Responsible travel vs. sustainable tourism

Being an advocate for sustainability in all matters including tourism, but writing about “responsible travel”, people often ask me about the difference of responsible travel vs. sustainable tourism. Is there actually one?

Yes, there is!

In a nutshell, one can say that sustainable tourism focuses on a long-term change in tourism practices tackling a long list on possible impacts whereas responsible travel focuses on short-term actions every one of us can take every day to have less of a negative impact on a given destination and increase positive ones.

Responsible travel vs. sustainable tourism

Both Sustainable tourism and responsible travel rely on a three-pillared approach to sustainability, considering economical, sociocultural and environmental impacts of travel. Yet, while sustainable tourism is concerned with global issues like climate change and tries changing the tourism industry as a whole, responsible travel focuses more on the individual actions and individual destinations.

To tackle the tourism industry as a whole, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council have identified general criteria through which tourism practices of Hotels, Tour Operators and Destinations can become more sustainable.These are especially important for tourism professionals such as myself, so we can work on creating generally more sustainable conditions in the industry, which individuals then can take advantage of.

Responsible travel was defined as “making better places to live in and better places to visit” at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. This definition gives new emphasize on not only preserving destinations for future generations to visit, but also to improve and preserve it for the people who actually live in it. It should give the destination and its inhabitants the power to using tourism to their advantage rather than being used by it.

We alwayshave an impact of some sort wherever we go, but we can try to make it as positive as possible I think…
And what about ecotourism?

Ecotourism is one of the forerunners of sustainable tourism and responsible travel. It focuses mainly on the environmental impacts of tourism and is therefore less holistic than the other two. If you want to learn more about this kind of tourism, please visit a separate post about it here.

And what does responsible travel mean to me

I write about responsible travel because it is an honest approach and everyone can participate in it. We as individuals can take responsibility for the impact we want to have rather than blaming companies and corporations for being unsustainable. It empowers us to do the right thing if we choose to do so while encouraging the industry to take responsibility for their impact on destinations without being too instructive.

Responsible travel vs. sustainable tourism recognizes, that tourism itself is not sustainable, but shows us how it can have a positive impact on both the destination and the traveller.

For me, responsible travel is a way look at a destination from a locals point of view, rather than an outsider. It helps me to go deeper than just visiting the main tourist attractions, but actually trying to understand their importance for the local identity, culture and economy. It recognizes the significance of food, music and even street art etc. as part of the local culture making it worthwhile to take actual time to explore.

I am ready to take responsibility for my travels, are you? What does responsible travel mean to you?


(Photo credit: Luiz Esterela via


About the author


Eva is a tourism professional with a passion for sustainability and responsible travel. Fostering intercultural exchange through tourism is her life mission.

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  • Great post, Eva! You really nailed the definitions and cleared a lot up. They are each significant in their own way and together work toward a better future!

  • Loved reading your views Eva on the pros and cons on responsible vs sustainable travel/tourism. I never really thought about this subject much but you got me thinking…… (and it takes a lot to get me thinking!)

  • I love this article! I never knew these concepts existed and frankly I’m glad that this consciousness exists. It’s part of being a global citizen to uphold your responsibility as you visit other countries. I’d like to share this on my blog with a commentary. I hope you don’t mind!

    • Hi Maram, thanks for your comment. I am happy for you to spread the word to increase awareness of this issue. I checked out your blog and like it a lot, too. Maybe we can guest post on each others blogs at some point if you like?

  • Great post Eva, and I am happy to see a blogger flying the flag of responsible travel! It is something that I try to do on all of our travels – especially in terms of wildlife and the environment. But I think it is great that there are global bodies like the ones you mention who are issuing formal guidelines that cover more than that, and specific for different parts of the tourism industry. Keep up the good work of publicising this stuff 🙂

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for your Feedback. I am glad to hear that you are already spreading the word in terms of wildlife and Environment. Every little helps 🙂

  • Responsible travel to me means giving back to the host community in some way or the other. Not to treat the people like monkeys in a zoo but to get to know them on a more intimate level and to become a little bit part of their community. It’s got to do with respect and responsibility. I think that travel should be more than just ticking off a list of things to see and do. It’s also about learning about different cultures and understanding humanity as a whole. Thanks for explaining the differences between responsible travel and sustainable travel so clearly. Great post.

    • Der Silke, thanks for your comment. I totaly agree with you in regards to the importance to actually engage with the local Population. It is one of the most important things to actually increase intercultural understanding Rathenow than accepting clichees and prejudice.

  • Eva, you nailed and provided a clear definition of responsible travel and sustainable tourism. I had no idea of the concept. I guess in many ways we are responsible traveler with our blogging about places we have traveled to. We all need to be global citizen

    • Der Nathalie, thanks for your comment. I agree it is our responsibility as bloggers to raise awareness of such issues and, by traveling more then most other people, taking responsibility for our impact on the World.

  • Love that definition – “making better places to live in and better places to visit”. It sums it up, I guess.
    Thanks for the informative post, it does clarify few issues regarding the terminology. And I honestly agree that when ever we travel, we should look at the destination from a local point of view. That’s the best way to really see the place, to put yourself in the shoes of locals and to ask yourself how you would like others to behave when coming to your neighborhood, right! It will make all the difference if we were all to behave that way.
    Nice read, this really is an important issue.

    • Exactly, one often sees people behave worse than they would ever Do at home when being on holiday while they should actually Do the total opposite. I hope this will change as more people take responsibility for their actions.

  • You have explained the subtle differences of the travel concepts s o well. Even I try to be a responsible traveler. I am glad more and more focus is given now on sustainable tourism. We responsible travelers must contribute our part.

  • I loved reading this post. I always feel like it’s so important to respect the places you’re visiting. For me, this means that I need to treat the sites, nature, local people, and everything else with deep care. Tourism is a beautiful thing, but it can also bring a boatload of irreversible damage if we’re not careful. Keep traveling well!

    • Hi Rachel, thanks so much for your comment. I fully agree with what you said. Trying to avoid this kind of da mage and make a positive impact instead.

  • Wonderful post, Eva! It’s so nice to see that there are other responsible travelers out there! 🙂 Our motto of responsible travel is: “don’t destroy what you came to enjoy”. It’s actually a slogan of the Quicksilver green campaign. We liked it so much that we kinda appropriated it for our travel lifestyle. 🙂

  • Hi Eva,
    I could learn a lot from your definitions. I am interested in all things sustainable and as a travel blogger of course in travelling, but was not aware of the differences between sustainable and responsible tourism.
    Very interesting read.
    Cheers, Ricarda

  • Working in sustainability, I’ve been thinking about this a lot more lately! You’ve defined the differences between sustainable tourism, responsible travel and ecotourism well. I agree that we all have a part to play and it’s good people are talking and thinking about it more.

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