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Missed Monday’s session with Regenerative Travel and Deeper Africa but would like to watch the recording? Find it here

Missed Thursday’s session with JetBlue but would like to watch the recording? Find it here

Natalia Bayona, Director of Innovation, Education and Investments at World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has shared this 10-minute video about the road to more sustainable tourism.

Duke Sustainability Board 2022 Sustainable Symposium:

~ Sustainable Tourism ~

Thank you for joining the Duke Sustainability Board (DSB) for our annual Sustainable Symposium! This year our theme is focused on Sustainable Tourism, where we will learn from innovative leaders and organizations in the industry promoting sustainable and conscientious solutions to travel and adventure.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put 100 million tourism jobs at risk, but prior to the pandemic tourism was one of the world’s largest and economically viable industries (UNWTO, 2020; WEF, 2019). As this industry starts to recover from the pandemic and continues to grow, understanding and shifting the impacts of tourism on natural and cultural resources is essential. The nexus of tourism and preservation, both environmental and cultural, is what we aim to explore with you all throughout this symposium.

On this page we have included additional information that will help guide you through major themes of our panel and keynotes, as well as tips and takeaways you can bring into your own life. After the symposium, keynote and panel slides, Zoom recordings, and additional resources will be posted for your convenience.

We hope to see you next year!

The 2022 Sustainable Symposium Speakers:

Sustainable Tourism Panel

O’Shannon Burns

O’Shannon is the Ecosystem Steward sustainability consultant for Regenerative Travel and the Program Director for Eplerwood International, companies rooted in market and research-based solutions for sustainable tourism. O’Shannon has more than a decade of experience overseeing sustainability, conservation, and tourism initiatives in both the business and nonprofit sector. She is driven by the belief that travel can transform our understanding of the world, build community, and help to create a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient planet.

Karen Zulauf

Karen is the founder for Deeper Africa. She seeks to share Africa with people who want to go beyond the obvious and take away more than snapshots. The result is safaris that deliver a profound experience of wildlife and a deeper understanding of conservation in context as part of the story of Africa today. It’s a story that unfolds day by day, as you meet working people who are shaping the future of the continent.

Keynote Speakers

Natalia Bayona

Natalia is the Director of Innovation, Education, and Investments at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). She is in charge of multiple UNWTO initiatives, from  “Healing Solutions Tourism Challenge,” that calls for innovative entrepreneurial and start-up solutions to tourism, to the “Hospitality Challenge,”  that aims for tourism to restart from the pandemic in more balanced and sustainable way.  Throughout her work she promotes a tourism innovation ecosystem that builds sustainable partnerships and fosters digital transformation while working towards long-lasting post-pandemic recovery.

Sara Bogdan

Sara currently leads the Sustainability and Environmental Social Governance (ESG) program for JetBlue Airways. She develops industry-changing E&S strategy and manages a series of operational sustainability programs that better prepare the organization for a changing and resource-constrained world. This includes the execution of JetBlue being the first US airline to achieve regular carbon-neutral flying for all domestic flights via carbon offsets, investments in sustainable aviation fuel, and increasingly fuel-efficient operations.

Speaker Slides & Zoom Recordings:

Additional materials will be posted at the end of each event throughout the symposium!


Sustainable Tourism

ThUN Environment Program and UN World Tourism Organization define sustainable tourism 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” (2005).They also both emphasize that the three dimensions of environmental, economic, and socio-cultural development must be addressed and balanced to guarantee long-term sustainability.

           Source: Rainforest Alliance, 2017 


One of the first definitions of ecotourism was tourism that “…focuses primarily on experiencing and learning about nature, and which is ethically managed to be low-impact, non-consumptive, and locally oriented. It typically occurs in natural areas and should contribute to the conservation or preservation of such areas” (Fennell, 1999: 43).

A current definition posits that ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustain and improve the well-being of the local people, and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved, including visitors, staff and the visited. (Global Ecotourism Network & International Ecotourism Society, 2015)

For those who implement, participate in, and market ecotourism activities should adopt the following  Principles of Ecotourism:

    • Minimize physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts.
    • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
    • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
    • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
    • Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
    • Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.
    • Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.
    • Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in your community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.



Responsible Tourism defines ‘overtourism’ as the occurrence of too many visitors, with “too many” being subjective to each destination’s residents, hosts, business owners and tourists. This could be seen as rent prices pushing out local tenants to jampacked roads of tourist vehicles.



A form of tourism which travelers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity. Some criticisms of voluntourism include but are not limited to: normalizing access to vulnerable children, drainage of local resources, inexperienced volunteers, temporary impact, disruption of local economy, and poor supervision (World Vision, 2017). Read an example from the Huffington Post of how voluntourism harmed orphanages in Haiti here. If long-term impact is thought out, voluntourism can be an avenue for positive impact. 


Responsible Tourism/Travel

Occurs when the behaviors of individual travelers align with making a positive impact to the destination rather than negative ones.

  • Negative impacts may include economic leakage, damage to the natural environment and overcrowding, among others
  • Positive impacts to a destination include job creation, cultural heritage preservation and interpretation, wildlife preservation landscape restoration, and more.


