), Mexico (Monterrubio, 2010 ), and the United Kingdom (Page et al., 2012 ), among others. In addition, rapid assessments of the impacts of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 have documented severe disruptions and cessations of tourism because of unprecedented global travel restrictions and widespread restrictions on public gatherings (Gössling et al., 2020 ; Qiu et al., 2020 ; Sharma & Nicolau, 2020 ). Hotels, airlines, cruise lines, and car rentals have all experienced a significant decrease globally because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shock to the industry is significant enough to warrant concerns about the long-term outlook (Sharma & Nicolau, 2020 ). Qiu et al. ( 2020 ) estimated the social costs of the pandemic to tourism in three cities in China (Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Wuhan), and they found that most respondents were willing to pay for risk reduction and action in responding to the pandemic crisis; there was no significant difference between residents’ willingness to pay in the three cities. Some research has emphasized how lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic can prepare global tourism for an economic transformation that is needed to mitigate the impacts of climate change (Brouder, 2020 ; Prideaux et al., 2020 ).

It is clear that tourism has contributed significantly to economic development globally, but its role in sustainable development is uncertain, contested, and potentially paradoxical. This is due, in part, to the contested nature of sustainable development itself. Tourism has been promoted as a low-impact, nonextractive option for economic development, particularly for developing countries (Gössling, 2000 ), and many countries have managed to increase their participation in the global economy through development of international tourism. Tourism development has been viewed as an important sector for investment to enhance economic growth, poverty alleviation, and food security, and the sector provides an alternative opportunity to large-scale development projects and extractive industries that contribute to emissions of pollutants and threaten biodiversity and cultural values. However, global evidence from research on the economic impacts of tourism has shown that this potential has rarely been realized (Liu, 2003 ).

The role of tourism in sustainable development has been studied extensively and with a variety of perspectives, including the conceptualization of alternative or responsible forms of tourism and the examination of economic, environmental, and social impacts of tourism development. The research has generally concluded that tourism development has contributed to sustainable development in some cases where it is demonstrated to have provided support for biodiversity conservation initiatives and livelihood development strategies. As an economic sector, tourism is considered to be labor intensive, providing opportunities for poor households to enhance their livelihood through the sale of goods and services to foreign tourists.

Nature-based tourism approaches such as ecotourism and community-based tourism have been successful at attracting tourists to parks and protected areas, and their spending provides financial support for biodiversity conservation, livelihoods, and economic growth in developing countries. Nevertheless, studies of the impacts of tourism development have documented negative environmental impacts locally in terms of land use, food and water consumption, and congestion, and globally in terms of the contribution of tourism to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases related to transportation and other tourist activities. Studies of the social impacts of tourism have documented experiences of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, race, sex, and national identity.

The sustainability of tourism as an economic sector has been examined in terms of its vulnerability to civil conflict, economic shocks, natural disasters, and public health pandemics. Most studies conclude that tourism may have positive impacts for regional development and environmental conservation, but there is evidence that tourism inherently generates negative environmental impacts, primarily through pollutions stemming from transportation. The regional benefits of tourism development must be considered alongside the global impacts of increased transportation and tourism participation. Global tourism has also been shown to be vulnerable to economic crises, oil price shocks, and global outbreaks of infectious diseases. Given that tourism is dependent on energy, the movement of people, and the consumption of resources, virtually all tourism activities have significant economic, environmental, and sustainable impacts. As such, the role of tourism in sustainable development is highly questionable. Future research on the role of tourism in sustainable development should focus on reducing the negative impacts of tourism development, both regionally and globally.

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1. One megatonne (Mt) is equal to 1 million (10 6 ) metric tons.

2. One megajoule (MJ) is equal to 1 million (10 6 ) joules, or approximately the kinetic energy of a 1-megagram (tonne) vehicle moving at 161 km/h.

3. One gigatonne (Gt) is equal to 1 billion (10 9 ) metric tons.

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Sustainable tourism development and competitiveness: The systematic literature review

Dalia streimikiene.

1 Institute for Sport Science and Innovation, Lithuanian Sports University, Kaunas Lithuania

Biruta Svagzdiene

2 Department of Sport and Tourism Management, Lithuanian Sports University, Kaunas Lithuania

Edmundas Jasinskas

Arturas simanavicius.

Tourism is one of most perspective and dynamic businesses in the world. It is of great significance to plan and develop tourism purposefully and sustainably though the search for compromises between environmental, economic and social aims of society. The sustainable tourism development management has to retain high satisfaction degree of tourists' needs, assure significant experience for consumers, increasing their consciousness under issues of sustainability, and propagating practices of sustainable tourism among them. The significance of sustainable tourism sector development ambition is analysed in this paper through the lens of strengthening its competitiveness. The paper analyses scientific literature and seeks to discover the main forms and factors for the strengthening of the tourism competitiveness by implementing economic, social and environmental targets of tourism destination territories development. The broad systematic literature review provided for some interesting findings: The business participants are interested in the implementation of new technologies in tourism services having positive impact on environment and local communities; however, a lot of challenges exist how to change environment, increase of consumers' motivations for sustainable tourism services and to change their behaviour towards more sustainable one. The current Covid 19 outbreak and high risks of future pandemics have risen new challenges for sustainable tourism development. In this paper the main sustainable tourist development challenges are addressed and new insights for the strengthening of competitiveness of sustainable tourism destination are provided. The future research guidelines are set based on analysis performed.

  • The systematic review of literature on sustainable tourism
  • The trade‐off between sustainability and competitiveness
  • The main challenges of sustainable tourist development
  • New insights for the strengthening of competitiveness of sustainable tourism
  • The future research guidelines are set based on analysis performed


Travels have already become an inseparable part of human lives. Neither global world problems nor the terrorism threat cannot defeat a passion to travel. In the year 2019, in the world there travelled about 1.4 billion of the planet population (UNWTO, 2019 ). However, tourism as any other economic field not does only bring some economic benefits to states, but it also creates some serious problems as excessive energy consumption and increasing negative environmental effects including climatic change. Also due to tourism and travel expansions the nature is being wasted, tourist destinations suffer from high tourist flows and the life quality of the local people is also negatively affected. In order to decrease negative tourism effects, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) announced the year 2017 – the year of sustainable tourism and invited all world population to travel, following the principles of sustainable tourism and to turn to local communities (UNWTO, 2017 ).

The topicality of the research is related to the fact that many scientists have noticed the great challenges for sustainable tourism due to rapid growth of tourism services; however, at the moment there is a lack in sustainability as a such rapid growth has impact on unsustainable solutions in tourism sector. In this paper the key challenges of sustainable tourism development are addressed and some ideas about possible consolidation of the competitiveness in a tourism sector and sustainable development of tourism destinations are given. The research is based on systematic literature review to assess the current degree of research and to deliver guideline for further research in sustainable tourism field. The sustainable tourism issues were researched by UNWTO ( 2017 ), UNWTO ( 2014 ); Lu and Nepal ( 2009 ); Alvarez and Cooper ( 2014 ); Waseema ( 2017 ); Pjerotic, Delibasic, Joksiene, Griesiene, and Georgeta ( 2017 ); Pjerotic ( 2017 ). Coenen and Truffer ( 2012 ); Butler ( 1999 ); Mihalič, Šegota, Knežević Cvelbar, and Kuščer ( 2016 ); Waligo, Clarke, and Hawkins ( 2013 ); Kangwa (2017); Streimikiene, & Bilan, 2015); Agyeiwaah, McKercher, and Suntikul ( 2017 ) etc. The linkages between tourism and sustainable development of tourist destinations were also addressed in various studies (Egresi & Kara, 2018 ; Jeon et al., 2016 ; Madhavan & Rastogi, 2013 ; Nunkoo & So, 2016 ; Pesonen & Komppula, 2010 ; Woo, Kim, & Uysal, 2015 ). The competitiveness issues in tourism development were concentrated in several important studies by Crouch and Ritchie ( 1999 ); Hassan ( 2000 ); Mihalič ( 2000 ); Croes and Kubickova ( 2013 ).

Despite plenty of research in this area, sustainable development of tourism is a dynamic process that is constantly experiencing new challenges as there are changing the applied technologies and consumption aspects of tourism. The scientific problem: what are the current prospects of sustainable tourism in consolidation with the competitiveness of a tourism sector? The main goal of this paper is based on literature review to indicate the prospects of consolidation of sustainability and competitiveness in tourism development by taking into account the recent trends of development.

The rest of the paper of structured in the following way: Section 2 deals with the concept of sustainable tourism and addresses the main challenges of sustainable tourism and the main issues of competitiveness; Section 3 provides sustainable tourism development prospects by consolidating the issues competitiveness of tourism industries and sustainable development priorities of tourism destinations; Section 4 concludes and provides policy implications.


2.1. sustainable tourism.

Sustainable development is the main concept of development and tourism has enormous economic, environmental and social impact in the modern world therefore the development of this sector is linked with all three mentioned dimensions of sustainability. As global economy, social and technological development processes are still expanding, the analysis of new and specific forms, present in business is necessary in tourism as well in order to achieve sustainable development of tourism. One of them involves the clusters, gaining a greater significance – to locate in one network geographical companies and establishments that closely cooperate and that are focused on mutual business results and ones that complement each other. The innovations are expected to contribute to breakthroughs at the international level and that may determine companies' operation under new effective organizational forms that generalize ideas, provide with some competitive advantage and open new possibilities in tourism as well (Agyeiwaah et al., 2017 ). Therefore, sustainable tourism development issues are closely linked with competitiveness through increasing innovations in all areas relevant to business operations. In addition, tourism is described as a business, distinguishing by its great variety, integrity and multi‐planning. Precisely, great interconnection of structural components, shaping tourism business, allow presumptions for the companies, providing tourism service, to cooperate in the implementation of innovations (Madhavan & Rastogi, 2013 ).

Tourism has been acknowledged as one of the most significant economic sectors in major countries of the worlds. According to World Travel and Tourism Council ( 2020 ) in 2018, the Travel & Tourism sector experienced 3.9% growth, outpacing that of the global economy (3.2%) for the eighth consecutive year. Over the past 5 years, one in five jobs were created by the sector, making Travel & Tourism the best partner for governments to generate employment. Therefore, tourism as one of the world's largest economic sectors, supporting one in 10 jobs (319 million) worldwide, and generating 10.4% of global GDP. Although tourism market is dependent on the health and natural environment; however, simultaneously it often affects them negatively. Therefore, environmental issues of tourism development require special attention and were addressed by several important studies (Butler, 1999 ; Lu, & Nepal, 2009; Pjerotic et al., 2017 ; Waligo et al, 2013).

The term of green tourism is mainly linked tourism addressing environmental issues of tourism (Lu et al. (2009). The research of the year 2018 disclosed that tourism contributes to the amount of the emission of the carbon dioxide in the world by 8% (Lenzen et al., 2018 ). Thus, the significance of the sustainable tourism is currently of the greatest importance. As a result, several future guidelines for developed for sustainable tourism providing main environmental indicators for tourism sector including climate change mitigation, pollution reduction, use of renewables, waste disposal etc. (UNEP, 2004 ; UNWTO, 2013 , 2014 , 2017 ). As was already mentioned before, innovations, research and technological development can provide significant solutions for dealing with environmental challenges of tourism development. The European Economy is recovering after the Great Crisis however there are new challenges liked to the threats of world pandemic. In the presence of such a situation, the pace of technological development has been slowed and as a result there is a harm not only for economy, but also for nature as further steps towards utilisation of renewables are lacking. The use of renewables has direct impact on climate change mitigation. The outcomes of the previous economic crisis are still being felt around the world, and as the growth of other countries' economies slowed; the European economy has just few chances to turn into a powerful economic force. Investment into technological development is being observed as well as focus on social issues of sustainability. It is also significant to mention that in case of improving life quality – tourism is playing important role. The quality of life is one of the most important targets of sustainable development also relevant to tourism sector in terms of providing services for tourist as well as taking into account quality of life of residents in tourist destinations (Crouch, & Ritchie, 1999; Hassan, 2000 ; Jeon et al., 2016 ). Generalizing the expressed statements, the presumptions can be created, for finding the ways to maximize the quality of life in the future and accordingly to avoid a new economic crisis around the world (Kakoudakis, McCabe, & Story, 2017 ; Morgan, Pritchard, & Sedgley, 2015 ).

According to Agyeiwaah (Madhavan & Rastogi, 2013 ), even though there have been created unbelievably many indicators, following which, it would be possible to identify the advance of sustainable development in the tourism sector; however, principally it turned out that the following does not work. The authors (Agyeiwaah et al., 2017 ; Coenen & Truffer, 2012 ; Fayos‐Solà et al., 2014 ; Jasinskas & Simanavičienė, 2009 ; Kangwa, 2017 ; Macdonald & Jolliffe, 2003 ; Mihalič et al., 2016 ; Pjerotic, 2017 ; Pjerotic et al., 2017 ; Waligo, 2013; Waseema, 2017 ; Smagurauskienė, 2009 ; Streimikiene & Bilan, 2015 ) are trying to answer the question if different theories, calculations and other mechanisms of sustainable development assure more successful and sustainable development of tourism sector or to find more simple ways to achieve sustainability in tourism. There are distinguished seven key indicators (UNWTO, 2014 ), following which, it is possible to measure sustainability issues in tourism: creation of workplaces, business vitality, quality of life and water, sorting of waste, energy saving and community spirit. A way to a more sustainable tourism sector consists of many small steps; however, the most important is consistency. Strengthening of sustainability in any sector is a continuous process; thus, it would not be purposeful to limit the following process by the certain aspects, and it might be even hazardous.

