Planning for sustainable tourism


Planning for sustainable tourism

While 2017 has been a year of subdued global growth across many sectors, tourism is still big business – if this is planned and managed correctly.


This year is the World Tourism Organisation’s ‘International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development’, building on the UN’s flagship platforms of the ‘2030 Agenda’ and the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs).

According to UNESCO, tourism is one of the world’s fastest growing industries and is a major source of income for many countries. By 2020, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates that the number of international arrivals will reach +1.56 billion persons – this is almost 50% more international arrivals than in 2015.

At last year’s UN-Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador, it was announced that by 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to nearly double - with significant implications for housing, infrastructure and tourism.

While tourism can provide as a generator for wider growth and expansion, if this is badly planned, it can also cause its share of problems. According to UNWTO, poorly managed tourism development can create social dislocation, loss of cultural heritage, economic dependence and ecological degradation.

With a view to encouraging positive growth and mitigating the negative impacts of international tourism, the concept of ‘sustainable tourism’ was born. According to UNWTO, this is now becoming so popular that within a decade, what we presently refer to as ‘alternative’ will become common practice.


The principal of sustainability spans many interrelated aspects – economic, social and environmental. For tourism, sustainability is the effective management of resources and attractions in a manner that will not compromise their value in the future. In effect, that an attraction may be enjoyed by future generations in the same way that it is today.

This means that flexibility and integration are essential. At the physical planning level, new development should be sensitively arranged to support an attraction rather than seeking to compete with it. Whether the attraction in question is an area of natural beauty or a heritage listed building or structure, particular care and attention should be applied to maximise development efficiency, reduce energy consumption, enhance the wider context and be sufficiently flexible to accommodate various activities and future change.

Strong ties with local stakeholders are significant to ensure that any new hotel or resort is well integrated within the wider community. Ultimately, both sides will benefit from a good relationship - a new hotel providing a range of employment opportunities and the local community providing the opportunity for a sustainable stream of revenue from day and night visitors.

A varied mix of activities will sustain revenue through all seasons. An example of this may be incorporating a coffee shop, restaurant, leisure centre or retail franchise that be used by both overnight guests and day visitors from the local community. More creative mechanisms may include an allowance of commercial and agricultural activities and even residential accommodation of varying tenures ‘on site’. The core principle being that a greater synergy of complimentary uses will support long term success and stability; while airports and train stations were once considered to be places for arrival and departure only, these are now planned as mixed-use destinations with hospitality, retail, leisure and even residential activities.

At a time of changing trends, technological advancements and greater accessibility, which increases competition for day and overnight guests, it is important that new development is ‘future proofed’ from the outset. Once this has been achieved, the sustainable hotel or resort will be well equipped to respond to change in a quick, cost effective and efficient manner.     


Ensuring a successful sustainable development does not necessarily mean greater design, build and operational costs. Rather, this can be achieved for the same outlay through;

  1. Effective asset management.
  2. Minimising development constraints and maximising the scale of the opportunity.
  3. Adopting an integrated and holistic approach to planning, design, construction and operations.


In addition, a well planned development may have reduced operating, service and maintenance costs and generate a greater, more stable revenue though diversifying activities.

A number of years ago, I was fortunate to have been involved in the master planning of Kaduna Millennium City in Nigeria, which in 2009, was selected as one of the first flagship developments for the UN’s ‘Millennium Goals Initiative’ (the predecessor of the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’). Overall, the master plan provided the framework for a significant mixed-use expansion of the city of Kaduna in Nigeria with new leisure, tourism and hospitality activities. Occupying an area of unique natural beauty along the banks of the River Kaduna, new development opportunities were sensitively knitted around existing landscape elements and communities and a mix of accommodation was proposed to complement existing facilities across the city rather than seeking to replicate or replace these.



In recent years, the practice has been involved in the planning and design of a number of tourism and mixed-use focussed developments from a boutique hotel in Lebanon to an agri-tourism resort in Saudi Arabia and a resort on Egypt’s Red Sea coast. Despite having different scales, function and existing conditions, the principles of sustainable development remained the same for each project and each of these are now at varying stages of implementation – and in the case of L’Heritage, operation since 2013.

By, David Edwards, October 2017