Cultural Tourism

UN World Tourism Organization defines cultural tourism as, “Movements of persons for essentially cultural motivations, such as study tours, performing arts and cultural tours, travel to festival and other cultural events, visit to sites and monuments, travel to study nature, folklore or art, and pilgrimages


Heritage Tourism

It is defined by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a “place-based” activity that emphasizes “…traveling to experience the places, artifacts, and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes visitation to cultural, historic, and natural resources.”


Environmental (In)justice & Tourism

Environmental justice (EJ) is defined by the EPA as “…the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”

Common definitions of sustainable tourism call for environmental conservation and socio-economic wellbeing without accounting for greater injustices tourism incurs. Higgins-Desbiolles et al.’s article, “Tourism and Environmental Justice,” find there are two main ways injustice is tied to tourism: via exploitation (i.e., child sex workers, cultural tourism, etc.) and in destruction of places where people live, work, and play.

They further emphasize that the most problematic aspect of EJ and tourism is the dispossession and displacement of local people in places of touristic development.

“Tourism is not just about escaping work and drizzle; it is about power, increasingly internationalized power.” (Enloe, 1989, p. 40)


Regenerative Travel

There is currently no globally accepted definition of regenerative travel. It focuses on how holistic, net positive contributions to the wellbeing of visitors, residents, host communities, and the environment can help generate shared prosperity in the attempt of making tourism destinations better for both current and future generations, involving collaboration of business, communities, donors (Regenerative Travel, 2020)


Quick Facts & Figures:

Unless stated otherwise, the following facts and figures come from Sustainable Travel International

  • Tourism accounts for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (Lenzen et al., 2018)
  • Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the past decade has seen a boom in global tourism and growing tourism carbon footprint. From 2010 to 2019, international tourist arrivals grew by 52%, from 956 million people to more than 1.4 billion (UNWTO, 2019)

Source: Natural Climate Change, 2018

  • The hotel sector is one of the tourism industry’s largest drivers of employment and economic revenuebut at the same time it is one of the most energy intensive. In fact, hotels and other types of accommodation account for 2% of the 5% global COemitted by the tourism sector (UNWTO).       
  • Most hotels still rely on dirty fossil fuels for most of their energy. In 2018, the Green Lodging Trends Report found that only 21% of hotels had on-site renewable energy                                                                                                               
  • Prior to arriving at their destination, construction – of resorts, airports, and other tourism facilities – is an energy-intensive process. From acquisition of materials to site transportation, infrastructure for travel has its own carbon footprint to consider
  • Transportation is tourism’s main source of greenhouse gas emissions. On average, planes and cars generate the most CO2 per passenger mile. Between 2005 and 2016, transport-related tourism emissions increased by more than 60%                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
  • It takes about one acre of forest a year to absorb the same amount of CO2 emissions of a one-way flight from London to New York

Source: 2020 UK Conversion factors

  • When it comes to food waste, the travel industry is a major concern. Hotels in the UK alone produce 79,000 metric tons of food waste each year. Globally, less than half of hotels compost their food waste.
  • Many hotels and restaurants, especially remote island destinations, import a majority of their food products to cater visitor tastes. It is estimated that up to 80% of food consumed by the tourism in the Pacific Islands is from overseas. For example, a steak may travel nearly 10,000 miles from a ranch in Texas before being served in Palau.

Source: Water Resource & Action Program

Sustainable Tourism Resources:

For your travel needs

Calculate your travel carbon footprint and try the greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator

Book a more sustainable trip through groups like Responsible Travel, KindTraveler, or &Beyond and find sustainable accommodations through Ecobnb and Kynder to lessen your tourism carbon footprint!

Tips for reducing the carbon footprint of your travels:

  • Avoid flying to nearby destinations
  • Book non-stop flights
  • Fly economy
  • Pack light
  • Spend more time in a single destination
  • Choose efficient transportation to explore your destination
  • Eat the local cuisine
  • Support sustainable tourism projects and initiatives

Read more at Sustainable Travel International

Adhere to the 7 Leave No Trace Principles for your outdoor endeavors:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Learn more details at NPS and the Leave No Trace website

Expand your knowledge

Explore how tourism relates to the Sustainable Development Goals through interactive tools

Check out data on international tourism and COVID-19, tourism Flow, tourism recovery, and more with the UNTWO Global Tourism Dashboard

Learn about the best practice approaches to sustainable economic development through tourism by following the step-by-step UNESCO World Heritage Sustainable Tourism Toolkit

Informative Videos

Organizations to follow

  • Equality in Tourism International
    • A non-profit organization that aims to structurally shift towards just, sustainable and equitable tourism through the transformation of gender relations in tourism organization and destinations
    • Read some first-hand stories of women in tourism
  • World Monuments Fund (WMF)
    • WMF is dedicated to saving the world’s most treasured places by recognizing that unmanaged tourism can damage cultural sites
    • Check out their current Watch List and watch for their 2022 Watch List to be released March 1st on their biennial selection of the world’s most irreplaceable heritage sites in need of attention
  • Future of Tourism Coalition
    • A coalition of six non-governmental organizations uniting to benefit destination countries, protect nature and history, and enrich the traveling public
    • Watch their previous webinars on climate action to local supply chains in relation to tourism here
  • Conscious Travel
    • A social enterprise formed to serve and support three communities through education, consulting, and coaching services: suppliers of travel & hospitality related services, local residents, and travelers
    • Explore their 8 key ways at approaching conscious tourism development