The first step seeking sustainability in tourism business is the identification of problems. One of the most painful problems in tourism are: non‐traditional kinds of tourism, sorting of waste and seasoning (Murava & Korobeinykova, 2016 ). Having identified problems – it is necessary to prepare a plan of the key measures and a strategy. Having commenced the implementation of the actions and having gained positive activity outcomes, the next stage for the strengthening of the sustainable tourism are extra actions, which would assure the stability of the achieved result.

Analysing scientific literature, the following key aspects of sustainable tourism development can be defined: creation of new workplaces including employment opportunities in tourism destinations, preservation of natural environment, climate change mitigation, pollution and waste reduction, promotion of green and sustainable consumption practices (UNEP, 2004 ; UNEP, 2005; UNWTO, 2013 , 2014 , 2017 ). These effects manifests through other social factors, such as resident employment and unemployment, psychological climate, availability of social service in tourist destinations etc. Currently, in the tourism sector, it is particularly underlying to ensure socially responsible tourism or sustainable tourism in order to sort waste, preserve natural resources and other issues of ethical tourism (Andereck & Nyaupane, 2011 ; Andereck, Valentine, Knopf, & Vogt, 2005 ; Andereck, Valentine, Vogt, & Knopf, 2007 ; Luekveerawattana, 2018 ; Morgan et al., 2015 ; Murava & Korobeinykova, 2016 ).

Currently, the social issues of tourism development attract a lot of attention of scientists. The term of social tourism was developed to address concerns about socially disadvantaged people (Kakoudakis et al., 2017 ; Morgan et al., 2015 ). Kakoudakis et al. (2003) analysed the impact of social tourism economically and how this manifest for the quality of life in terms of socially disadvantaged people. In the presence of the impact of such psychological environment, it is significant to pay attention to the fact how the unemployed seek to find a desirable job and how vacations affect employees. It was determined that in the presence of better psychological environment there is much stronger residents' health condition and in such a case there are reduced expenses for the disease treatment, improve interpersonal relationship and decreases the level of crimes. It is considered that social tourism – an alternative form of tourism, providing a possibility to travel for the people, possessing fewer possibilities. Different associations created in parallel: movements for family, trade unions, federations, etc., the key aim of which is to develop social tourism (Morgan et al., 2015 ). Social tourism is very well developed in Europe and it provides service to thousands of people. Tourism is also one of social integrity measures. Universal right to tourism is based on the criteria of values, which shape the development basis of social tourism (Ozdemir & Yolal, 2017 ). The number of people, who can enjoy vacation today, has significantly increased due to the boosting popularity of tourism in the world. However, there are still present groups of people, to whom vacations are unavailable due to different reasons: a lack of resources, manifestation of social exclusion, insufficient attention of the public sector, applying social resources and the actions of passive communities and non‐profit making organizations.

Tourism is a contribution into social integrity, the activities of which can be perceived as a measure of social integration/integrity that enables the establishment of relations with other cultures, cognitions of places, customs, and conduct of cultural exchange and pithy spending of spare time (Cloquet, Palomino, Shaw, Stephen, & Taylor, 2017 ; Ganglmair‐Wooliscroft & Wooliscroft, 2017 ; Ozdemir & Yolal, 2017 ; Ponnapureddy, Priskin, Ohnmacht, Vinzenz, & Wirth, 2017 ). Social tourism, more based on social than on economical presumptions, may aid at the creation or preservation of tourist destinations, taking into consideration economic, social and environmental criteria of sustainability. It is a significant contribution to the employment and the growth of economy. In the development of tourism activities, it is necessary to base not only on economic profit‐seeking criteria, but also on ones of the social welfare increase, which are as following ‐ stable and high‐quality creation of workplaces, solution of seasoning and employment problems, cooperation of public and private partnership. Essentially, it can be stated that even short vacation provided for the job search motivate particularly positively for a job search and provide with some essence in terms of the creation of welfare. Thus, social sensitivity together with economic welfare is one of the most significant elements of sustainable development not only in the sector of tourism, but also in the other ones.

Though sustainable tourism issues are mainly linked with promotion of green and social tourism there are important issues of competitiveness necessary to address as competitiveness is perceived as one of the main economic dimensions of sustainability also relevant to tourism sector. The main problem identified based on systematic sustainable tourism research review is about finding possibilities to achieve all three sustainability dimensions (economic, social and environmental) together, that is, to develop competitive tourism business by addressing environmental and social challenges of tourism development in holistic way. The systematic review of literature of competitiveness issues of tourism might provide relevant answers how to trade‐ off between social, economic and environmental dimension of sustainable tourism development.

2.2. Competitiveness and sustainability issues in tourism

According to study (UNWTO, 2017 ), modern economy is distinguished by high competitiveness in any business field including tourism. In order to survive, organizations are forced to increase business efficiency, implement the most advanced technologies, to seek for the competitive advantage of products and supplied service, to fight for the greater market share and to retain the best specialists. The author (Smagurauskienė, 2009 ) emphasizes that operating in such conditions, organizational management necessarily faces a problem, when further development is impossible with no attraction of investment resources. Investment provides an organization with extra competitive advantage and a powerful measure for growth. Following Smagurauskienė ( 2009 ), all the EU and major world states support business development in one or another form, paying great attention to small and medium business of the country that as it is thought forms an economic basis and secures its stability. Financial support for the certain size companies is the key policy instrument of small and medium business.

It was determined that small and medium enterprises are an economic engine in the EU. They form the greatest part of economy and create high income. However, in Lithuania the potential of small and medium enterprises is not completely exploited due to a very unfavourable situation in terms of business, assessing it under a complex approach. The greatest potential of small and medium business is related to the young generation that is focused on the creation of business consciously and purposefully (Macdonald & Jolliffe, 2003 ).

According to Jasinskas and Simanavičienė ( 2009 ), the three key aspects, verifying the provision of financial support to SMEs are distinguished: decision, rationality and human motivation:

  • Aspects of dependence on the decisions, made by other foreign states. The authors describe such an aspect as a situation, when one state, making economic decisions, affects the decision‐making of another country.
  • Rationality aspect. It is known that support from the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), makes 75% of the all the provided amount of the support. Thus, following this indicator, under the authors' approach, it would be unreasonable to reject it and not to exploit it, as in another case “financial injections” could come to other states.
  • Human motivation presumption aspect. Plenty of citizens would lose trust in state authorities if before declaring a willing to enter the EU, they had spoken about the advantages of the EU support, and having implemented that, it did not supply it to business.

Having taken into consideration these three discussed aspects, the presumption can be made, that financial support should not be rejected in order to establish own business or seeking for relevant initial funding. It is required to search for and select the most relevant form of financial support from possible ones. According to Smagurauskienė ( 2009 ), there are two key categories of financial support: “State to business” and “Business to business” (not trying to analyse what business gives to the state in such a case) (See Figure ​ Figure1 1 ).

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is SD-29-259-g004.jpg

The key categories of financial support [Colour figure can be viewed at ]

Following Figure ​ Figure1 1 it can be seen that both the state and business take part in the distribution of the financial support. It is significant to distinguish and comprehend that the state role remains an important one as without the support provided by the state; the realization of ideas and establishment of SMEs would not be possible in some cases. Meanwhile, it should be reasoned that without business that is one of the most significant moments of the economic added value, there would be no state. The more business ideas are being implemented; the greater economic growth of the country is being observed. Considering financial support to business, it can be imagined that a businessperson, having invested into the industry of tourism business and provided he/she has established a new hotel, supplies additional work, for example, to a local laundry. Following the example, it can be emphasized that every newly established business creates quite a great added value to another enterprise, supplying another service or product, therefore the financial support to business can be acknowledged. However, taking into account the laws of market and efficiency of resource allocation provided by markets state interventions into the markets should be limited by dealing with market failures such as pollution, public goods and internalization of external and internal costs linked to business operations. Therefore, state support for sustainable tourism should be linked to promotion of innovations, use of renewables, provision of social integrity for disabled people, creation of new job places and other benefits for quality of life of local population which are being treated as public benefits (Streimikiene & Bilan, 2015 ).

In addition, it is necessary to stress that sustainable tourism development is closely linked to payment attention to a consumer as this allows to attract more consumers, expand business and increase competitiveness (Luekveerawattana, 2018 ). Tourism business organizations invest quite a lot in consumer market research and are interested in their consumer behaviour and motives. In scientific literature, it is mentioned that not only does motivation, life style or demographic parameters affect tourist behaviour, but also do the nationality and country's culture (Andereck et al., 2005 , 2007 ; Andereck & Nyaupane, 2011 ; Morgan et al., 2015 ). Tourism business is expanding quite at a high pace, more tourists of different nationalities and cultures are emerging and the following fosters greater interest in cultural differences, cognition of local traditions and habits. Tourism service suppliers, knowing intercultural differences and cognizing tourist behaviour, apply this knowledge for the creation of tourist service packages and consider the following while forming tourist groups. This will enable to fulfil consumers' expectations and create more favourable environment both in groups and in individual service. The result of that is felt – gained a greater everything involving added value for consumers and organizations (Ozdemir & Yolal, 2017 ).

Looking deeper into the market research areas that are being paid more and more attention under the aspect of sustainable consumption, there is present comprehension and cognition of tourists' consumption significance (See Figure ​ Figure2 2 ).

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is SD-29-259-g005.jpg

The impact of tourism on environment and economy and on society [Colour figure can be viewed at ]

Following Figure ​ Figure2, 2 , it can be seen that tourism is business, the impact of that is made on environment and economy and on society. Analysing the research and the presented outcomes by Ganglmair‐Wooliscroft and Wooliscroft ( 2017 ), it can be noticed that although the society is being more and more responsible in terms of consumption; however, the selection of sustainable tourism service remains relatively low. The results disclosed by these scientists also showed that there is strong dependence/correlation between consumer's daily consumption habits and behaviour during holidays. Generalizing there can be drawn a presumption that in daily activities, society follows the principles of sustainable consumption and it will apply the same principles during holidays.

There is wide penetrated of sustainable consumption aspect of sustainable tourism. The tourists, who are for sustainable and responsible consumption, usually do not select sustainable tourism service packages that are proposed by Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO). According to Ponnapureddy et al. ( 2017 ), that can be explained as distrust in the organization, proposing that service. Some organizations, willing to attract more tourists, convey themselves as more sustainable than in reality they are. A contemporary tourism service consumer is a sophisticated service consumer and the following sets some ambiguities and distrust in an organization. Under the basis of research results, made by these scientists it was proved that trust in an organization directly impacts tourism service consumer's intentions to order the certain service. The research results have disclosed that higher trust is set for tourists by the hotel advertising that provides with clear and useful information, at the same time reflects sustainability, and does not overshadow with some exceeded information through very obsessive emphasis (Ganglmair‐Wooliscroft & Wooliscroft, 2017 ). That is a very significant highlight talking about a tourism service consumer and analysing his/her decision motives to purchase service.

Sustainable tourism is not only the nature preservation or socially responsible business. It is necessary to remind that the theoretical definition of sustainable tourism involves economic, social and environmental protection dimensions. In that context there is noticed that the issue that receives less attention is social involvement. The following can be noticed analysing the communication among organizations and potential tourism service consumers and especially among those, who are disabled in one or another way. According to Cloquet et al. ( 2017 ), tourism‐advertising measures are not focused on disabled tourists no relevant information in commercials/films are delivered for them, disabled persons are not shown and the following creates the feeling of no involvement. Following the research, it was determined that advertising that a consumer can identify himself/herself with, also increases the feeling of involvement, also increases probability, and in that way strengthens motivation that a consumer will gain the proposed product or separate tourism service or service package. Thus, strengthening the remarks, determined by the research results, it can be stated that tourism organizations, expanding the development of sustainable tourism, should pay a greater attention to the involvement of the disabled tourism service consumers (Benur & Bramwell, 2015 ).

Therefore, then main competitiveness issues in tourism can be addressed also by achieving social and environmental targets of sustainable tourism development by developing innovations linked to sustainable consumption practices in tourism services and attracting environmentally conscious consumers and training such type of consumers by provision of green or environmentally friendly tourism services. Another important input to competitiveness of tourism is innovating in social area and providing social tourism services for disabled and old people. At the same time green and social tourism can deliver a lot of benefits to local communities of tourism destinations by increasing the quality of life etc. Therefore, based on systematic literature review, the main directions of consolidation of competitiveness and sustainable tourism development prospects are analysed further in Section 3 .


For consolidating competitiveness and sustainability issues in tourism the analysis of tourism services and products and customer's needs is necessary especially taking into account current demographic trends around the world as following the statistics, the major part of tourists are at the age of 30–50 or over 65 and it can be foreseen that the number of tourists is going to increase every year and most of them will be at the age over 65 therefore in order to ensure competitiveness of this sector development the tourism services and products necessary to satisfy future tourists needs should be reconsidered as well.

