The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) declared 2017 as the year of sustainable tourism. Since then, public awareness of the concept has been increasing, consolidating a trend that is starting to make inroads in terms of the expectations and conduct of both those who travel and those operating in the industry.
What is sustainable tourism?
Sustainable tourism can be defined as tourism that considers its current and future impact on the environment, society and the economy, whilst meeting the needs of customers, the industry, the environment and host communities.
A concept so all-encompassing that it involves all aspects and stakeholders connected with the entire travel experience. Expert in sustainable living and author of The Eco-Travel Handbook Alastair Fuad-Luke sums up the attitude of the ecotourist in one sentence: “They love to have fun, not to destroy the environment”. Cultural enrichment and relaxation go hand in hand with considerations of which means of transport to use, where to sleep, what to eat, and which activities to enjoy so as not to damage the environment: this is the concept of a responsible and eco-friendly holiday.
Sustainable tourism in Italy
Sustainable tourism is growing in Italy as well, and not just from a customer standpoint but from an industry perspective too. The Bank of Italy report published in December 2018 entitled “Tourism in Italy. The figures and the potential for development” acknowledged the direct connection between the evolution of the industry and the growing interest in sustainability. The report reiterates a recommendation from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to governments regarding “green investment” policies to:
- increase the energy efficiency of tourist facilities
- improve the management of water resources and waste collection systems
- promote the protection of the environment, the biodiversity and the cultural heritage of each country.
Of particular relevance to Italy are the safeguarding and promotion of its cultural heritage, one of the country’s indisputable assets, as well as the protection of its environment. In short, sustainable holidays don't just improve the planet, they also help the tourism industry operators and the local communities involved. Once just simply a social phenomenon, this form of tourism is now becoming an essential income source for the local economy and an opportunity for everyone.
Benefits for travellers
As well as the satisfaction of travelling without damaging the environment, sustainable holidays also offer the tourist numerous other tangible benefits. These include:
- increasing physical exercise and reducing stress
- saving money by reducing costs and consumption
- the possibility to combine a variety of different experiences
- fostering cultural exchange
- protecting historic and artistic heritage
- conserving local resources
- creating positive, contagious energy
The sustainable tourism map
Thanks to the range of features and attributes at its disposal, Italy offers a diverse array of sustainable tourism experiences. For example there are the alberghi diffusi (scattered hotels): tourist facilities that avoid new building, and therefore additional land consumption, by offering board and lodging in renovated buildings located in Italy's historic villages, such as those on the hills of Liguria's Western Riviera or in the Barbagia mountain area in Sardinia.
In other cases buildings that were originally intended for a particular use have been converted to fulfil a completely different function. As is the case with the mining village in Narcao in the region of Sulcis (Sardinia), converted into an ecomuseum capable of accommodating 40 guests, or the former Porto Tolle thermal power station that will be transformed into an innovative and sustainable open-air tourist centre, offering water sports facilities, experiences to enable visitors to appreciate the surrounding environment and landscape and a facility for developing the local fishing and agriculture industries.
A map of sustainable tourism in Italy has been published by the Italian Association for Responsible Tourism (AITR) showing all the tourist locations associated with its members. These include small municipalities belonging to the network of Borghi Autentici d’Italia, (Authentic Villages of Italy), nature reserves managed by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), hotels and campsites that have obtained the environmental certification from Legambiente or organic agritourism facilities certified by the Institute for Ethical and Environmental Certification (ICEA).
The attention paid to the food served as well as social and ethical considerations are also principles of sustainable tourism: for example, the use of zero food mile products or, in the latter case, anti-mafia tourist excursions that are “pizzo-free” – an initiative to break the mafia’s stranglehold on local businesses through the extortion of the ‘pizzo’ protection money – in the Valle del Sosio in the province of Palermo.
From walks to e-mobility
Sustainability also includes eco-friendly mobility where tourist excursions are undertaken on foot, by bicycle or with electric vehicles. Hiking and walking enthusiasts in the Alps and Apennines have always respected the philosophy of zero emission travel, something that's also embraced by those who choose to walk the historical pilgrimage routes, like the Via Francigena. On the other hand, for cycling enthusiasts electric bikes offer tourists the opportunity to enjoy cycling tours without having to work too hard, for example on the island of Elba or around the landmarks of Recanati, hometown of poet Giacomo Leopardi.
If more than two wheels are necessary, there's always the electric car. In February 2018 the Enel Group signed a memorandum of understanding with the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism to promote e-mobility in cities that attract large numbers of tourists. And that's not all. We are one of the partners working on key sustainable mobility projects in many of Italy's most beautiful destinations, from the Silver Coast to the islands of Ventotene, Ischia and Sicily.
Travel with zero impact to discover the most beautiful country in the world: you can and you must!