Sustainability in tourism: Interview with Dr. Kelly Bricker

Eco travel is on the rise. With more and more people traveling globally, we all have a responsibility of traveling with a sense of awareness for our climate and environment, but what is eco travel exactly? And how will we travel in the future? We met up with Dr. Kelly Bricker, Professor at the University of Utah and chairman of The International Eco Tourism Society, to discuss the current and future trends of sustainability in tourism.

kelly bricker
Kelly Bricker

In a few words: what is sustainable tourism?

Travel which protects and enhances ecological, cultural, and historic conservation, enhances quality of life and economic stability for local communities, educates both host and visitor, and supports the humane treatment all living beings, human and non-human rights.

What are the current trends in tourism?

I think this is an interesting question, as trends are long-term and cover a span of several years, rather than say for example a ’fad’ – which to me is short term and something often expressed by current contexts.
Experts are telling us that destination sustainability matters: we have seen a rise in the uptake of destination level evaluations for sustainable practices at the GSTC and increased interest in destination level certification considerations for sustainable tourism as well. Furthermore, tourism arrivals remain steady, with 2016 predicted to be another record year for inbound trips (in 2015, there were more than 1,2 billion worldwide).

“Being green is profitable,” continues to be a key message at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC). Research from CREST shows that travelers expect businesses to become sustainable in some way in the future, and prefer to use the services of companies that follow green or eco-friendly practices.

Furthermore, various surveys are demonstrating consumer demand in sustainable travel, including Trip Advisor’s 2013 survey, indicating that 62% of respondents ”often” or ”always” consider the environment when choosing hotels, transportation, and meals.


What are the most sustainable travel destinations in the world at the moment?

While there are several destinations around the world doing wonderful work, and recognized in the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards for their work, certification is one way to demonstrate active and progressive steps in the long journey to sustainability. I recommend that individuals visit the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s website for additional information on destination sustainability and a list of those certified, found here:

In addition, we have worked with amazing destinations around the world, who have supported the TIES Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC), including Ecuador, an entire country committed to sustainability in tourism and other industries; Bonito Brazil, an amazing case study of partnerships, environmental stewardship, and industry cooperation and commitment to sustainability; Kenya, one of the first countries advocating true ecotourism and sustainability; Ansan, Korea demonstrating ways in which to take back nature and reclaim sanctuaries for wildlife, even in and amongst a highly urbanized environment; and unique locations in Florida, committed to sustainable food production and consumption, buildings, and design, such as Anna Maria Island, dubbed the ”greenest main street in America.”

eco travel
Maasai Mara, Kenya

Is eco travel gaining more popularity amongst travelers or are we still struggling to get it through?

I believe all signs are showing an increased awareness and desire for experiential, sustainable travel. The responsibility is multi-faceted and includes a demand from travelers for safe, enjoyable, quality travel and ensuring their experiences are supporting ecotourism and sustainable tourism concepts - however, the demand side will not fully support eco and sustainable travel. We need the providers to also take the lead and ensure their destinations, their natural and cultural capital are conserved and well-taken care of. This involves destinations, governments, and the tourism industry, to name a few. There will always be competing industries, and communities/destinations have to work together to ensure the billions of special places and societies are conserved and the well-being of local people supported into future generations. Tourism has the power to do this and done well, sustainably, with conservation in mind, can be a win-win for all.  After all, who travels for vacation to a polluted beach, hikes through a destroyed rainforest, dives on a destroyed reef system, or rafts a polluted river? Healthy environments create healthy people and healthy economies.

What can travelers do to travel green and help save the environment?

Become educated on where their dollar is spent—ensure that part of the fees and travel expenditures help protect and conserve natural and cultural aspects of destinations; ensure their money is placed on tour operations that are operating in a sustainable way, verified through certification, reputation, and evaluations found online and elsewhere; and join organizations such as The International Ecotourism Society, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and others who do the work to support and advocate for eco and sustainable tourism globally.

sustainable travel

The Polar regions are gaining more attention amongst tourists. How does one protect the areas and face the sustainability challenge in general?

This is an enormous challenge. The tight season and growing interest raise several issues. This was a featured session at the IUCN World Conservation Congress as well. As tourism grows in these areas, I believe we have to consider the impact on wildlife and the environment first and foremost - various strategies will need to be employed (some already are), over time to understand the impact of increased use.

Learn more about sustainable travel and how you can contribute on


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