3.1. Implications of aging society on tourism development trends

The aging process started more than 100 years ago in many developed countries and during XX and XXI centuries, it turned out that in many developing. Resident aging will soon turn into one of the most significant social transformations in the 21st century that will affect almost all social sectors, including labour and finance markets, products and services, transport and social needs as well as family structure and relationship of different generations. Following statistic data, almost in every country there is present a part of people older than 60 years that is growing faster than one of any other group. Especially this trend is fast in European Union and creates many important challenges. The following discloses that soon the number of the people at 65 and older will double in accordance with the world resident part. In accordance with numbers, it can be stated that the number of people at the age 60+ will double until 2050 in comparison to the year 2016. Most elderly will be present in Japan and developed countries. Such rapid increase in the number of the elderly changes all stages of life. The following reveals that the birth rate is decreasing globally (UN, 2020 ). UN ( 2020 ). This indicates that there predominant the elderly in the world. It cannot be stated that the elderly has emerged suddenly and in an unplanned way. They pass several stages through their life until they reach the last one ‐ eldership. The comprehension of the world and activities expands in the process of human development. In each stage of development, we choose new alternatives that will provide us with some possibilities for the achievement of a normal level in life. The following is determined by the person's biological age, historical circumstances, under which the personality was forming, his/her economic and family status, and cultural factors (Peterson & Martin, 2015 ).

Human aging is determined by many factors that affect a human from both environment and from inside. Each factor has positive and negative sides (Batini, 2015 ; Flatt, 2012 ; Itrat, Nigar, & Huque, 2013 ; Katz & Calasanti, 2015 ; Lee, Lan, & Yen, 2011 ; Liang & Luo, 2012 ; Nikitina & Vorontsova, 2015 ; Sedgley, Pritchard, & Morgan, 2011 ; Villar, 2012 ). Aging – a very wide concept, involving different fields of life: physiological (medical), psychological and many others. According to Itrat et al. ( 2013 ), aging is a gradual and progressive process and in general a disorder of functions, when it is adapted to stress and the increased disease risk. However, according to Flatt ( 2012 ), the aging – stabilizing and adapting of powers, based on natural selection, to the changed environment. There are more broad concepts like ‐ process, during which, the number of the elderly are increasing in the general society. Therefore, there is no one term to describe the concept of aging. However, there can be made a conclusion that aging affects the whole human organism (both inside and appearance) and that is an irreversible process. All‐natural creatures age and this is natural for nature. Human is also a natural creature; thus, the same conditions work for him/her. There are several social indicators, describing aging ‐ the number of the residents at the older age; residents' senility degree; the indicator of the doubled period for the resident senility degree; senility demographic coefficient; resident median age; average resident life expectancy, so called resident pyramid; gender coefficient (gender correlation – the number of all men resident in the country divided from the women in the country); different coefficients of dependence and the coefficient of supported parents (supportive age people) (Mendes de Leon, 2005 ; Noll, 2002 , 2005 ).

According to the United Nations Organization (UNO), human is assigned to the aging society after having got 60 and according to the World Health Organization (WHO) – after 65. Currently, people at the age of 65 and senior make 8–10%. Their number exceeds the number of children under 5 (Figure ​ (Figure3 3 ).

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Number of people at the age of 65 and senior and children under 5 [Colour figure can be viewed at ]

In accordance with the Figure ​ Figure3 3 it can be seen that the child birth rate started decreasing from 1970s and in the same year, the number of the elderly increased. Following the presented data, it can be seen that until 2050, there will be by 10% more people at the older age than children, younger than 5. It is obvious that aging is a “problem” that affects everybody's life, including social, cultural and religious. Undoubtedly, gradual resident aging is one of challenges that the society is facing in this century (Batini, 2015 ; Flatt, 2012 ; Itrat et al., 2013 ; Nikitina & Vorontsova, 2015 ; Sedgley et al., 2011 ).

During several upcoming years or even decades, there is intended a rapid world resident aging, as result of that the part of the population of the working age will be significantly decreasing. Longer lifespan is a great winning in the field of health as a person can enjoy a good quality of life longer and remain employable longer. However, due to the resident aging there appear quite many economic and social problems. Demographic changes are considered one of the greatest difficulties, emerged for the European Union and the whole world. According to UN data (UN, 2020 ), the number of the elderly at the age of 65 and older will increase by 16% in terms of the resident part until 2050. In the world, there will be present more older people than children (0–14 years old). This will happen for the first time through the history of mankind. Such a dramatic change in age is already affecting the world economy and, in the time, it will be more and more obvious. In the case of the elderly number increase, there are put efforts to make their lifespan longer. A lot of attention is paid to health care and physical activity. If the elderly remains healthy longer, they will be able to enjoy the better quality of life, be independent and active.

Seniors – is non‐homogenous group of persons, the members of which have different needs, different motivation and different expectations. Seniors experience a greater social isolation and the tourism adapted to the elderly aids them to restore social relations. It has been proved that the tourism, adapted to the elderly, aids at the reduction of a health care need. Travelling, they widen their attitude and communicate with alter ego. Sedgley et al. ( 2011 ) presents the groups of the elderly, who travel, considering their approach and wishes. Such travellers can be grouped in groups as passive visitors, enthusiasts, culture hounds, active learners, careful participants, ordinary holidaymakers, world investigators, independent adventure seekers and restless travellers. All these groups of people look for the service, present in the tourism industry that they need in order to fulfil their wishes (Table ​ (Table1 1 ).

Model of the elderly behaviour in the tourism sector

Field of lifePossible consequences of aging and retirementNeeds and changes for consumer behaviour

General worsening of health (loss of hearing, weakening of vision, bad sleep).

Flare‐up of chronic diseases, dimensions, related to age, disability.

Malfunction of self‐service ability.

Tiredness decreased physical powers, decreased coordination.

Medicines and equipment.

Prophylaxis (supplements, pharmacy, cosmetics). Medical service (housekeeping, hospitals, specialized health centres, home, nursing home, etc.).

Comfortable clothes, footwear and equipment, etc. domestic and social service.

Social field

Changed usual circle of friends (due to retirement, funerals), a lack of communication, loneliness.

Free time, related to retirement.

Rest: Sports clubs (health), cultural and educational events, tourism and voluntary activities.

Hobbies, pleasures, creativity, leisure time (gardening, handicrafts, fishing).

Financial fieldDecrease of income.

Price sensitivity, saving, rational purchase behaviour.

Extra livelihood sources (room rent, real‐estate mortgage, etc.).

Source: Completed following Nikitina and Vorontsova ( 2015 ).

According to the Table ​ Table1, 1 , we can see that it is complicated to implement the elderly needs, as it is a diverse system and it cannot be named as “the cheapest product”. Considering the elderly income, health condition and employment, their needs become individual. Applying the presented model, the elderly consumer needs enable the increase of the tourism supply effectiveness for this group of tourists. Having found of senior needs, there arises a possibility to propose a relevant tourism product for them, what they expect or demand, that is, that it complied with the value and their needs.

In order to implement needs of seniors, a search for innovative solutions is necessary. According to Van Vuuren and Slabbet ( 2011 ), there are key travellers' factors, determining their behaviour during travels. The most significant is the travel aim; the type of travel (cultural travels, business meetings, holidays, etc.). Taking into account these factors, it is possible to ensure the quality of tourism product and service, to attract more customers and increase competitiveness.

Due to the fact that motives and needs are individual, the tourism market can be segmented in order to find and present the best result easier and more simply (Figure ​ (Figure4 4 ).

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Segmentation of tourism market [Colour figure can be viewed at ]

In Figure ​ Figure4, 4 , we can see that the tourism market is divided into geographical, psychographic and consumer behaviour. This figure enables the highlight of age, as it is one of the most significant criteria of the segment. According to the categories, the age can be divided into children, teenagers, youth, middle‐aged and the retired (seniors). From all people's categories, the elderly most frequently has a command of free time. The most relevant place for the elderly activities, complying with their abilities and needs is their usual place of residence. A lot of depends in the person and his/her ability to find some activities for himself/herself. The elderly stays most frequently alone and are condemned to loneliness (Murava & Korobeinykova, 2016 ).

Talking about leisure, it is necessary to pay attention to the fact that the forms and ways of spending leisure is determined by a complex and closely interacted blend of different factors. However, the selection of the certain leisure activities and participation in it highly depends on the person and in particular on his/her age, gender and education (Araña, León, Carballo, & Moreno‐Gi, 2015 ; Dhiman, 2013 ; Liu, Yang, & Pu, 2015 ; Ok Luy & Lee, 2015 ). There are many ways of leisure spending, relevant to the people of different age and different character (Delespaul, Reis, & DeVries, 2004 ; Lanzendorf, 2002 ; Mokhtarian, Salomon, & Handy, 2004 ; Schlich, Schonfelder, Hanson, & Axhausen, 2004 ; Tschan, Semmer, & Inversin, 2004 ). As it was mentioned earlier, the most popular way of leisure spending among the elderly is travels and physical activity. Many other elements complement these two fields. They are as following: transport, accommodation, catering, attractions, etc. Travels turn to be one of the primary leisure spending ways for the elderly. It does not matter if they travel in their country, their city or beyond the boundaries of their homeland. Such a way of time spending turns into the seniors' basis of physical activity.

Both travels and physical activity may be divided into forms, that is, places where all the presented activities may be taken. Seniors most frequently select such destinations, where there is calmness, silence and little noise. They find these things in a natural environment and in holiday and amusement parks. Therefore, the Seniors are a target market in the tourism business. Every year the number of seniors is increasing annually and at the same time there is increasing a number of travels and the following reveals that they are more and more willing to change their residential environment, experience and feel something new (Cerina, Markandya, & McAller, 2011 ). However, not all seniors are able and can implement their travel aims. There are quite many reasons disturbing that, for example, finance, health problems, etc. All reasons are solved invoking the certain ways of solutions. Many seniors cannot go abroad and they select travels in their country or even city. It is not necessary to go far away in order to see something new. It is sometimes to discover what we have never seen in the environment surrounding us. Those seniors are using this principle, who are not willing to go far away from their home.

Other seniors – have set some aims and motives for themselves concerning travels. They are trying to implement that through the application to tourism agencies or planning their trips on their own. Such a type of seniors, wants to get everything from a trip what is possible: nature and culture, sports and leisure, trial of new entertainment, discovery of new places, etc. Their motives and aims are individual (Carey, Kang, & Zea, 2012 ; Kim & Yoon, 2012 ; Westcott, 2012 ). It is not that easy to make a trip in accordance with their requests; thus, many seniors plan their trips themselves. Some of them pay attention to their hobbies (communication and finding of friends, search for romance, interest in historical places and events, etc.); rest and calmness is significant for ones and religion, safety and health is significant for others (Jang & Wu, 2006 ; Losada, Alén, Domínguez, & Nicolau, 2016 ; Moal‐Ulvoas, 2017 ; Patterson et al., 2018). Therefore, taking into account the trends of ageing population, especially in developed world countries, the main issues of competitiveness of sustainable tourism development are linked with innovations in providing tourism services for seniors and disabled people at the same time addressing social tourism challenges.

3.2. Sustainable dev e lopment of tourism destinations

Tourism has become the main economic business field and survival possibility for many countries. Therefore, the competitiveness issues of tourism are closely linked with addressing sustainable development targets of tourist destinations and providing green tourism services which do not have negative impact on environment, ensure resources savings, protection of natural environment and is based on innovations in green services development, In case of the tourist flow increase, there are being established new companies that supply accommodation catering, transportation, entertainment or other services that they travellers need. Žilinskas ( 2011 ) states that “strengthening public economic and cultural integration determine the development of regional tourism that unavoidably is related to the impact on the economy, socio‐cultural environment and nature.” “Due to the increasing tourism demand, municipalities foster tourism, expecting to receive income from tourism, to create new workplaces and encourage the development of business service.”

However, in order to develop business, it is necessary to master the principles of tourism management and implement innovations in this field as well. Paulauskienė ( 2013 ) notices that “tourism management is a complicated process – it is directly and indirectly related to many fields (accommodation, catering, transport, connections, insurance, etc.), which are intended not only to tourists, but for satisfaction of the local residents' needs. So far there have not been identified how to assure effective management of a tourism sector at national, regional or local municipal levels.” Following the author's statement “it is one of the most difficult issues, solved in practice that tourism policy formers face in the countries of different economic development level.”

The tourists have contact with both the producer and the product, leading to three important and unique aspects between tourism and sustainable development of tourist destinations. Tourists constitute touch points with the local environment, host communities and employees. The relationship between the host areas (including both social and natural environment) and have impact on local environment, host communities and employment opportunities development (Lee, 2001 ). Therefore, tourists and the tourism industry has important implications for sustainable development of tourism destinations. The sustainable consumption practices should be promoted by tourism sector in order to contribute to sustainable development of tourism destinations (Sharpley, 2000 ; Singh & Singh, 1999 ; Zmyślony, Kowalczyk‐Anioł, & Dembińska, 2020 ).

Currently, scientists are discussing about communities and their centres and increase possibilities of public administrative effectiveness (Szromek, Kruczek, & Walas, 2020 ; Widz & Brzezińska‐Wójcik, 2020 ; Zmyślony, Leszczyński, Waligóra, & Alejziak, 2020 ; Zucco, et al. 2020 ). The involvement of a local community into the participation in the development process of self‐government may be different: political, social, satisfaction of personal needs, business development in a rural area.

Many authors agree (Aldebert, Dang, & Longhi, 2011 ; Bilgihan & Nejad, 2015 ; Peters & Pikkemaat, 2006 ; Szromek & Naramski, 2019 ; Zarębski, Kwiatkowski, Malchrowicz‐Mośko, & Oklevik, 2019 ) that the most important factor, fostering competiveness in tourism business is implementation of various kind of innovations. Creation of a new service and development of an old – an innovative process that enables the introduction of original services to the market. Creation of green tourism services – an innovation process that attracts environmentally responsible tourists. The main aim – satisfaction of consumers' needs. Creation and development of new services is the main condition for the company's growth and functioning, empowering the increase of the market share, seeking for aims of the growth of sales volume and profit and to limit the entrance of new competitors into the market (Aldebert et al., 2011 ). Innovative activities are a criterion of success for economic growth and social welfare, grounding on advance that fosters the development of business companies. It involves social change processes, fostering innovations. Therefore, one of the key sources of competitive advantage – application of innovations, creation of innovative products and services as innovations are more frequently seen as the key source of competitive advantage. Under the conditions of contemporary market, businesspeople are forced to search for the ways how to implement innovative activities in order to be able to expand their possibilities, constantly develop and change and through the satisfaction of consumers' needs to achieve excellent results.

