Current events

Sustainable tourism is becoming increasingly popular

  Photo: Steven-Lewis / Unsplash

The UOC and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) sign an accord to continue offering the Master's Degree in Tourist Destination Strategy and Sustainable Management.
Foto: Steven-Lewis / Unsplash

Raquel Font

Sustainable tourism is gaining ground over mass tourism. Travelling in a manner more respectful towards the environment is a growing trend that allows destinations to be better places for those who live there and for those who visit them. The UN has declared 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development in order to promote a change in policies and business practices within the sector and also in the habits of consumers, the travellers. The aim is to make the tourism industry more responsible and committed to preserving the environment and developing local economies and cultures. Here it is analysed by expert UOC professors Soledad Morales and Pablo Díaz.

Tourism is one of the most important industries in the world. According to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, in 2016 more than 1.2 billion people travelled for the purpose of tourism. It is a sector which provides employment for one in every eleven workers worldwide and generates close to 11% of the world’s GDP. It seems understandable, therefore, that all countries want to take advantage of this. But at what price?

In fact, tourism is one of the activities with the greatest impact on the environment. It contributes towards climate change, principally due to the environmental impact of travelling, and also has a major impact on the environment, both on the natural and the inhabited areas of the region. Soledad Morales, professor at the UOC Faculty of Economics and Business, explains that as we have become aware of the negative effects of certain forms of tourism, concepts such as sustainability and responsibility have gained importance.

According to a survey by, one in three tourists intend to choose options that are more respectful towards the planet during 2017. Forty per cent of those surveyed are interested in doing an ecotour, a trip which includes longer and more scenic routes and which uses alternative means of transport. According to the professor at the UOC Faculty of Economics and Business, Pablo Díaz, “an increasing number of people seek authenticity and to enjoy an experience when they travel”, which is why they are abandoning the more popular routes and leaning more towards discovering and living alongside local communities. This helps make us aware of the need to preserve the customs of these local communities and their environment and, consequently, engage in more responsible tourism.

Opportunities for change

Soledad Morales defines sustainable tourism as “the type of tourism that does not put the needs of future generations at risk”, in other words, a tourism that is respectful towards the environment, socially sensitive and economically viable. The UOC professor, who is an expert in sustainable tourism, underlines that “it is not about a product, but how the tourism business is run”. She insists that “all forms of tourism should be sustainable”, and to achieve this the agents involved and especially tourism companies need to focus on three aspects: environmental, social and economic.

The UOC professor is convinced that “it is an opportunity we cannot let slip away to ensure that tourism helps improve the living conditions of the world’s population”.

A model that benefits everybody

Although in theory sustainable tourism does not have to be more expensive, Soledad Morales acknowledges that it is sometimes offered within certain parameters of exclusivity which leaves it beyond the reach of many, although she believes that “in the long-term it is the model that will be the most beneficial to everybody” because it can guarantee tourists a more authentic experience and help local communities preserve their heritage – natural, social and cultural – and their way of life.

Morales also says that this form of tourism “is viable in all contexts and countries” because the social and economic dimension of responsible tourism, which includes respect for local communities and a fairer distribution of the profits, benefits the most needy communities. In developing countries, large hotel complexes coexist alongside community tourism projects or products which emphasize responsibility and sustainability. Without wishing to encourage mass tourism, the UOC professor acknowledges that these two forms of tourism can not only coexist, but even end up needing each other. It is a view shared by Pablo Díaz, who believes that “tourism, when more widely distributed, is less harmful and that controlled mass tourism is necessary”.

Just last week Barcelona's Strategic Tourism Plan was presented which, according to Soledad Morales, is a good example of applying sustainability criteria to tourism, since it focuses on social aspects, such as how tourism improves the quality of life of the city, for both citizens and tourists. Pablo Díaz says that many European capitals are waiting to see how Barcelona resolves the problem caused by illegal holiday apartments, particularly in Ciutat Vella, and also warns of the risk incurred by the large number of cruise liners that arrive in the port of Barcelona, which is one of the European ports that receives the highest number of cruise liner tourists each year.

Collaboration between the UOC and the UNWTO

Both institutions wish to cooperate to improve education and training in tourism around the world. This is why, in 2004, they jointly launched the UNWTO-UOC Master's Degree in Tourist Destination Strategy and Sustainable Management , which currently has approximately forty students enrolled on it. On Tuesday, 7 February, they ratified their collaboration with a new accord, signed by the University President, Josep A. Planell, and the Executive Director of the THEMIS Foundation of the UNWTO, Omar Valdez.

This master's degree, along with the Bachelor's Degree in Tourism, are accredited with the UNWTO.TedQual Certification awarded by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a specialist agency of the United Nations. The UOC is the first online university in the world to receive this certification.

According to Àngels Fitó, Director of the UOC Faculty of Economics and Business, “we are delighted to have received this certification, particularly because we obtained a mark of 8.9, which places us above several on-site universities that also have the TedQual. Furthermore, it positions us as a leading e-learning university in world tourism”.


UOC experts

Photograph of Soledad Morales Pérez

Soledad Morales Pérez

Lecturer in the Economics and Business Studies Department
Director of the Master's Degree in Sustainable Tourism and ICTs

Expert in: Event tourism; responsible tourism; tourism and cooperation; development.

Knowledge area: Human and regional geography.

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Photograph of Pablo Díaz Luque

Pablo Díaz Luque

Expert in: Information systems and ICTs in tourism, electronic marketing and promotion of tourist destinations, social media and tourism, the sharing economy applied to tourism, tourism economy and development.

Knowledge area: e tourism, e destination, sharing economy and collaborative consumption in tourism, tourism development.

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