Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable tourism management instruments

Policy instruments for sustainable tourism management

Policy instruments for sustainable tourism management are like instruments in other fields of environmental policy. They can be economic (or market-based), regulatory (or command-and-control) and institutional instruments. Economic instruments include environmental taxes, user fees, financial incentives and tradable market permits, regulatory instruments include quotas and zoning, while institutional instruments refer to eco-labels and changes in property rights. Sometimes a combination of various instruments might be more effective than implementing a single one.

Tourist environmental tax

This tax is levied on tourists for environmental purposes. Whether or not a drop in tourism income will result depends mainly on the amount of tax being levied and the ability of a destination to compensate for higher prices with a higher quality of tourism products and services. Different levels of environmental tax in high and low tourist seasons can enable more equal distribution of the number of tourists during the year, and consequently reduce pressures on the environment and increase the stability of incomes. Although there are many ways in which tourist environmental tax can be collected, the tax bases that embrace the majority of tourists and are most often used in practice are either tourist arrival or departure, or number of nights spent at a destination.

Access fees

When access to a specific environmental resource can be controlled, access fees charged to tourists can serve as a simple mechanism for capturing part of the benefits derived from the resource. The most common used are entrance fees to protection areas. Access fees also are a typical tool to manage carrying capacity limits.

Financial incentives

These can be designed to change behaviour either by increasing or reducing the prices of particular goods or services. Governments can encourage the introduction of the use of environment friendly equipment for water and energy-saving at hotels by lowering taxes, providing subsidies or reducing import tariffs. In a similar way, taxes or tariffs on non-environmental goods or services could be raised. Incentives in the form of taxes on construction activities, or taxes on second homes and higher building permit costs might be useful for reducing construction activities that often coincide with tourism development.


These can be applied to almost any product or service offered to tourists that satisfy certain environmental criteria (accommodation facilities, tour operators, beaches, restaurants, marinas or tourist destinations). To be meaningful, an eco-label must be internationally recognised and administrated by a reputable organisation. The ‘Blue Flag’ is probably the best known international eco-label in tourism, which has been awarded to beaches and marinas in 36 countries worldwide. Green Globe 21 is also a certification for sustainable travel and tourism products and services, used principally in Asia, the Caribbean and Australia.


Setting a limit on the number of visitors admitted to a destination during a fixed period may include closure of certain places, like environmentally fragile areas at certain times; establishing a maximum number of accommodation units; determining a maximum number of persons allowed at certain tourist attraction, particular area or a whole country. These instruments prevent overcrowding and subsequently the degradation of the natural resources. Bhutan is the only country that has introduced a tourist quota at the national level. Its quota allows 6,000 foreign tourists and 3,000 tourists from neighbouring countries per year, with established fixed minimum daily expenditures per tourist.


This instrument for limiting construction activities allows for planned tourism development and is relatively inexpensive and easy to implement. The physical plan that can restrict construction in environmentally sensitive areas (e.g. 100 metres from the coast) or minimise areas allocated for new construction. In the Maldives, for example, regulations state that the built environment should utilise no more than 20 percent of the total land area in order to maintain the natural beauty of an island environment. Moreover, two-story buildings are allowed only if there is enough vegetation to screen them from view.

Ecological economic zoning has also been proposed in climate change policy to protect Brazilian rainforests under Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation initiative.

More information about policy instruments can be found here:

With the similar goal to implement proper environmental policy the European Wilderness Society has developed and is currently implementing a standardized Wilderness norm: The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System (EWQA). Among other important elements EWQA includes the principal of Wilderness Disturbance. Here the focus lies on the removal of infrastructure, well-planned tourism access and strictly regulated and limited road access to the area, to ensure minimum tourist impact on the Wilderness zones.

EWQA also provides expert recommendations on Wilderness management improvement  for best sustainable benefits of nature and human being.

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