Developing tourism business, the most significant element is employees that communicate with a client directly and also to address the local communities needs. For tourism agencies and their specialist, in order to meet leisure, recreational or creative interests and needs of customers it is necessary to have necessary theoretical and methodological knowledge, an ability to find out the interests and needs of resident community in different fields of leisure activities, an ability to involve children, teenagers, the disabled and the elderly to active cultural activities (Bilgihan & Nejad, 2015 ).

The corporate social responsibility initiatives, corporate governance and business excellence which can also provide valuable inputs to sustainable tourism development if properly addressed by companies operating in tourism and other related business sectors (Popescu, 2019 ; Popescu & Popescu, 2019 ).

3.3. Research findings

Sustainable tourism development can be achieved without damage to competitiveness of this sector development if such important issues like ageing human population and disable people needs, sustainable consumption and sustainable development of tourism destinations will be addressed by providing tourism services.

Therefore, in order to address the main economic sustainability issues or to strengthen the competitiveness of sustainable tourism sector, it is necessary to tackle with many social and environmental issues linked to sustainable tourism development in tourist destinations. All these economic, social and environmental issues need to be addressed together: welfare and need of local communities, sustainable development priorities of tourism destinations to changing demographic profile of tourists and their changing needs for tourism services and products. Sustainable consumption issues should be taken as priority by developing tourism products and services in order to address environmental sustainability issues. Social issues of sustainability in tourism development are linked with contribution to local communities development and addressing the needs for tourism products and services of aging society and disabled people.

In Figure ​ Figure5 5 the main dimensions of sustainable tourism development are interlinked with drivers of behavioural changes and their implications to sustainable consumption. At the same time this figure summarizes the main research finding and provides future research guidelines for investigation of sustainable tourism development paths and challenges.

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The main dimensions of sustainable tourism development and their implications to sustainable consumption [Colour figure can be viewed at ]

The current COVID‐19 outbreak is affecting tourism industry and rising new challenges for sustainable tourism development. According to Lew ( 2020 ), companies that survive the pandemic will need to make their products more resilient to future pandemics—which health experts warn will continue to occur—and be able to adapt to the predicted change in consumer interests, which will include greater demand for sustainable products. The challenge for global sustainable tourism will be to strike a balance between maintaining activity in rich countries, while avoiding overcrowding, and bringing activity to poor countries, some of which are overly dependent on the sector and markets that will need a lot of incentives to recover (Romagosa, 2020 ). In a post‐Covid world, changes to travel and tourism are inevitable and will likely be driven by a combination of consumer choice, destination availability and regulatory change (Spalding, Burke, & Fyall, 2020 ). Therefore, these issues are also need to be addressed in future research shaping sustainable tourism development trends at the risks of pandemics which can arise also in future as well.


Summarizing it can be stated that although sustainable development and sustainable tourism are gaining more and more attention; however, the following are not implemented completely neither by tourism service suppliers, providers nor by the very tourists. In order that sustainable and responsible tourism turned into a social norm, it is needed to educate both organizations and consumers as well interested parties systematically.

There are new perspectives of sustainable tourism development in terms of products and services, focusing on new tourism kinds and separate consumers' segments, focusing on elderly and disabled as well as green tourism services. During the last two decades, due to globalization, tourism has turned to be available to many people, especially of the middle‐class, and as a result, tourism industry has become one of the greatest industry fields in the world. Although, tourism has become available to a majority, and was is easier to travel, some social groups, for example, disabled people and seniors usually were underestimated and forgotten in the tourism market, as they represented the minority that have low economic power. However, due to the low rate of birth in the whole world and the high number of the elderly, this situation has got a new trend and currently, seniors have become a wide and important group that provides with greater use of tourism services than other groups.

As tourism services have impact on host areas including impacts on local environment, host communities and employment opportunities development, the tourism industry has important implications for sustainable development of tourism destinations. The sustainable consumption practices should be promoted by tourism sector in order to contribute to sustainable development of tourism destinations.

There is wide penetration of sustainable consumption aspect of sustainable tourism. The tourists, are currently looking for sustainable tourism services and enjoy responsible consumption practices therefore they are keen to select sustainable tourism service packages that are proposed by various tourism organizations.

Competitiveness and environmental and social issues of sustainable tourism development can be addressed together by implementing innovations and fostering sustainable consumption principles, providing new tourism services for disabled and old people and achieving completive advantage together by contributing to welfare and needs of local communities and dealing with sustainable development priorities of tourism destinations.

The demographic profile of tourists and their changing needs for tourism services and products should be also addressed. Therefore, the sustainable consumption and social tourism functions should be taken as priority by developing tourism products and services in order to address environmental and social sustainability issues.

The current COVID‐19 outbreak will have significant effect on tourism industry and provides new challenges for sustainable tourism development. Companies in tourism sector that survive the pandemic will need to make their products more resilient to future pandemics—which health experts warn will continue to occur—and be able to adapt to the predicted change in consumer interests, which will include greater demand for sustainable products. In a post‐Covid world, changes to travel and tourism are inevitable and will likely be driven by a combination of consumer choice, destination availability and regulatory change, therefore, these issues are also need to be addressed in future including the sustainable consumption practices which should be further promoted and fully integrated in tourism sector by including also international agreements on carbon footprint or other limitations etc.

Another important issues for future research are linked with corporate social responsibility, corporate governance and excellence models of business performance which can provide valuable inputs to sustainable tourism development if properly addressed by business sectors (Popescu, 2019 ; Popescu & Popescu, 2019 ).

The further studies how to ensure social tourism development are necessary to ensure innovations in this field as well as provision of tourism services for disabled and old people should be also put as priority for policy agenda in European Union taking into account current trends of ageing population in all EU Member States and risks of pandemics.

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  • Published: 05 July 2024

Exploring the ecological security evaluation of water resources in the Yangtze River Basin under the background of ecological sustainable development

  • Jie-Rong Zhou 1   na1 ,
  • Xiao-Qing Li 1   na1 ,
  • Xin Yu 1 , 2 ,
  • Tian-Cheng Zhao 1 &
  • Wen-Xi Ruan 3  

Scientific Reports volume  14 , Article number:  15475 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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  • Environmental social sciences

The Yangtze River (hereafter referred to as the YZR), the largest river in China, is of paramount importance for ensuring water resource security. The Yangtze River Basin (hereafter referred to as the YRB) is one of the most densely populated areas in China, and complex human activities have a significant impact on the ecological security of water resources. Therefore, this paper employs theories related to ecological population evolution and the Driving Force-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) model to construct an indicator system for the ecological security of water resources in the YRB. The report evaluates the ecological security status of water resources in each province of the YRB from 2010 to 2019, clarifies the development trend of its water resource ecological security, and proposes corresponding strategies for regional ecological security and coordinated economic development. According to the results of the ecological population evolution competition model, the overall indicator of the ecological security of water resources in the YRB continues to improve, with the safety level increasing annually. Maintaining sound management of water resources in the YRB is crucial for sustainable socioeconomic development. To further promote the ecological security of water resources in the YRB and the coordinated development of the regional economy, this paper proposes policy suggestions such as promoting the continuous advancement of sustainable development projects, actively adjusting industrial structure, continuously enhancing public environmental awareness, and actively participating in international ecological construction and seeking cooperation among multiple departments.

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Water is the primary resource for sustaining living organisms and also an important contributor to the ecological environment and the global economy. However, the current status of water resources is facing formidable challenges owing to rapid global population growth, sustained economic development, and extreme climatic conditions triggered by climate change. According to reports from the World Economic Forum and the United Nations, currently, over 2 billion people worldwide inhabit water-scarce regions, a figure projected to increase to as much as 3.5 billion by the year 2025. Approximately a quarter of the global population is confronting a “water stress” crisis, with water scarcity issues gradually becoming commonplace, defying prior expectations 1 . The report assessed the water risks in almost 200 countries and regions. Seventeen regions and countries around the world consume more than 80% of the available water supply, putting them at risk of experiencing severe water scarcity. The scarcity, uneven distribution, and deteriorating environmental quality of water resources have emerged as significant impediments to human sustainable development and societal progress, posing severe threats to water resource security across various regions. Consequently, there is an urgent imperative to engage in interdisciplinary research and foster collaborative innovation to devise scientifically sound water resource management strategies, thereby advancing the societal attainment of sustainable development goals.

Water resources are a strategic asset for ensuring economic and social development. Water is not only a fundamental element for human survival but also a crucial guarantee for economic and social development. If industry is the foundation of the national economy, then water is its “lifeblood”, essential for the development of all industries. As the largest river in China, the YZR originates from the Qinghai‒Tibet Plateau, traverses three major economic zones, and finally flows into the East China Sea. The YZR the world’s third-longest river and also has the widest basin area in China, accounting for approximately 36% of the country's total water resources. Thus, it is one of China’s most critical rivers. The YZR runs through eleven regions, including an autonomous region, eight provinces, and two municipalities directly under the central government, namely, Qinghai Province, the Tibet Autonomous Region, Yunnan Province, Sichuan Province, Hunan Province, Hubei Province, Jiangxi Province, Anhui Province, Jiangsu Province, Chongqing Municipality, and Shanghai Municipality. Due to the complex terrain and low population density in the Tibet Autonomous Region, human activities in the area have a relatively minor impact on water resource ecological security. Considering the integrity of administrative divisions, this paper selects ten provinces (municipalities), namely, Qinghai, Yunnan, Sichuan, Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Chongqing, and Shanghai, as the research area, representing the YRB as the research object. The YRB currently has hundreds of millions of residents, meaning that the supply and demand of water resources in the basin are crucial for people’s livelihoods and industrial and agricultural production. As one of the most economically developed regions in China, the YRB has important economic centres and industrial bases. The rational utilization and management of water resources are crucial for the economic development of this region. Assessing the security of water resources in the YRB is the foundation for ensuring high-quality development in this area. To actively address the challenges posed by water security issues and achieve sustainable development, it is essential to prioritize and resolve water security challenges 2 .

By investigating research progress on water resource security both domestically and internationally, it has been found that the majority of studies primarily focus on the ecological system aspect, while a minority are based on the social attributes of water resources. Particularly within the realm of human–water relationships 3 , research examining the impact of socioeconomic factors on water resource ecological security from temporal and spatial perspectives is relatively limited. This study introduces the Lotka–Volterra biological concept to explore the competitive or symbiotic relationships between two populations concerning ecological resources within the same temporal and spatial context. Here, we assume that the changes in socioeconomic factors have an impact on the ecological security of water resources, and at the same time, the continuous improvement of water resource ecological security is also a sign of the advancement of socioeconomic development. The two mutually influence each other. Meanwhile, the water resource ecosystem possesses a certain degree of resilience, meaning that it can recover to a certain level through natural restoration or human intervention after being damaged to a certain extent. Building upon this foundation, the DPSIR model is employed to establish a symbiotic assessment index system for socioeconomic factors and water resources. The entropy weight method was utilized to calculate the weights of the indicators. Furthermore, the Lotka–Volterra coexistence model was employed to conduct an in-depth evaluation of the ecological security of water resources in the YRB from 2010 to 2019. The results indicate that during the period of 2010–2015, the ecological security status of water resources in the YRB was highly sensitive and even approached a dangerous state. However, with national governance and policy adjustments, the ecological security of water resources in the YRB has shown a trend of orderly recovery, currently stabilizing at a state of security or near-security. Nevertheless, challenges still exist in the management of water resource ecological security. It is vital not only to maintain and protect the YRB but also to further research and safeguard other water source areas. In summary, future efforts to govern and maintain the ecological security of water resources will be arduous, requiring the collaborative participation and governance of multiple stakeholders. Establishing a sound management system and calling for concerted efforts from the entire society to protect the YZR are crucial. Active participation in comprehensive ecological security protection projects in the YRB is essential. This lays the groundwork for constructing a healthier and more sustainable water resource ecological security management system.

Research progress at domestic and abroad

Interspecific competition model foundation—logistic model.

The logistic curve, also known as the “S-shaped curve, ” is a graphical representation of the growth pattern of a population 4 . This logistic growth model was constructed by Verhulst 5 . The logistic model describes the development of many phenomena in nature, showing continuous growth within a certain period 6 . Generally, in the initial stages of species development, the population grows rapidly. After a certain period, the growth rate reaches its peak. Due to internal factors, the rate gradually slows until it no longer increases, reaching a stable state at the limit. This process of changing population size is referred to as a finite growth process, namely, the logistic growth process. According to the research results of scholars such as Haibo et al. 7 , Lingyun and Jun 8 , and Tao 9 , the basic interspecies competition model, the logistic model, is represented by the following equation:

The constant \({\upgamma } > 0\) in the equation represents the self-intrinsic growth rate of the population, indicating the maximum growth rate of a single population without external environmental limitations. This variable reflects the difference between the average birth rate and the average death rate of individuals in a population who are not subjected to external inhibitory effects. This constant reveals the intrinsic growth characteristics of a species population. The parameter K reflects the abundance of available resources within an ecosystem. When the population size K of a species equals K, the population will no longer grow. Therefore, the K value represents the maximum number of individuals of a species that the ecosystem environment can accommodate, also known as the carrying capacity.

