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Sustainable Development in Tourism: The Road to Success

12.06.2019Comments are closed.

Ljubica Knežević Cvelbar is a leading international expert in economics and tourism, and has a strong commitment to promoting sustainable development among all of the stakeholders in tourism destinations. She has participated in the developments of numerous strategies in tourism, and has been involved in more than 50 research projects, including EU-funded and UNDP grants. She has published more than 40 research papers in leading international journals, and has received a number of domestic and international awards including the Thea Sinclair Award for Best Journal Article in Tourism Economics in 2016.

What inspires you the most in your research on tourism?

I am performance driven, so honestly results inspire me. Overall, the feeling of achievement drives me forward. If I want to be dramatic, researchers are like super-heroes searching for truth. This is what science and research is ultimately about. It is about progress and evolution, and it is a great privilege and responsibility to be part of the international research world. Tourism is one of the fastest growing economic activities globally, and many universities have only recently included tourism as a part of their programme and research portfolio. At the Facility of Economics, we have a long tradition and international recognition in tourism research. Considering tourism publications per capita, Slovenians are among the best in the world, so it is great to be part of the tourism research community nationally and internationally.

You have shown in one of your past studies that triple bottom line (TBL) reporting (reporting on environmental, social, and financial issues) leads to better business performance in the hotel industry. What are the reasons behind advocating that reporting on environmental, social, and financial issues leads to business success?

If I would have to prioritise I would say that the top 5 reasons would be:

  1. Millennials are more interested in being employed in sustainable businesses, because they are behaving more sustainably than prior generations, and sustainability has value for them;
  2. It is right for a company to operate within the framework of corporate responsibility and to be a good corporate citizen;
  3. Asking the question if an action is sustainable or not can help companies identify the main reason why they are on the market, and make business decisions faster. For instance, having a Japanese-style garden in a Mediterranean hotel is not sustainable, so when management is deciding on new investment opportunities, a Japanese garden is not an option; 
  4. Having a positive impact on employees’ well-being, since social sustainability is about people;
  5. A reduction of its CO2 footprint, which is the goal of the EU and national strategies.

Tourism is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world, and produces not only economic benefits, but also harms the environment, especially in overcrowded destinations. How can the world’s best tourist destinations reduce its impact on the environment?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. UNWTO and destinations around the globe are communicating that managing tourism demand can solve overtourism and anti-tourism problems. I believe that there are limits to growth and that we cannot solve it all with management. However, in certain cases a limitation of the demand is necessary. Amsterdam, for instance, decided to significantly reduce its promotion budget in the last year due to over-tourism problems. Also in Slovenia at the moment, we need a higher service tax rate that could improve income of tourism employees, instead of a promotion tax for increasing the digital presence of the destination. 

How can destinations or the hospitality industry persuade people to act more environmentally friendly? What kind of tourists have a higher probability to act more responsibly?

Millennials and business tourists are two important segments. Business travellers because they are not in a hedonic setting as leisure tourists are, and they are less price sensitive. Due to those reasons, they are more prone to behaving environmentally friendly. Millennials are the second segment that will represent almost half of the tourist demand until 2050. Sustainability is an important factor for their travel decision-making, and they behave more sustainably than prior generations.

Slovenians are more environmentally friendly in Slovenia than other foreign tourists. We are just researching why this is the case. Is it because of Slovenians’ strong connection and respect for nature, which is a part of the Slovenian identity, or is this because they are closer to home and have more social pressure to behave responsibly?

What is your vision, how will the hospitality industry look 10 years from now?

Hospitality is about people, so I do not expect that technology from Industry 4.0 will overtake tourism or hospitality. I expect more concentration on the market and a higher market-share in the hands of international hotel chains in emerging markets. In developed markets I expect an increase in the development of domestic, locally-coloured hotel chains.

What would you vote as the best learning experience for you this year?     

I tried to be less conformist. It was tiring, but worth the effort. I tried to do things because I believed they were right, not because I expected recognition. I had more time for art and culture, and it was just great.

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