France and Germany have topped a new sustainable tourism index from The Economist Intelligence Unit.
The index, sponsored by Chinese tourism conglomerate HNA, is the first of its kind to compare countries on their commitment to develop and promote sustainable practices in tourism.
The findings were released in white paper The Sustainable Tourism Index: enhancing the global travel environment, featuring interviews with 11 global experts in the field.
It finds that while sustainable practices are taking hold around the world, fragmentation reigns even in high-scoring countries, with implementation and monitoring split between different government bodies.
In no country, say experts interviewed for the study, is sustainable tourism policy sufficiently integrated between national, local and regional levels.
Other findings reveal strong policies supporting sustainability in the tourism industry help European countries take the top three spots in inaugural index, with the UK following France and Germany to complete the top three.
Developing countries fall well short in policy implementation, though they are showing greater awareness of sustainable tourism goals.
At the same time, China and India, index leaders in travel and tourism industry growth, are poised to make a huge impact on sustainability if they can complement their robust tourism sectors with comprehensive environmental- and cultural-protection policies.
Japan leads the socio-cultural sustainability category of the index, but ranks at the bottom for economic sustainability, which gauges the economic importance of tourism to a country.
The index measures performance across five categories: political and regulatory environment, environmental sustainability, socio-economic sustainability, economic sustainability, and travel and tourism industry.
One of the main findings of the index is that the effective pursuit of sustainable tourism requires a high degree of coordination between the business and public sector, as well as civil society and individual tourists themselves.
Where policies are lagging, companies may be stepping in to fill the void, although the small and medium-sized enterprises which comprise the lion’s share of the tourism industry worldwide still struggle to meet sustainability goals.
Compared to their emerging-world rivals, rich nations have done more at the national level to foster this trend.
France and Germany, for example, tie for first place in the clarity and robustness of their milestones and action plans around sustainable tourism, while France and the UK tie for first on the rigour of their tourism laws.
Nevertheless, there are a number of areas where less developed countries are putting building blocks in place that could positively contribute to sustainable tourism in future.
Indonesia, for example, ties for first on the comprehensiveness of its sustainable tourism policy, while Brazil trails only Germany when it comes to the share of national territory (terrestrial and marine) that is under protection.
China, meanwhile, is the standout leader on growth in the overall tourism industry - a domain which, while not related to sustainability, indicates where efforts should be directed in order to make the biggest impact on sustainability on a global scale.
Michael Gold, editor in charge of research programme, said: “Progress in sustainable tourism is ongoing in the emerging world, and will hopefully continue apace.
“While the strong performance of developed nations is encouraging, as developing countries grow in prominence as tourism destinations, they will take on a greater role in driving sustainability in this field, worldwide.”