According to the logistic equation, we can observe that the relative growth rate of a population is proportional to the remaining resource capacity in the ecological system environment. When the remaining resources are abundant, the relative growth rate of the species population is high. This phenomenon, where the rate of population growth slows as population density gradually increases, is known as density-dependent regulation. As the ecological system capacity K approaches infinity, the growth rate of the population approaches exponential growth, and this change in the population growth curve is known as the logistic curve.

Lotka–Volterra ecological model

In 1925, Lotka introduced a significant model in his research titled “Elements of Physical Biology”, the predator‒prey interaction model. This model quantitatively elucidates the interactions between organisms 10 . In 1926, Volterra, in his study “Variazionie fluttuazioni del numero d’individui in specie animali conviventi,” described the population dynamics of two interacting species in the biological realm 11 . These contributions laid the theoretical foundation for interspecific competition models and significantly influenced the development of modern ecological competition theories.

The interactions between species can be classified into three main types: competitive relationships, predator–prey relationships, and mutualistic cooperation relationships 12 . The Lotka–Volterra model was initially developed to describe predator‒prey relationships. However, with the increasingly widespread application of differential equation theory, this ecological model has evolved to encompass a broader range of applicability.

  • DPSIR model

In 1993, the research group OECD innovatively proposed the DPSIR model, which is the “driving force-pressure-state-influence-response” model based on previous research models and has since been widely promoted in policy-making and research. Combining the characteristics of both the DSR (Driving Force-State-Response) and PSR frameworks, the DPSIR model effectively reflects causal relationships within systems, integrating elements such as resources, development, environment, and human health. As a result, it is considered a suitable method for evaluating watershed ecological security.

Consistent with the PSR framework, the DPSIR model organizes information and relevant indicators based on causal relationships with the aim of establishing a chain of causality: driving force (D)-pressure (P)-state (S)-impact (I)-response (R). In this context, “Driving Force (D)” primarily refers to potential factors reflecting changes in the health of the water cycle system, such as socioeconomic and population growth. “Pressure (P)” mainly refers to the impacts on the structure and functioning of the water cycle system, such as the utilization of water resources. “State (S)” represents changes in the water cycle system resulting from the combined effects of driving forces and pressures, serving as the starting point for impact and response analysis. “Impact (I)” reflects the effects of the hydrological cycle system on human health and social development. “Response (R)” refers to the feedback provided by the water cycle system to driving forces and pressures.

This model describes the causal chain between activities conducted by humans and the water environment, illustrating the mutually constraining and influencing processes between the two. It can encompass elements such as society, economy, and environment to indicate the threats posed by social, economic, and human activities to watershed ecological security. It can also utilize response indicators to demonstrate the feedback of the environment to society resulting from human activities and their impacts, as shown in Fig.  1 13 .

figure 1

DPSIR model framework.

Overview of water resource ecological security

Water resources are a vital strategic asset for sustainable development and a key factor influencing human survival and socioeconomic development. The security of water resources is intricately linked to national economies and social stability 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 . As the population and economy grow rapidly, as well as due to the influence of climate change, water scarcity and deterioration of the water environment have become increasingly prevalent, posing a critical constraint to human survival and development 19 . Currently, research on water resource ecological security issues primarily revolves around the following three aspects.

The first aspect involves the evaluation of the water resources carrying capacity (hereafter referred to as the WRCC) and vulnerability.

Regarding the WRCC, some studies consider that the WRCC implies the need for water resources to sustain a healthy societal system 20 . Other researchers argue that the WRCC is the maximum threshold for sustaining human activities 21 .

In terms of calculation methods, various quantification methods for the WRCC have gradually emerged. For example, Qu and Fan 22 considered the available water volume in water demand, national economic sectors and the ecological environment. They employed the traditional trend approach to obtain the population and development scales of industry and agriculture. Zhou Fulei adopted the entropy weight method, an objective weight determination method, to determine the weights of each evaluation indicator, utilized the analytic hierarchy process (AHP) to adjust the weights, constructed composite weights, and then used the TOPSIS model to evaluate the water resources carrying capacity of Qingdao city from 2015 to 2021 23 . Ma et al. 24 and Xiong et al. 25 analysed and evaluated the WRCC using the entropy weight method and provided suggestions for regional sustainable development. Wang et al. 26 , under the traditional TOPSIS model, used an improved structural entropy weighting method to determine the weights of evaluation indicators. They then constructed a grey-weighted TOPSIS model using a grey correlation matrix to specifically evaluate the current state of the agricultural WRCC in Anhui Province. Zhang X and Duan X combined the weights obtained from the entropy and CRITIC methods using the geometric mean method. They applied these combined weights to a model integrating grey relational analysis (GRA), the technique for order preference by similarity to an ideal solution (TOPSIS), and the coupling coordination degree model (CCDM) to calculate the evaluation value of the water resource carrying capacity 27 . Zhang and Tan 28 and Fu et al. 29 separately used optimization models and projection tracking models to evaluate the WRCC in their study areas and conducted comprehensive assessments of the regional WRCC. Gong and Jin 30 , Meng et al. 31 , Wang et al. 32 , and Gao et al. 33 applied fuzzy comprehensive evaluation methods to assess the influencing factors of the WRCC by establishing a fuzzy comprehensive evaluation matrix. On this basis, they analysed the factors affecting the WRCC and evaluated and predicted the future carrying capacity of water resources in the study area. Additionally, other methods have been employed, such as multidimensional regulation 34 , neural network genetic algorithms 35 , 36 , multi-index evaluation models 37 , and nonparametric analysis models 38 .

Ait-Aoudia and Berezowska-Azzag 39 conducted an assessment of the WRCC to analyse the balance between domestic demand and water supply. To assess the WRCC of specific regions, the assessment factors were determined by evaluating the relevant factors of water usage and availability. The conceptual framework for assessing the capacity of water resources was developed based on the supply–demand relationship. Yan et al. 40 focused on the previous decade’s regional water resource data of Anhui Province in China. They constructed a framework for the Driving Force-Pressure-State-Impact-Response Management (DPSIRM) model and conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the WRCC using the entropy weight method and variable weight theory. Based on the derived comprehensive evaluation values and incorporating the modified Gray–Markov combined forecasting, they made predictions about the local WRCC for the coming years. In 2020, Zhengqian 41 discussed the concept and research methods of regional WRCC. The research methodology has evolved from a singular and static approach to a dynamic, multilevel, and comprehensive study with various indicators. Jiajun et al. 42 , starting from a systemic perspective, studied the coordinated development relationships among China’s economy, social development, ecological environment, and water resources. They applied the WRCC Comprehensive Evaluation Model, calculating the comprehensive evaluation index for specific years based on relevant data. This allowed them to describe the WRCC status of provinces and regions in China, providing a comprehensive analysis and evaluation of China’s WRCC. Ren et al. 43 introduced the concept of biological metabolism to the regional WRCC and proposed the theory of regional water resource metabolism. Additionally, they established an evaluation indicator system for the WRCC considering regional water resource characteristics, socioeconomic systems, and sustainable development principles.

Raskin et al. 44 assessed the extent of water resource security by using the proportion of water extraction relative to the total water resources, defined as the water resource vulnerability index. Rui 45 constructed a water resource vulnerability model based on the theory of mutation series. They utilized the principles of mutation series to redefine grading standards and assessed the vulnerability status of water resources in Shanxi Province from 2004 to 2016. The aim was to offer technical assistance for the scientific management of water resources.

The second aspect involves the measurement of the sustainable utilization and efficiency of regional water resources.

Over the last few years, numerous domestic researchers have actively conducted research on the sustainable utilization of water resources, focusing primarily on two aspects:

First, research on evaluation indicator systems for the sustainable utilization of water resources should be conducted. Li Zhijun, Xiang Yang, and others addressed the lack of connection between water resource ecology and socioeconomic development in traditional water resource ecological footprint methods. They introduced the water resource ecological benefit ratio and analysed the water resource security and sustainable development status through an improved water resource energy value ecological footprint method 46 . Zhang et al. 47 established a fuzzy comprehensive evaluation model based on entropy weight, providing recommendations for the sustainable utilization of water resources in Guangxi Province. Liu Miliang, aiming for sustainable development, quantitatively analysed the current situation and influencing factors. Based on the DPSIR model, they established an evaluation system for the sustainable utilization of water resources 48 .

Second, in terms of evaluation methods and research on the sustainable utilization of water resources, Yunling et al. 49 constructed an evaluation indicator system for the WRCC to assess the comprehensive water resource carrying status in Hebei Province. Xuexiu et al. 50 , based on both domestic and international research on water resource pressure theory, analysed the connotation of water resource pressure, introduced commonly used methods for water resource pressure evaluation, and provided a comprehensive overview and comparative analysis of water resource pressure evaluation methods from aspects such as calculation principles, processes, and applications. Guohua et al. 51 established an entropy-based fuzzy comprehensive evaluation model of water resource allocation harmony and evaluated the water resource allocation status of various districts and counties in Xi’an city. Shiklomanov 52 used indicators such as available water resources, industrial and agricultural water usage, and household water consumption to assess water resource security.

The SBM-DEA model was used by Deng et al. 53 to appraise the efficiency of water resource utilization across nearly all provinces in China. They proposed factors influencing water resource utilization efficiency, including the added value of the agricultural sector, per capita water usage, the output-to-pollution ratio of polluting units, and import–export dependency. Yaguai and Lingyan 54 employed a two-stage model combining superefficiency DEA and Tobit to assess water resource efficiency in China from 2004 to 2014. They analysed regional differences and influencing factors. Mei et al. 55 separately used stochastic frontier analysis and data envelopment analysis to measure the absolute and relative efficiencies of water resource utilization in 14 cities in Liaoning Province. They employed a kernel density estimation model to analyse the dynamic evolution patterns of water resource utilization efficiency. Xiong et al. 56 adopted an iterative correction approach to modify and apply water resource utilization efficiency evaluation models based on single assessment methods such as entropy, mean square deviation, and deviation methods.

The third aspect involves investigating the relationship between water resource security and other societal systems.

Shanshan et al. 57 laid the foundation for the rational construction of an urbanization and water resource indicator system. Through the establishment of a dynamic coupled model, they conducted an analytical study on the harmonized development trends between the urbanization system and the water resource system in Beijing. Wei 58 utilized a coordination degree model to explore the coupling relationship between the quality of new urbanization and water resource security in Guangdong Province. Caizhi and Xiaodong 59 combining coupled scheduling models with exploratory spatial data analysis and conducted an analysis of the security conditions and spatial correlations among water resources, energy, and food in China. Additionally, Xia et al. 60 employed the Mann–Kendal test method to study the degrees of matching between water resources and socioeconomic development in six major geographical regions of China.

A review of the relevant literature reveals that scholars have explored the issues of water resource ecological security and regional socioeconomic development from various perspectives and fields, which is one of the urgent problems to be addressed in the current process of social development. These research findings not only have learning and reference significance but also provide insights for the writing of this paper.

Summarizing the achievements of previous research, the essence of water resource security evaluation mainly includes three aspects: ensuring water quantity, sustainability, and water quality. Evaluation methods include principal component analysis, fuzzy comprehensive evaluation methods, analytic hierarchy processes, and system dynamics modelling methods, among others, among which the analytic hierarchy process has certain advantages in addressing multilevel problems and is widely used in constructing multilevel analysis models. Therefore, this paper introduces the Lotka–Volterra biological concept and continues to explore this topic further. It can effectively combine the relationships between indicators and weights and study the competition or symbiotic relationship between two populations competing for ecological resources in the same time and space context 61 . Drawing from the DPSIR model, this study devises a comprehensive evaluation framework to assess the interdependence of socioeconomic factors and water resources. Through the application of the entropy weight method, this study determines the relative importance of various indices within this framework. Employing the Lotka–Volterra symbiotic model, this research scrutinizes and quantifies the ecological security status of water resources in the YRB from 2010 to 2019. The overarching objective is to furnish technical insights that can catalyse efforts to enhance the ecological security of regional water resources.


  • Lotka–Volterra symbiosis model

In the 1940s, A. J. Lotka and V. Volterra jointly introduced the Lotka–Volterra model 62 , which serves as a method for studying the relationships between biological populations. Its basic form is as follows:

In the given equation, \({\text{N}}_{1} \left( {\text{t}} \right), {\text{N}}_{2} \left( {\text{t}} \right)\) denote the populations of species \({\text{S}}_{1}\) and \({\text{S}}_{2}\) , respectively. \({\text{K}}_{1}\) and \({\text{K}}_{2}\) represent the carrying capacities of populations \({\text{S}}_{1}\) and \({\text{S}}_{2}\) in their respective environments. \({\text{r}}_{1}\) and \({\text{r}}_{2}\) represent the growth rates of populations \({\text{S}}_{1}\) and \({\text{S}}_{2}\) , respectively. \(\alpha\) denotes the competitive intensity coefficient of species \({\text{S}}_{2}\) on species \({\text{S}}_{1}\) , while \(\beta\) represents the competitive intensity coefficient of species \({\text{S}}_{1}\) on species \({\text{S}}_{2}\) .

