Architecture And Sustainable Tourism

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3rd May 2017 Tourism Reference this

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Tourism has been one of the economic success stories of the last 40 years. It has grown into a major component of the world economy and one of the most highly developed and dynamic industries with an important contribution to incomes and employment. Tourism has been rapidly growing sector and a wide-sweeping socioeconomic phenomenon with broad economic, social, cultural and environmental consequences. It is likely that tourism will continue to dominate the international scene for many years to come. (Sharma, 2001)

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The environment is probably one of the most important contributors to the desirability and attractiveness of a destination. Scenic site, amenable climates and unique landscape features have an important influence in tourism development and the spatial distribution of tourist movements. Apart from environment, the other important tourist puller is culture in all its diversity across continents. Cultural tourism has long existed, but recent demographic, social, and cultural changes in the main source countries have led to an increasing number of new niche markets in destination countries, including culture-oriented holidays.

However, like other forms of development, tourism has also contributed to its share of problems, such as social interruption, loss of cultural heritage, economic dependence and ecological degradation. (UNEP, WTO, 2005). Learning about the brunt of tourism has led many tourists to seek more conscientious holidays. These incorporate various forms of sustainable tourism such as: ‘nature-based tourism’, ‘ecotourism’ and ‘cultural tourism’. The major problems arise because the environment (at least in the short term) is a zero priced public good and as with any zero-priced good, is subject to excess demand and over-utilization. This over-utilization of the natural resources and exploitation of cultural heritage especially during the peak periods of tourist activity as well as often ill planned tourism development, have provided a number of examples where tourism is in conflict with the environment (Coccossis, Parpairis, 1995). Not only that, as a result of environmental consciousness, a great number of alternative forms of tourism been developed in the last decade. Sustainable Tourism promotes limited-scale, low-impact, community-based activities. It may be defined as “tourism that gives emphasis to the contact and understanding between the hosts and the tourist, as well as the environment” (Smith & Eadington, 1992) or as “tourism consistent with the natural, social and community values and that allows a positive relationship among locals and tourists”. (Wearing & Neil, 1999).

Sustainable environment requires sustainable design. Architecture and design can preserve the memorable and old monuments while it can also create new and attractive qualities in which people can use and enjoy. Architecture has the talent of defining spaces and therefore has a powerful influence on the human behaviour and understanding and this is exactly what is always taken into account in sustainability, maximizing economic benefit and preserving the ecosystem. But what should be the approach to this design to achieve all goals of sustainable tourism or rather what are the tools and principles of architecture that need to be adopted to embrace sustainable tourism need to be developed. Thus the question to be answered is:

What should be the architectural approach for sustainable tourism?

Defining Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable tourism is often considered to be a special kind of tourism that appeals to a particular market niche that is sensitive to environmental and social impacts. This is a narrow view as sustainable tourism is much more than a discreet or special form of tourism. The term sustainable tourism refers to a fundamental objective to make all tourism more sustainable. It is a continual process of improvement, one which applies equally to tourism in cities, resorts, rural and coastal areas, hills and protected areas. It should be thought of as a condition of tourism, not a type of tourism. Sustainable tourism is based on the three ‘pillars’ of sustainability (economic, social and environmental) and is simply defined by the World Tourism Organization as: “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” (WTO, 2005)

Sustainability is a process and not an end state.

The built environment and Tourism

Tourism has an adverse effect on built environment. It could be on architectural fa├žade, change of landuse, overburdening of infrastructure etc. Large scale construction of tourist facilities and other infrastructure tends to change the land use of an area and also disturb the natural ecological harmony of a destination.

Also tourism brings changes to the vernacular technology and sometimes the traditional constructions simply vanish giving way to modern construction which is most of the time not following and principles of sustainability. Instead they create harm to the destination, eventually losing the character, being environmentally disturbing and not suited to the needs apart from commercial aspect.

Some of the other impacts of tourism on built environment and architecture of a place are: over-intensive urbanization, illegal constructions, pollution, negative aesthetic changes, degradation of quality etc.

Need Identification

Tourism now accounts for 10% of the world’s economic activity but at the same time it has major impacts on the natural and built environments and as well as on well being and cultures of host population. Ecological, social and economic sustainability are intertwined. Tourism and architecture may be connected to the benefit of the two and ultimately to the benefit of the people. There has been only a very little research on the role of architecture and the approach that should be followed when targeting sustainable tourism.

Since building activities like construction of hotels, guest houses, tourist centres, commercial centres etc dominate the development of tourism at any place, there is a need to develop an approach and policy on architectural developments as part of sustainable tourism. This problem is of fundamental importance as it has led to the absence of an adequate theoretical foundation for understanding the dynamics of alternative tourism and the social activities it involves and responding to it accordingly. Sustainable design and planning do not jeopardize the economical benefits that a healthy tourism industry can bring; on the contrary, they can enhance local peculiarities and make use of traditional knowledge and expertise. Where sustainable methods and materials are employed, buildings can be both ecologically and economically profitable, thanks to their lower construction and life cycle costs.

This dissertation will be a small effort in the same direction.


Sustainability does not require a diminished quality of life, but it does require a change in mindset and values toward a less consumptive lifestyle. These changes must embrace global interdependence, environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic viability.

Various government bodies, international organizations and conventions have stated the importance of tourism and its sustainability. Many countries as well wish to or have already initiated the pursuit to policies of ‘sustainable tourism’. In fact one of the most important issues in sustainable development of tourism resources is the consideration and expansion of design and construction standards in order to reach an optimum use of energy, water and land resources.

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The scope of the study will be to understand sustainable tourism and its forms keeping in mind the delicate destinations specially, be it in terms of their ecosystem, cultural heritage or economic stability and state principles that should govern the architectural design and planning of the tourism infrastructure keeping in mind sustainability as defined above.

To lay down the architectural ethics in planning and designing of tourist needs like hotels, guest houses , activity centres etc suitable to the ecosystem ,society and economy. The study will concentrate on the fragile destinations since there is more need there but the applications will be in general universal. The scope of research is in guidelines published by international bodies keeping in mind Indian destinations.


The case studies where sustainable tourism developments have been implemented will not be accessible physically and the research will have to depend on secondary sources of data.

The primary case study will be covering a destination which is fragile ecologically, culturally and economically. It might not be possible to make multiple visits and at the same time while doing the survey the lack of academic knowledge regarding the subject amongst hosts could lead it directionless.

None of the tourist destinations in India has adopted sustainable tourism as a whole. Few resorts, localities etc have adopted sustainability within them.

Sustainable tourism is a relatively new term; the research on it will be limited to data over the past 3o years only.

Since the scope has to be limited the research will concentrate particularly on role of architecture in sustainable tourism and not other means of achieving it.

When formulating the survey questionnaire, the lack of knowledge about sustainable tourism might lead to indirect framing of questions. Also people will have to be relied upon for being honest which might not be the case for all.

1.7 References and Bibliography


Khaksar,A., Tahmouri,A., Hoseinrazavi,S., 2001, The Reciprocal Effects Of Architecture And Tourism: The Sustainability Approach, Allameh Tabataba’i University, Tehran, Iran

Sharma,K., 2011, Sustainable Tourism Development Through Sustainable Architecture: A Projected Case Study of Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. Master’s thesis, University of Huddersfield

UNEP and WTO, 2005, Making Tourism More sustainable: A guide for policy makers

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