The Measuring Tourism Sustainability initiative: an ongoing call to create indicators and measuring tools

The concept of sustainability linked to tourism has made big steps forwards in the public agendas and throughout the political priorities, for the last decades. The measurement of “tourism sustainability” has become so important that international agenda-setters and decision-makers are putting efforts to define a common framework and standardised indicators.

In October 2018, took place the Second Meeting of the Working Group of Experts on Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism, held at the UNWTO Headquarters in Spain. It has been the most recent occasion to recall the cornerstones of the initiatives launched towards a standardised Statistical Framework to Measure Tourism Sustainability.

(Rome, 24 May 2019) “Sustainable tourism is that one that takes full into account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities” clarified the Making Tourism More Sustainable - A Guide for Policy Makers, produced by UNEP - United Nations Environment Programme and UNWTO - United Nations World Tourism Organization, in 2005.

In 2015, the UNWTO in partnership with the UN Statistics Division (UNSD), commenced the Measuring Sustainable Tourism (MST) initiative. This led  to the proclamation of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism -IYST, and has been accompanied by  further progresses towards the articulation of such a statistical framework. The latter has been thought with the aim of “providing an integrated-information-base to better inform on sustainable tourism, facilitate dialogue between different sectors and to encourage integrated, locally relevant decision making”.

The MST initiative, which is based on a consultative process, has permitted to collect feedbacks from many different stakeholders and organisations. It will include data regarding economic, social and environmental setting and it takes into account the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) indicators as well as those of UNWTO’s International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO).

It is interesting to notice the contribution that the Interreg MED Sustainable Tourism Community is giving in this direction, which is tackling the same issues even if indipendently. In fact, in September 2017, the Community has signed the Athens Declaration, a document that collects the concerns in regard to “the environmental and social negative impacts of massive seasonal tourist flows, littoralisation and urbanisation of coastal areas in the Mediterranean region” and at the same time emphasizes the need for coordinated approaches. It emerges that the work of the MED Sustainable Tourism projects is parallel to the strategy promoted by the UNWTO and the creation of the SF- MST, and that it could potentially bring towards a similar initiative with a specific focus on the Mediterranean region.

In 2017, in Manila (Philippines) the “6th International Conference on Tourism Statistics: Measuring Sustainable Tourism” was the occasion to launch the ‘Call for Action on Measuring Sustainable Tourism’. This milestone set an even stronger international commitment to use sustainable tourism as a driver in economy and outlined a series of points towards a more homogenous system of measuring and monitoring tools for the tourism sector. The Call remarked, among other elements, the urgence to develop a specific operational tool that will be the “SF-MST - Statistical Framework to measure sustainable Tourism”. The latter is currently under development and the ultimate proposal, a work involving many stakeholders, will be submitted in 2020 according to the operational plan, following the last version updates in October 2018.

The work towards the creation of the “SF-MST - Statistical Framework to measure sustainable Tourism” is central in understanding, analysing and supporting universal, cross-sectoral, sustainable tourism policies and practices that work from an integrated, coherent and robust information base. The aim is to offer decision makers and other stakeholders a tool enabling them to set a new baseline, a common language when talking of sustainable tourism, both in the tourism sector and other areas. Besides, this framework also supports the consistency of data collection, credibility and compilation, which is required and needed in policy drafting especially in international settings, as a project like ShapeTourism have proposed  with its activity.

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