By replacing the socioeconomic relationships within the entire YRB with the provinces within the basin, the Lotka–Volterra model is introduced into the regional water resource ecological security assessment. This allows for the construction of a symbiotic model between socioeconomic factors and water resources within the YRB. The specific formula is as follows:

In the equation, \({\text{F}}\left( {\text{k}} \right)\) denotes the comprehensive socioeconomic development status, \({\text{E}}\left( {\text{k}} \right)\) signifies the comprehensive development status of water resources, \({\text{C}}\) represents the ecological environment, \({\text{r}}_{{\text{F}}}\) signifies the socioeconomic growth rate, \({\text{r}}_{{\text{E}}}\) represents the growth rate of water resources, \(\alpha\) denotes the coefficient of water resources’ impact on the socioeconomy, and \(\beta\) denotes the coefficient of the impact of the socioeconomy on water resources. Therefore, solving for the coefficients \(\alpha\) and \(\beta\) in the model is essential for examining the interaction between the socioeconomy and water resources. The specific steps for solving the equation are as follows.

Discretizing Eqs. ( 4 ), ( 5 ) yields:

The solution is:

Different values of \(\alpha\) and \(\beta\) correspond to different symbiotic relationships between the socioeconomy and water resources, as illustrated in Fig.  2 .

figure 2

Symbiotic model between the socioeconomic and water resources in the YRB.

Construction of the DPSIR model and indicator system

To construct a water resource ecological security index system for the 10 provinces in the YRB, this paper is based on the research of relevant scholars and introduces the DPSIR model to evaluate water resource ecological security. This model was proposed to describe the concept of environmental systems and the structure of complex cause-and-effect relationships by the European Environment Agency (EEA) in 1999. It is mainly applied in assessments of ecological security, regional sustainable development, and water resource ecological security.

The establishment of the DPSIR model in this paper is illustrated in Fig.  3 .

figure 3

DPSIR model.

Generally, the driver (D) in the socioeconomic system tends to improve the environmental and resource states (S), while the economic pressure (P) tends to disrupt the resource and environmental states (S). The states of resources and the environment contribute essential production materials to the socioeconomic system. Simultaneously, drivers (D) and pressures (P) reflect two different aspects of socioeconomic development. Therefore, these factors can indicate the level of socioeconomic development. Based on these definitions, the following indicators are selected to assess the DPSIR model for water resource ecological security. The weights of various indicators calculated through the entropy weight method are presented in Table 1 . A more significant role played by the corresponding indicator in the comprehensive assessment of regional ecological security will have a greater weight.

On this basis, the socioeconomic stress index \({\text{S}}_{{\text{F}}} \left( {\text{k}} \right)\) and water resource stress index \({\text{S}}_{{\text{E}}} \left( {\text{k}} \right)\) are defined as follows:

The comprehensive index between socioeconomic and water resources, also called the symbiosis index \({\text{S}}\left( {\text{k}} \right)\) , is calculated as follows:

According to Eq. ( 14 ), \({\text{S}}\left( {\text{k}} \right) \in \left[ { - \sqrt 2 ,\sqrt 2 } \right]\) , a larger value of A indicates that the symbiotic state between the socioeconomy and water resources is better; conversely, a smaller value of A indicates that the symbiotic state between the two is worse.

The water resources force index can illustrate the direction of the socioeconomic impact on water resources, and the symbiotic index can illustrate the magnitude of the socioeconomic impact on water resources. Therefore, these two indices serve as the basis for evaluating the water resource security status. Formula ( 14 ) implies that the symbiotic index \({\text{S}}\left( {\text{k}} \right)\) falls within the range of \(\left[ { - \sqrt 2 ,\sqrt 2 } \right]\) . A larger numerical value indicates a better symbiotic relationship between the two subsystems, while a smaller value suggests a poorer symbiotic relationship. However, the relationship between the symbiotic index and regional ecological security is not straightforward. Regional ecological security must be judged according to specific criteria grounded in both the measure of symbiosis \({\text{S}}\left( {\text{k}} \right)\) and the ecological force index \({\text{S}}_{{\text{E}}} \left( {\text{k}} \right)\) . This approach comprehensively characterizes the ecological security of the YRB urban agglomeration. In our study, a two-dimensional symbiotic model of socioeconomic–natural ecology is employed to depict the evolution of ecological security under dual-characteristic indices.

Within this model, ecological security is divided into six regions that progress in a sequential manner, conforming to the progressive law of ecological security evolution. In the safe zone, the socioeconomic and natural ecological systems mutually benefit, and both experience robust development. In the subsafe zone, although the natural ecological system is still in a growing state, this occurs at the expense of socioeconomic development, leading to an unstable ecological security status. If the socioeconomic system continues to suffer damage, it falls into the sensitive zone, where the harm to the socioeconomic system outweighs the benefits to the natural ecological system. If this condition persists, both systems enter a state of competition, resulting in harm to both, and they are situated in the danger zone. In unfavourable zones, the socioeconomic system gains weak benefits, while the natural economy suffers damage. If humanity recognizes this situation and takes measures to improve the environment, it may transition from the unfavourable zone to the cautious zone, leading to an improvement in ecological security and potential entry into the safe zone. For ease of analysis and based on the relevant literature 63 , following expert discussions, this study classifies ecological security into six categories corresponding to six ecological security early warning levels, as shown in Table 2 .

Discrimination of water resource ecological security levels

The YZR originates from the Qinghai‒Tibet Plateau, considered the “Roof of the World,” traversing three major economic regions before ultimately flowing into the East China Sea. For our study area, we selected the eight provinces and two municipalities through which the YZR flows. These regions are Shanghai, Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Chongqing, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Qinghai. In the subsequent text, they will be referred to collectively as the YRB. The data for this study primarily originate from statistical yearbooks, water resource bulletins, and development reports spanning the years 2010 to 2019.

According to the criteria for water resource security status presented in Table 2 , the corresponding information is summarized in Table 3 for the years 2011 to 2018, indicating the water resource security status in the YRB during this period. It is observed that from 2011 to 2018, the water resources security status in the YRB initially experienced a decline but later recovered to a secure level. In recent years, the country has not only emphasized economic development but also placed significant importance on environmental protection. Rapid industrial development in earlier years led to an exacerbation of water pollution issues. However, the government promptly recognized this problem and implemented a series of measures to address water pollution. Stringent controls were also imposed on industrial water usage. Consequently, the water resource status quickly returned to a level considered safe.

The water resource security evaluation values obtained using the entropy method range from 0 to 1. Ideally, a value closer to 1 indicates a better water resource security situation, while a value closer to 0 suggests a poorer water resource security situation.

After standardizing the processed data, we can plug them into Eq. ( 15 ) to sequentially obtain the basic indices for socioeconomic, ecological environment, and water resource security in the YRB. The specific process involves substituting the basic indices for socioeconomic, ecological environment, and water resource ecological security into Eqs. ( 12 )–( 14 ). This approach yields comprehensive indices, including the socioeconomic stress index, water resource stress index, and symbiotic degree index. These indices serve as the basis for evaluating the water resource security status in the assessment region, with the water resource stress index and symbiotic degree index being the key indicators.

In the equation, f i represents the comprehensive level of water resource ecological security, \({\text{x}}_{{\text{i}}}^{\prime }\) signifies the standardized values obtained from the original data, and \({\text{w}}_{{\text{i}}}\) denotes the weights assigned to each indicator. When the value of f i falls between 0 and 1, the closer the value is to 1, the better the ecological security of water resources. In contrast, it shows a poorer ecological security status. Similarly, according to this equation, the classification of water resource ecological security can be divided into six categories: 0–0.16 denotes a dangerous state, 0.16–0.32 indicates a deteriorating state, 0.32–0.48 signifies a sensitive state, 0.48–0.64 represents a vigilant state, 0.64–0.8 implies a subsecure state, and 0.8–1.0 corresponds to a safe state. Different levels of water resource ecological security entail varying relationships with the national economy and society. For specific characteristics corresponding to each security level, please refer to Table 4 .

Informed consent statement

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.

Evaluation of water resource ecological security levels in the Yangtze River Basin

Overall, the evaluation values of water resource security in the YRB from 2010 to 2019 showed a fluctuating upwards trend (refer to Table 5 ). From 2010 to 2013, the evaluation values fluctuated between 0.2 and 0.4, reaching the lowest level at Grade V. In 2011, the evaluation value was only 0.2201, indicating that during this period, the water resources in the YRB were in an unsafe state, resulting in water scarcity. These results indicate that economic and social development are not being met on a sustainable basis at the watershed scale. In 2014, the water resource security evaluation value for the YRB reached 0.4243, classified as Grade III. Subsequently, there was a significant upwards trend, with the evaluation value reaching 0.6746 in 2017, which was classified as Grade II, indicating a relatively secure state. These results suggest that the water resources of the YRB appeared to be more secure than they were before, and the YRB could essentially fulfil the requirements for sustainable economic and social development at the national level. This upwards trend continued, reaching 0.7215 in 2019. From 2010 to 2019, the water resource security status in the YRB improved from Grade V to Grade II, demonstrating significant improvement. However, it has not yet reached Grade I, indicating that there is still room for improvement in the future.

The DPSIR model was used to analyse the reasons for the improvement in the ecological security of water resources in the YRB based on five criteria. Table 5 shows that the evaluation values for driving forces significantly increased from 2010 to 2019, while the values for pressure and response slightly increased, and those for state and impact fluctuated, resulting in a slight overall improvement. Specifically, the evaluation values for driving forces fluctuated from 0.0543 to 0.2370, indicating the significant contributions of indicators such as per capita GDP, the proportion of primary industry, population density, and the urbanization rate to the enhancement of water resource security. The assurance provided by economic and social development for water resource security is evident. The evaluation value for pressure fluctuated from 0.0403 to 0.1149, suggesting a reduction in pressure on water resources from economic development, agricultural and industrial production, and residents' lifestyles, leading to a decrease in basin water pollution and an alleviation of water quality deterioration. The response increased from 0.0527 to 0.1665, indicating relatively significant growth. These results suggest that measures taken by the government and society to address water resource issues have been effective, resulting in improvements in both the quantity and quality of water resources and an enhancement of water resource security levels. The evaluation value for impact fluctuated from 0.0261 to 0.0349, indicating a standardized industrial wastewater discharge volume and an improvement in water resource security conditions. The evaluation value for state initially decreased from 0.1633 to a minimum of 0.0656 before increasing to approximately 0.17. These results suggest that, considering indicators such as per capita sewage discharge and per capita water consumption, the status of water resources initially declined but gradually improved after governance measures were implemented.

In summary, from 2010 to 2019, the improvement in water resource security in the YRB can be attributed mainly to the enhancement of driving forces and response indicators. Economic and social development has provided ample assurance for water resource security, while water resources have imposed constraints on economic and social development to a certain extent. In the YRB, the current governance of water resources has reached a relatively high level, making it challenging to achieve significant breakthroughs in the future. The efficiency of water use in the existing industrial structure is difficult to substantially improve. Therefore, adjusting the industrial structure to enhance water resource security is a future research focus. These findings align with the conclusions of other domestic scholars. For instance, a study by Xiaotao and Fa-wen 64 revealed that water consumption per unit of production energy and agricultural production in the YRB contributed the same proportion of GDP. They argued that future water conservation efforts should focus on adjusting industrial structures and developing water-saving technologies. Another study by Wang Hao revealed that the water resource utilization efficiency in the YRB was second only to that in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region 65 . These authors suggested that the potential for mitigating the contradiction between water supply and demand through deep water conservation is limited.

According to the above methods and steps, further calculations were conducted to determine the water resource ecological security status of each province in the YRB from 2010 to 2019, as shown in Tables 6 and 7 . Information gleaned from Tables 6 and 7 suggests that the overall improvement in the water resource ecological security status of each province in the YRB from 2010 to 2019 was significant. There was a discernible improvement from 2014 to 2015, with a clear boundary line. Before 2015, the water resources in most areas were relatively sensitive, and some regions even experienced deterioration. However, after 2015, almost all areas reached subsafe or safe states.

Calculation results of the water resource security status of each province in the YRB from 2010 to 2019.

Trends in water resource ecological security in the Yangtze River Basin

According to Eq. ( 15 ), and by empirically examining the ecological status of water resources in the YRB from 2010 to 2019, the comprehensive levels of the ecological environment, socioeconomic development, and water resources in ten provinces of the YRB were obtained, as shown in Fig.  4 .

figure 4

Development of the basic indices in the YRB.

The information gleaned from Table 4 suggests that the economic development in the YRB from 2010 to 2019 showed a positive trend, increasing from 0.09 to 0.35. This increase is attributed to the favourable current economic development environment and robust support from national directives. Policies such as the 2013 “Guiding Opinions on Building China’s New Economic Support Belt Based on the Yangtze River”, the 2018 speech at the Symposium on Deepening the Development of the YZR Economic Belt, the “Development Plan for the Huaihe River Ecological Economic Belt”, and the 2019 “Outline of the Development Plan for the Regional Integration of the Yangtze River Delta” have played crucial roles in driving industrial restructuring and achieving quality economic development in the YRB.

The ecological environment comprehensive level in the YRB exhibited a fluctuating development trend from 2010 to 2019, resembling an “M” shape, increasing from 0.24 to 0.37 with a relatively small amplitude. Ecological civilization construction, as a fundamental national policy, has provided important guidance for the economic development of the YRB. This development includes intensified efforts in the treatment of industrial pollutants and urban wastewater, along with increased levels of regional afforestation and greenery. Notably, significant improvements were observed in indicators such as per capita park green space, the urban green space ratio, and the harmless disposal of waste in the YRB in 2015.

