Is measuring sustainability in tourism possible?

This is the key question that the participants of the Conference on “Measuring Sustainability in Tourism: Opportunities and Limitations” on 2-3 April 2019 in Berlin, Germany tried to answer by delving on the possible criteria, scales, and indicators leading to the quantification of tourism’s sustainability. And the result was for me surprising.

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Tourism stakeholders across Europe, ranging from tour operators to country tourism representatives, exchanged experiences and researches on assuring sustainability in tourism destinations. Sustainable development experts and tourism practitioners were also invited to speak on topics such as International Examples of Data Collection to Data Usage, Scales of Sustainability Data Collection, Usage of Indices for Destination Management and Certification Processes, and others. To my surprise, as perhaps the only Asian participant in the crowd with high expectation from his European counterparts, everyone in the conference realised that it is rather not easy to measure sustainability in tourism. Dr Anselm Mattes of the economics consultancy firm DIW ECON based in Berlin, Germany explicitly admitted that no country is far ahead from the others when it comes to quantifying sustainability in tourism. This is because the direction is not clear and no convincing approaches had been done so far. The challenges in data collection, management, and storage also add up to the complexities.

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One would assume (perhaps the same as I did) that because Europeans are in some ways advanced when it comes to development and planning, they are also ahead in diagnosing problems and providing solutions. This is not true in the case of measuring tourism sustainability, as the conference has revealed. Rather than being disappointed for not taking away concrete measurement strategies, I was glad that the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and the German Environment Agency together with the United Nations World Tourism Organization have this kind of platform where stakeholders from the European community discuss how to make tourism and its activities sustainable. Because if we want to achieve a goal, something has to start somewhere. And the conference is an excellent building block.

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Participating in the conference was a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn the European perspective of sustainable tourism. The tools I learned and will share with our tourism partners in the southern island region of Mindanao in the Philippines are already a handful. Thanks to CIPSEM for facilitating my participation in this conference while my EM42 course colleagues explored other fields of environmental management in Berlin. And thanks to Büro für Tourismus- und Erholungsplanung for the administrative assistance.

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Author: Ireneo S. Piong, Jr. (Mindanao Development Authority – Area Management Office for Northeastern Mindanao, Philippines, EM42 participant)

Photos: BTE (Büro für Tourismus- und Erholungsplanung)

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