ICT for Sustainable Tourism

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Tourism’s continued prosperous growth depends on successful maintenance of the economic, natural and socio-cultural environments. To manage this, the tourism industry has attempted to apply the principles of sustainable development to tourism i.e. sustainable tourism. The use of mechanisms or tools such as indicator development, monitoring, eco-labelling, eco-certification, codes of conduct, educating the tourist and other best practices have been used at the destination level to translate the concept of sustainable tourism into reality. However, most of these attempts have not yet demonstrated the level of success predicted for sustainable tourism. Stakeholders therefore need to find a practical approach to ensure that the industry is developed along the principles of sustainable tourism development. The application of ICT can be such a solution which can be used in both tourism planning and development as well as by the consumer, to make sustainable tourism a workable reality.


ICT has been regarded as essential for the success or failure of tourism impacts (Buhalis and Spada, 2000) and there is indeed a synergy between ICT and the main dimensions of sustainable tourism; the economic, environmental and socio-cultural aspects. According to Ali and Frew (2012) ICT can lead to economic sustainability when used for improving the management and provision of information and it can be used to map and monitor the economic impacts. ICT can assist with environmental sustainability when used to manage and control development, detect sensitive areas and deliver relevant information for decision-making and the socio-cultural environment can be maintained when ICT is used to allow the local community to voice their opinion in tourism development matters which affect them and it provides a means of protecting and preserving their culture and heritage for future generations (Ali and Frew, 2012).


The domain of ICT and sustainable tourism is an emergent one. Despite considerable discussion both in academia and industry regarding ICT for sustainable tourism there has been limited research. One must however note the efforts of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in endorsing the use of ICT in sustainable tourism development as part of their eTourism initiative, the Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre in Australia which investigated a number of intelligent systems which has applications for sustainable tourism and the ENTER conference which in recent years they have devoted a research stream and workshops to understand this topic. One of the first attempts to carve out a research domain for ICT and sustainable tourism was completed by Ali (2009) who examined how ICT can be used by destinations for sustainable tourism development in her PhD thesis. This was followed by a comprehensive text by Ali and Frew (2012) which considered the destination, business and tourist perspectives on the use of ICT for sustainable tourism, the value of ICT in sustainable tourism supply chain management, how social media can be used to influence sustainable tourism, the challenges to using ICT for sustainable tourism and the way forward.


The table below provides some examples of the ICT based tools/applications which can be used for sustainable tourism development:

Table 1: Collection of ICT-based Tools/Applications for Sustainable Tourism Development
ICT-based Tools/Applications Definition Uses for Sustainable Tourism
Community Informatics Focused on the design and delivery of technological applications for enhancing community participation and development through the use of e-mail bulleting boards and networks all based on the Internet. Socio-cultural benefits are enhanced through increased community participation in the decision making process

This develops social capital by empowering individuals, strengthening community identity and creating opportunities for economic development

Computer Simulation A simulation of real world settings where models are designed to depict how a system operates over time Issues too complex for direct observation, manipulation or mathematical analysis are simulated to investigate the effectiveness of alternative management practices. This leads to better decision on impacts on the economic, natural and socio-cultural environments

Realistic images are produced for public consultation concerning visitor use of the community’s space rather than just identifying a hypothetical situation. This leads to better relationship with the tourist, tourist planner and host community and facilitates community participation in decisions which affect them

Environment Management Information Systems A combination of computer hardware, software and professional services that integrates disparate information about environmental issues to manage the environmental function within an organisation. It systematically gathers, analyses and reports business information related to environmental management such as waste tracking and emissions. This allows a company to track, refine and improve its environmental practice. Disparate information about environmental issues such as tracking, waste monitoring, emissions and conducting cost/benefit analysis are connected and integrated by the EMIS for analysis. This leads to better decisions on impacts on the economic natural and socio-cultural environments
Geographical Information Systems An information system that can capture store, manage, manipulate, analyse, integrate and display large amounts of geographical data. Indicators for sustainable tourism can be identified defined and measured. Information provided for identifying and designating suitable locations for development and three-dimensional images can be produced for proposed developments to evaluate proposals
Location Based Services This can collect and deliver information to and from a mobile device depending on the automatic location of the user. The aim of LBS is to provide targeted information to the user based on his/her geographic location. Such information include but is not limited to places to visit, eat and stay as well as emergency and health services Information can be provided on the LBS thereby reducing the need for print material

Messages can be sent to the tourists to create awareness and familiarise them with the culture and customs of a destination. This information can help the tourists make sustainable choices about which products to consume whilst at the destination. It not only makes them environmentally aware but also more conscious of the socio-cultural environment. This information helps them to develop a better respect for the local community and their culture and heritage.

Source: Ali and Frew (2012, p. 66-70)

Notes and References

Ali, A. (2009). An investigation into information and communication technologies-based applications for sustainable tourism development of destinations. Ph.D thesis, Queen Margaret University, UK.

Ali, A. and Frew, J.A. (2012). Information and communication technologies for sustainable tourism. London, Routledge.

Buhalis, D. and Spada, A. 2000. Destination management systems: criteria for success. Information Technology & Tourism, 3 (1), 41-58.

Further Readings Ali, A. and Frew, J.A. (2014). ICT and sustainable tourism development: an innovative perspective. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Technology, in press.

Ali, A. and Frew, J.A. (2012). Information and communication technologies for sustainable tourism. London, Routledge.

Ali, A. and Frew, J.A. (2010). ICT- an innovative approach to sustainable tourism development. Journal of Hospitality Application & Research, 5(2), pp. 28-58.

Ali, A. and Frew, J.A. (2010). ICT and its role in sustainable tourism development. In: Gretzel, U., Law, R. and Fuchs, M. (Eds.) Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2010. Lugano, February 10-12 2010, New York: Springer, pp. 479-491.

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