The comprehensive level of water resources in the YRB increased slightly from 0.19 to 0.20 from 2010 to 2019. Although there was an upwards trend, the magnitude of the increase was minimal, indicating an unfavourable water resource status in the YRB. The primary factor in this slight increase is the accelerated consumption of water resources. As a part of the ecological environment, a decrease in the comprehensive level of water resources is also an important factor restricting the overall improvement of the ecological environment. In future development, the YRB should leverage favourable national policies to promote breakthrough development in the regional economy. Simultaneously, efforts should be intensified towards the protection and management of regional water resources and the ecological environment, striving to enhance the comprehensive level of water resources and the ecological environment.

Based on the previously calculated comprehensive socioeconomic, ecological environment, and water resource levels, the stress indices for socioeconomic and water resources, as well as the symbiotic index for the YRB during the years 2010–2019, were computed, and the results are presented in Fig.  5 .

figure 5

Development status of comprehensive indices in the YRB.

Figure  5 clearly shows that, except for the years 2012, 2014, and 2016, the impact of water resources on the socioeconomy remained consistently positive, indicating that during this period, water resources positively contributed to economic growth. The water resources force index has been consistently positive in recent years, signifying the promotion by socioeconomic development, with a relatively minor hindrance from socioeconomic development during this period. The symbiotic index values between the two factors were 1.05, 1.24, 1.40, 1.26, and 1.07 in the years 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2018, respectively, reaching an optimal state of mutual benefit and symbiosis. However, a slight decline was observed in subsequent years, suggesting the need for further improvement.

Spatial pattern analysis of water resource ecological security in the Yangtze River Basin

Using the ArcGIS10.4 tool, which is provided by the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc (commonly known as ESRI), several representative years were selected to visualize the ecological security status of water resources in the YRB. The computational results are visualized in Figs.  6 , 7 and 8 .

figure 6

Ecological security status of water resources in the YRB in 2011(map were generated with software ArcMap10.4 ).

According to the division standards for administrative regions along the YZR in 2014, the YRB studied in this paper can be categorized into three main regions: the upper, middle, and lower reaches. The upper reach includes three provinces: Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan. The middle reach comprises four provinces and municipalities: Chongqing, Hunan, Hubei, and Jiangxi. The lower reach consists of three provinces and municipalities: Anhui, Jiangsu, and Shanghai.

Figures  6 , 7 and 8 show that from 2011 to 2019, the overall ecological security status of water resources in the YRB transitioned from “deteriorating,” “sensitive,” and “vigilant” states to “subsecure” and “safe” states. The range of comprehensive evaluation values for water resource ecological security (hereafter referred to as evaluation values) increased from 0.16–0.64 to 0.64–1.

As illustrated in Fig.  6 , notable disparities were present in the distribution of the ecological security status of water resources among provinces and municipalities in the YRB, with the ecological security status of water resources in the upper and lower reaches of the YZR notably superior to that in the middle reaches. The data indicate that the water resource utilization efficiency levels in the upper and lower reaches of the YZR were greater than that in the middle reaches in 2011, exhibiting a pattern of high efficiency at both ends and lower efficiency in the middle. Regions with high comprehensive water resource utilization efficiency are mainly concentrated in the upper and lower reaches of the YZR.

Although the upstream regions have limited economic strength, they also have relatively fewer water-intensive industries. Meanwhile, these regions actively respond to green development policies and prioritize energy conservation and environmental protection industries. Underdeveloped regions can also achieve higher water resource efficiency by controlling total water consumption and improving the output of water per unit used.

The areas with low comprehensive utilization efficiency of water resources are primarily concentrated in the middle reaches of the YZR, where the proportions of traditional industries such as steel, chemicals, and nonferrous metals are relatively large, leading to high industrial water consumption and consequently the lowest efficiency in water resource utilization. Provinces such as Hunan and Hubei, with large populations and rapid economic development, exhibit high demands for water resources, resulting in increased regional water resource consumption and persistently high per capita sewage discharge indicators.

The downstream regions of the YZR boast strong economic progress, with high levels of industrial technological innovation and governance capabilities. This region exhibits the highest level of economic development, which can drive improvements in the utilization efficiency of water resources. Consequently, Shanghai and Jiangsu provinces have the highest water resource utilization efficiency. As a result, the ecological security status of water resources in Shanghai has improved rapidly.

As shown in Fig.  7 , in 2015, the overall ecological security status of water resources notably improved in the YRB. The fundamental reason for this improvement is that in recent years, regions across the basin have recognized the importance of the ecological environment for overall development. They have gradually undertaken regional industrial restructuring and upgrading and accelerated urbanization and simultaneously emphasized the preservation of water resources and the environment. The three major regions exhibit regional disparities in water resource utilization efficiency due to differences in geographical environment, economic foundation, and industrial structure. In terms of the total water consumption of each province and municipality, agricultural water usage accounts for more than half of the total water consumption, which is significantly greater than the water usage in the industrial, domestic, and ecological sectors. However, compared to other industries' output values, the overall water resource utilization efficiency in agriculture is lower. Therefore, regions with greater proportions of primary industry output tend to have lower water resource utilization efficiency.

figure 7

Ecological security status of water resources in the YRB in 2015(map were generated with software ArcMap10.4 ).

The industrialization level in the upstream regions is relatively low, with relatively outdated production technologies. As industrialization progresses, the negative impact on water resources' ecological security is gradually increasing. The industrialization in the middle and lower reaches of the YZR has reached relatively high levels. Control measures have been gradually implemented to manage the resource consumption and environmental pollution generated during the industrial development process. With advancements in technology, the negative impact on water resource ecological security is gradually diminishing. Among these provinces, Hunan Province and Hubei Province in the middle reaches of the YZR experienced the greatest increases in water resource ecological security status, transitioning from “deteriorating” to “subsecure.” The regions in the middle reaches emphasize considering the resource and environmental carrying capacity to ensure the coordination between water resource allocation and regional sustainable development, achieving rational distribution and efficient utilization of water resources within the region.

The lower reaches of the YZR are characterized by developed economies, advanced technologies, and high levels of both urbanization efficiency and water resource efficiency, maintaining harmonious development. This region exhibits the strongest economic development and hosts the highly integrated YZR Delta urban agglomeration. With a solid foundation in secondary and tertiary industries, high levels of technological innovation, and openness, the overall ecological security status of water resources in this region is at a relatively high level.

Across the provinces and municipalities in the YRB, efforts have been intensified to control the discharge of pollutants such as phosphorus, leading to reduced pollutant emissions and improved water quality. Moreover, improvements in water resource allocation have been made, reducing the risks associated with pollution factors through increased water volume and dilution effects, thereby ensuring the supply and safety of drinking water downstream of Shanghai. The stable proportion of GDP in the YZR Economic Belt indicates a balanced relationship between economic development and the ecological protection of water resources. While maintaining economic growth, downstream cities also prioritize environmental protection and water resource management.

Figure  8 clearly shows that the overall ecological security status of water resources in the YRB has been developing at an accelerated pace, trending towards overall coordinated development by 2019, with mutual promotion between socioeconomic and water resources. This trend can be attributed to various factors. This positive influence is exemplified in agricultural water use efficiency, which has improved in recent years due to various factors, such as changes in agricultural production methods, organizational structures, cropping patterns, and water-saving practices. As a result, the negative impact of the proportion of the output value of the primary industry on water resource efficiency has been mitigated.

figure 8

Ecological security status of water resources in the YRB in 2019(map were generated with software ArcMap10.4 ).

However, despite efforts, China still faces serious water pollution issues, with poor water environmental quality and significant pollution discharge loads from industrial, agricultural, and domestic sources. These factors pose severe challenges to the ecological security of water resources. To address these challenges, China has formulated a series of plans aimed at strengthening water pollution prevention and control and ensuring national water resource ecological security. These plans were officially announced and implemented after 2015.

Based on the analysis results, each province and city in the YRB should embrace a people-centred approach to new urbanization and the scientific development concept of water resource protection and utilization. While focusing on promoting new urbanization construction, efforts should be intensified to enhance ecological environmental protection and explore new paths for coordinated regional economic development and resource utilization. Provinces and cities should rely on the golden waterway of the YZR to establish cross-regional and cross-provincial basin cooperation mechanisms and long-term mechanisms, actively promoting coordinated development among the three major regions of the YRB.

Against the backdrop of the global environmental crisis, the Lancang-Mekong River, as Asia’s largest transboundary river, also faces certain water security issues. Specifically, the “status” of water resources is relatively low, as manifested by the polluted state of the water quality of the river. Additionally, factors such as the uneven distribution of precipitation within the year and the weakness of storage facilities such as wetlands and reservoirs contribute to seasonal water shortages and serious water disasters in the basin. Moreover, the response levels of basin countries are limited, and there is room for improvement in the level of water resource management. Countries in the Lancang-Mekong River Basin are in a stage of rapid economic and social development, and population growth, economic activities, and changes in land use (such as urbanization) will have direct or indirect impacts on water resources in the basin. The Ganges River Basin faces similar ecological and environmental problems. In recent years, India’s economic prosperity and urbanization process have had significant impacts on the Ganges River Basin. Soil erosion and insufficient drinking water under population pressure have plagued the people of the Ganges River Basin. Additionally, the serious problem of surface water pollution caused by the discharge of industrial and domestic wastewater has led to a certain degree of land salinization.

Climate change, land use, human consumption of water resources, and government management of water resources are all factors that can directly or indirectly affect the water security situation in a region. Given that the Lancang-Mekong River spans China and five Southeast Asian countries, its water resource ecological security is particularly influenced by socioeconomic factors. Therefore, we believe that the methods we propose are equally applicable to the evaluation of water resource ecological security in this basin. By introducing the Lotka–Volterra symbiotic model and using the DPSIR model to construct a system of evaluation indicators for the symbiosis between socioeconomic factors and water resources in the study area, this system will help us to thoroughly assess the water resource ecological security of the Lancang-Mekong River Basin and provide a scientific basis for the implementation of region-specific water security strategies. These approaches are highly important for promoting regional sustainable development and maintaining basin ecological security.

Research has revealed that over a decade ago, the water resource ecological security status in the YRB initially fell within a relatively poor range. However, with close attention from the government and the implementation of various regulations, as well as active participation from the public in protecting the YZR, the water resource ecological security status in the YRB has improved rapidly. It is now generally maintained at levels of safety or near safety, with prospects for further improvement in the future. Comprehensive analysis of data from 2010 to 2019 revealed continuous trends in improvement in water resource security. To further enhance water resource security, we propose the following recommendations:

The industrial structure should be adjusted to achieve sustainable utilization of water resources. Governments should strongly support the green economy and environmental protection industries by providing tax incentives for enterprises, encouraging them to invest in water resource management and protection projects. By establishing corresponding financial funds and reward mechanisms, more social forces can be guided to participate, achieving a mutually beneficial outcome for water resource security and economic development. The Chinese government has called for all citizens to actively respond to carbon peak and carbon neutrality strategies and has formulated specific and feasible emission reduction plans. Enterprises are encouraged to adopt clean production technologies to improve resource utilization efficiency and achieve carbon emission reduction goals. There should be a focus on strengthening sewage resource utilization, integrating atypical water sources into unified water resource allocation, and encouraging locations with the necessary conditions to fully utilize unconventional water sources. Water-deficient cities should actively expand the scale and scope of recycled water utilization. The principles of demand-driven supply, water quality division, and local utilization should be followed to promote the use of recycled water in industrial production, municipal miscellaneous use, land greening, ecological replenishment, and other areas.

Focusing on agricultural water use and preventing water source pollution. As one of the main rice-producing regions in China, to further enhance water resource security in the YRB, agricultural measures should be taken. With respect to water conservation, water-saving irrigation techniques combined with smart irrigation systems should be adopted to achieve precise irrigation and improve water resource utilization efficiency. Moreover, enhancing rainwater collection and utilization by establishing rainwater collection systems and storing water for agricultural irrigation can effectively utilize rainwater resources and alleviate irrigation pressure during the dry season.

Agricultural pesticide use is also an issue that cannot be ignored. Excessive use and improper handling of pesticides can often lead to serious water pollution, posing a threat to the water resource security of the YRB. To address this issue, we need to strengthen pesticide use management, promote scientific pesticide application techniques, reduce excessive pesticide use, raise farmers' environmental awareness to prevent pesticide waste from being directly discharged into water bodies, and strengthen water quality monitoring and treatment to promptly detect and address pesticide pollution problems.

Improve people’s education level and strengthen environmental awareness. As people's living standards and education levels improve, concerns about ecological water security have increased, and higher demands are being placed on water safety and quality. The incomplete assessment and mismanagement of water resources, coupled with wasteful practices, have led to water resources becoming uncontrollable variables. Recognizing, measuring, and expressing the value of water and incorporating it into decision-making processes are particularly important against the backdrop of increasingly scarce water resources, population growth, and the pressures of climate change. It is essential to achieve sustainable and equitable water resource management and meet the development goals of the United Nations' 2030 Agenda.

Actively participate in international ecological construction. According to Maximo Torero of the FAO, strengthening water resource protection and management requires enhanced cooperation among countries, the integration of various stakeholders' interests, multipronged approaches, and the consideration of social, economic, and environmental factors. It also involves a focus on technology, legal frameworks, and overall policy environments. We recommend that governments actively engage in international cooperation projects, sharing experiences and technologies in managing water resources in the YRB while drawing lessons from successful ecological initiatives in other countries. Such cross-border collaboration can foster global ecological sustainability, address global environmental issues collectively, share innovative technologies and research achievements, and achieve global governance of ecological environments.

