Another Way to Look at ‘Sustainable Tourism’

Author: Michelle Russell       

We know that the meetings industry should not be lumped into the same category as tourism. We do more than visit destinations, after all. We bring people together across industries and professions who discuss breakthroughs and share solutions to big challenges facing the world. And we leave behind legacies in the cities we meet. 

But there is no denying that the tourism industry supports the events industry. The same people who market destinations and venues to tourists market to event organizers, and the same people who serve tourists at hotels, restaurants, and on airplanes also serve attendees. Many local and national economies depend on the tourism sector for stability and growth.

Luncheon guests start to take their seats at the Lotte New York Palace Villard Mansion’s Library.

This was made especially clear to me last week, when I participated in a roundtable lunch at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel in Manhattan, hosted by Tourism Ireland, and where I was joined by representatives from airlines and tourism companies with strong ties to Ireland. We were invited to provide our host, Brendan Griffin, T.D., Minister of State for Tourism and Sport in the Government of Ireland, with our perceptions of the island as a tourist destination.

First, Minister Griffin spoke to us about his view of “sustainable tourism,” but not in the environmental sense, which is what I usually think of when I hear those two words together. As someone who was raised in a “household that was tourism-dependent,” Griffin said, he doesn’t ever underestimate its importance. “Tourism is our strongest industry,” he said, noting that one in 10 people in Ireland work in the tourism sector. His idea of sustainable tourism is to create opportunities for citizens to earn a living without having to leave their homes — even in “the rural and peripheral areas” of the island, he said. 

When asked if Airbnb could help in this effort by attracting visitors to locales that lack infrastructure (i.e., hotels), Griffin said that in some places, Airbnb options afford “a pressure-relief valve,” and in other areas it causes displacement. “It’s hard to get the balance right,” he said. 

Considering that six million people live in Ireland and last year 11 million visited the island — another statistic Griffin shared —that’s a balancing act many other economies would welcome.