Data availability

Our data is sourced from the provincial data in the China Statistical Yearbooks from 2011 to 2019 published by the National Bureau of Statistics of China ( ), as well as the Water Resources Bulletins ( ). Figures  6 , 7 , and 8 were created by us using ArcGIS 10.4 software, which is provided by the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (commonly known as ESRI). Our vector boundary data and the Yangtze River data are sourced from the National Catalogue Service For Geographic Information ( ), using the 1:1,000,000 public version of basic geographic information data (2021). The tiled data is processed according to GB/T 13989-2012 “National Fundamental Scale Topographic Map Tiling and Numbering”.

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This research was supported by the Project of Social Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province (No. 22TQC005).

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Nanjing Xiaozhuang University, Nanjing, 211171, Jiangsu, China

Jie-Rong Zhou, Xiao-Qing Li, Xin Yu & Tian-Cheng Zhao

School of Information Management, Nanjing University, Nanjing, 210023, Jiangsu, China

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Thailand Economic Monitor July 2024: Unlocking the Growth Potential of Secondary Cities

Thailand Economic Monitor

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Key Findings

  • The economy is projected to recover in 2024 supported by sustained private consumption as well as tourism and goods exports recovery. Growth is projected to accelerate from 1.9 percent in 2023 to 2.4 percent in 2024.
  • Growth is expected to reach 2.8 percent in 2025, supported by both domestic and external demand. This outlook is further bolstered by the revised fiscal budget proposal for fiscal year 2025 and the anticipated acceleration in budget execution following significant delays earlier this year.
  • Private consumption and tourism will be key drivers but their pace will slow. Goods exports are expected to rebound due to favorable global trade. Tourism is projected to return to pre-pandemic levels in mid-2025, set back by the Chinese economy.
  • Headline inflation is projected to slow to a regional low of 0.7 percent in 2024, below the central bank’s target range, due to the moderation in food and energy prices.
  • Public debt is projected to rise to 64.6 percent in fiscal year 2025. The fiscal deficit is projected to increase to 3.6 percent of GDP as budget execution normalizes and fiscal stimulus measures aimed at boosting consumption are implemented, in line with the government’s medium-term fiscal framework.
  • Thailand faces the mounting challenge of reconciling fiscal sustainability and short-term stimulus. To enhance fiscal resilience amid rising spending needs, Thailand can start by focusing on more targeted social assistance and transfers to effectively support vulnerable households and poverty alleviation. In addition, Thailand has room to raise tax revenue, promote equity, create fiscal space and accelerate investment.

A section of the report which focuses on "Unlocking the Growth Potential of Secondary Cities" highlights that in the long-term, secondary cities have the potential to further enhance Thailand's productivity, spur its economic growth, and bolster its global competitiveness.

  • Thailand’s urbanization has been heavily focused on Bangkok, acting as a growth engine for the country. Bangkok as an urban agglomeration has a population 29 times larger than the next largest, Chiang Mai, and a GDP nearly 40 times greater than the next largest, Chon Buri.
  • Bangkok’s strategic geographic position within Southeast Asia, coupled with its comparatively developed infrastructure and transportation networks, has fostered economic growth and activities within the city and surrounding areas.
  • While Bangkok's primacy drives growth, congestion and vulnerabilities show the need for balanced urbanization. The 2011 floods highlighted Thailand's economic vulnerability due to the concentration of critical industries in Bangkok. Climate change will further strain Bangkok's infrastructure and the nation's economy, emphasizing the need for a more diversified economic base.
  • Bangkok's economy shows signs of stagnation, as its GDP growth has been roughly equal to its population growth. This suggests that the city's economy is mature and potentially saturated, leading to little or no improvement in productivity.
  • Recently, per capita GDP growth in secondary cities has been nearly 15 times higher than in Bangkok. This faster growth in GDP per capita demonstrates the improved productivity, efficiency, and economic potential of Thailand’s secondary cities.
  • Secondary cities play a pivotal role in regional development serving as centers of local government and industry, satellite regions around Bangkok, or key economic trade corridors. Acting as hubs of regional economic activity, they help reduce the strain on Bangkok by providing alternative locations for businesses and industries. These cities play important roles—not only for creating jobs and economic diversification but also by promoting more balanced spatial development across the country.
  • A main challenge that keeps secondary cities from realizing their economic potential is its overly dependence on nationally raised revenues. If local governments have greater authority over urban planning, infrastructure development, and access to long-term financing mechanisms—complemented by robust fiscal instruments such as property taxes, income tax piggybacking, and user charges – these cities could effectively chart their own economic growth trajectories.

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The Next Economy Indian Tourism Initiatives Removing Social Barriers to Women’s Employment

JoAnna Haugen Published 4 days ago. About a 5 minute read. Image: Pink City Rickshaw Company

India ranks among the lowest countries for even access to economic participation and opportunities for women. But a growing number of tourism-based initiatives are working to help leveling the playing field.

“Happy Holi!”

Renu Sharma greeted me with a warm smile and clasped my hands in both of hers. She wore two bangles on each wrist, and her hair was pulled back in a flawless bun. She exuded an air of stress-free coolness — something I failed to embody amidst the ceaseless honking and 90°F-degree heat in Jaipur, India . As I slid into the padded backseat of her pink rickshaw, Sharma put on her sunglasses, started up the engine, and we took off for a heritage tour of India’s famed “ Pink City .”

As in many Indian cities, getting around Jaipur revolves around rickshaws – approximately 30,000 of them . Of these, the 20 owned by Pink City Rickshaw Company stand out not only for their color, but also because they’re the only ones driven by women .

Initiated in 2017, Pink City Rickshaw Company is a women’s-empowerment initiative supported by the non-profit organization, ACCESS Development Services . It employs more than 60 women from low- and mid-level-income households. Together, they provide 30 to 40 rides a day — all of which are high-quality city tours and not simply point-to-point services. Sharma is the chairperson overseeing the day-to-day operations and has been part of the initiative since the beginning.

“I am very happy about this project,” she said through a translator. “Driving rickshaws improves the economic conditions for these women.”

According to the World Economic Forum , India ranks among the lowest countries for even access to economic participation and opportunities for women. In the private sector, including in the tourism industry, few women hold decision-making positions . For women who also identify with a marginalized community (such as by class, caste or religion), access to meaningful employment is even more challenging to achieve.

“In India, women face various barriers that hinder their access to education, employment and other opportunities,” said Priyanka Singh , Planeterra ’s community tourism project manager for the Asia-Pacific region.

Common barriers include social and cultural norms, gender-based violence and safety concerns, inability to access tourism tools and resources, and limited access to educational and professional opportunities. Initiatives such as Pink City Rickshaw intentionally address these barriers and help close this gap .

“We’re getting a better income than women working in domestic work,” Sharma said. “Plus, this job takes less time, is more flexible and gives us dignity.”

Tourism is a natural avenue for empowering and employing women, especially since tourism in India continues to grow .

“Tourism provides a wide range of employment opportunities — including jobs in hospitality, tour guiding, as homestay hosts, running restaurants, transportation and handicrafts,” Singh said. “By actively participating, women can access formal employment, generate income and achieve economic independence.”

Tourism jobs are uniquely situated to offer transferable skills, such as language learning and customer service, which can be applied beyond the industry. Additionally, Singh said, “women in India play a crucial role in conserving and promoting cultural heritage — including traditional crafts, cuisine and performing arts.”

I experienced this in Delhi , where I spent the morning with Shumayila — a guide with No Footprints . She led me through Nizamuddin Basti , a neighborhood densely populated by Sufi Muslims , and introduced me to women making and selling intricate paper crafts supported by a cooperative called Insha-e-Noor .

The initiatives supporting women don’t end there: In Agra , I enjoyed a casual lunch at a cafe called Sheroes Hangout — which employs women who are acid attack survivors. Women With Wheels , supported by Sakha Consulting Wings , hires women from “restrictive, resource-poor backgrounds.” At Sunder Rang in Rajasthan , 30 women belonging to different castes work together on embroidery, sewing, weaving and beadwork projects.

And in Kerala , Planeterra worked with 10 women to develop a meal experience for tourists. It was a project that started with a community hall and dream.

“From being a group with zero experience, they are today a group of empowered women who have further built their itinerary and confidently receive travelers,” Singh said. “It is a beautiful case of where not just economic empowerment but also the social and cultural aspects are being addressed — the celebration of culture and the power of women-led community experiences.”

Back in Jaipur, Sharma maneuvered the rickshaw through the Ajmeri Gate into the old city and down streets lined with shops. We stopped for kulfi and then mango lassi – a refreshing treat to fight the heat. As Sharma and I wound our way through Jaipur, traffic was particularly bad due to Holi celebrations; yet she handled the bumper-to-bumper jam like a pro.

At one point, we came to a complete standstill. In the car next to us, the male driver rolled down his window and asked Sharma for directions. She pointed this way, then that way — her bangled wrist snaking through the air to indicate where to go. He thanked her just as a space magically opened in the traffic ahead of us. Sharma pressed down on the accelerator, and our pink rickshaw continued on its way.

(Note: Intrepid Travel hosted my experiences with Pink City Rickshaw Company and Sheroes Hangout. No Footprints hosted my Basti Sisterhood tour in Delhi.)

Published Jul 3, 2024 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST

JoAnna Haugen

JoAnna Haugen

Founder rooted.

JoAnna Haugen is a writer, speaker and solutions advocate who has worked in the travel and tourism industry for her entire career. She is also the founder of Rooted — a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, social impact and storytelling. A returned US Peace Corps volunteer, international election observer and intrepid traveler, JoAnna helps tourism professionals decolonize travel and support sustainability using strategic communication skills.

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  • Heiss, Niklas
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The challenges of climate change in West Africa are closely linked to food security in the region. Rising temperatures and increasingly variable precipitation threaten traditional rain-fed agriculture relying on the rainy season. Climate change is affecting the rainy season in West Africa in multiple ways, e.g., by shifting the onset, shortening its duration and increasingly interrupting the growing period by dry spells. An increase of extreme weather events such as heavy precipitation or storms add another risk to agriculture. The risk of crop failures hits an already vulnerable system. Since a large portion of food is imported the West African countries are vulnerable to external economic shocks. Furthermore, West Africa has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, its population will increase to 1.2 billion people by 2050. To guarantee sufficient food supply and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), a sustainable intensification of agriculture is needed (i.e., increasing yields without additional land consumption and without adverse effects on climate change) and mitigation and adaption strategies against the negative effects of climate change are required. Remote sensing has proven to be a suitable instrument to measure and evaluate both, mitigation and adaptation actions in a reliable and cost-effective way. Depending on the method of cultivation, agriculture causes different amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Remote sensing can provide information about biophysical development as input and reference data for land surface models to assess the produced GHG under different cultivation practices. Since the negative impact of climate change on agriculture is already measurable and visible, adaptation measures are highly important. They differ in terms of their complexity, their technical feasibility and their costs. Adaptation measures can be for example a change in land management, the choice of crop variety or technical innovation like weather forecast or irrigation systems. In various interdisciplinary research projects (CONCERT, COINS, AgRAIN), we selected adaptation measures of varying complexity and monitor and evaluate them using remote sensing-based analysis, mainly on Sentinel-1, Sentinel-2 and Planet data. The analyses range from land cover and land use mapping to crop classification, crop suitability modeling, field boundary delineation, identification of management events, and site-specific productivity measurements. We employ a range of methodologies, including random forest regression, convolutional neural networks (CNN), fuzzy logic approaches, and time series analysis. The results serve as a basis for local stakeholders and decision-makers, enabling the implementation of proven adaption measures to enhance resilience against climate change and promote sustainable agricultural intensification.

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Sustainability Reporting and Research and Development in Tourism Industry: A Qualitative Inquiry of Present Trends and Avenues

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Part of the book series: Springer International Handbooks of Education ((SIHE))

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Sustainability reporting has become a major part of reporting the organizational sustainable performance for any industry. Despite the voluntary requirements of the nonfinancial information across the globe, corporations are still ought to report their sustainable performance. This study revolves around the dimensions of sustainability reporting by the tourism industry. The tourism industry is one of the crucial industries that impact the triple bottom line in a radical way. So, this industry is ought to report its sustainable performance to the stakeholders timely to ensure the sustainable travel and promote sustainable practices. The study provides a qualitative overview of the sustainable information reported by tourism stakeholders with the help of content analysis of sustainability reports. The analysis has been performed to analyze the sustainable performance in the sustainability reports of the five major corporations ranked on the CEO Magazine. The study focusses on the corporate actions such as investment in research, development, and innovation for improving the sustainable tourism and travel. Out of the top ranked companies, only one company is paying higher focus on sustainability reporting. This chapter further provides a discussion on the sustainable activities undertaken with the help of innovation or technology such as artificial intelligence to streamline the sustainable operations.

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Akmese, H., Cetin, H., & Akmese, K. (2016). Corporate social responsibility reporting: A comparative analysis of tourism and finance sectors of G8 countries. Procedia Economics and Finance, 39 , 737–745.

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School of Commerce and Management Studies, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India

Manpreet Arora

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Sunaina Rathore

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Arora, M., Rathore, S. (2024). Sustainability Reporting and Research and Development in Tourism Industry: A Qualitative Inquiry of Present Trends and Avenues. In: Sharma, A. (eds) International Handbook of Skill, Education, Learning, and Research Development in Tourism and Hospitality. Springer International Handbooks of Education. Springer, Singapore.

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Received : 07 August 2023

Accepted : 13 September 2023

Published : 21 November 2023

Publisher Name : Springer, Singapore

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