Algarve tourism. A path to sustainability

This text aims to highlight which principles are present in sustainability and the prerequisites for their implementation

Tourism is one of the most important economic and social phenomena globally, undoubtedly a strategic sector of regional development. However, the growing concern about the impacts related to tourism and the acceptance of the principles of sustainable development place us before a new way of managing a tourist destination, assuming that what cannot be measured cannot be managed. In other words, a perspective based on obtaining information and with a long-term approach to tourist destinations.

This text aims to highlight which principles are present in sustainability and the prerequisites for their implementation, and present the work that has been developed by the University of Algarve to produce information and knowledge to measure the sustainability of tourism in the our region.


What are the principles of sustainable tourism?

Most of the known definitions, as well as Documents and Declarations from international organizations, are unanimous in considering sustainable tourism development processes from an integral perspective, which is based on the incorporation of all dimensions associated with natural capital, capital economic and human and social capital.

We will thus have economic efficiency, environmental conservation and social equity as basic axes of sustainable tourism development, in which this development implies a process of qualitative change, the product of political will which, with the essential participation of the local population, adapts the institutional and legal framework, as well as planning and management instruments, to tourism development based on the balance between the preservation of natural and cultural heritage, the economic viability of tourism and the social equity of development.

From this perspective, sustainability is not a strategy per se, but rather it will imply a change in the tourism paradigm with regard to the tourist use of resources, which does not imply the absence of growth or loss of effectiveness, and alternatively guarantees an improvement in the quality of life of residents in tourist destinations and visitors, recognizing that there are real limits to the availability of resources and, in this circumstance, measures must be taken to reduce material consumption that increases environmental, cultural and social costs.

The most recent experiences and literature on this subject, without neglecting institutional aspects, present a perspective that aims to have a more operative objective with regard to the principles of sustainable tourism.

Without intending to be exhaustive, we would highlight the following principles:

minimization of environmental impacts, contributing to their conservation and valorization; be a different type of tourism based on authenticity and community values; understand tourism market trends and expectations of specific segments; increase the added value of resources, ensuring enriching experiences and the diversity of local economies; ensure a sense of place through product “designs” reflecting history; provide mutual benefits for visitors and hosts; and promote the creation of local collaborative entrepreneurial training.


What is the enabling environment for tourism sustainability?

As the World Tourism Organization argues, in order to produce a dynamic balance, over time, between the three essential elements of sustainability - economic efficiency, environmental preservation and social equity - it will be necessary to be in the presence of a conducive environment.

In fact, to ensure the sustainability of tourism development, in its different dimensions, a series of preconditions are required to achieve that balance, namely:

an clear institutional leadership, with those responsible for managing destinations taking on the responsibility of ensuring a necessary reference for a transition to sustainable production and consumption models;

um eminently participatory process, ensuring that sustainability ceases to be seen as a more or less utopian objective and becomes a requirement for the rational and equitable use of resources;

an ethics component, with all agents involved in tourism development sharing a set of principles, such as the recognition of the intrinsic values ​​of nature, cultural identity and the social organization of the destination;

and finally, the knowledge management, which must be converted into a competitive advantage in the face of uncertainty. On the other hand, as sustainability implies a process of change, it is necessary to have an information and knowledge production system, which makes it possible to guarantee control of the impacts generated by tourism and, to that extent, improve the competitive capacity of a destination. tourist.


How to measure the level of sustainability achieved in each tourist destination? The case of the Algarve

One of the main problems in achieving sustainable tourism is precisely the difficulty in measuring the level of sustainability achieved by each tourist destination.

There are several reasons that make it difficult to quantify. Firstly, it is a concept that is perhaps excessively abstract and not directly observable.

Secondly, sustainability has a multivariate nature, as there are several aspects with which it establishes some type of relationship.

Thirdly, the measure of sustainability is relative, in the sense that, depending on the unit of analysis taken as a reference, the units analyzed can be more or less sustainable. Finally, its quantification is given, in most cases, in different units of measurement.

Bearing in mind these difficulties and the possible ways to overcome them, the University of Algarve, through the Center for Research in Tourism, Sustainability and Wellbeing, developed a project between April 2021 and December 2023, called MONITOR, with the technical-scientific support of the International Network of Sustainable Tourism Organizations of the World Tourism Organization (INSTO/WTO), with a view to supporting the recently created Observatory for Sustainable Tourism in the Algarve, in the construction of an information and to support the decision of the main actors in tourist activities.

The result of this international partnership made it possible to build a model for evaluating and monitoring tourism in the Algarve, consisting of the areas of environmental, economic, sociocultural sustainability and destination management and a total of 42 initial indicators associated with seasonality, employment, economic benefits, management of energy, water and solid and liquid waste, mobility, destination management, and satisfaction of residents and visitors.

No MONITUR website All results obtained for the period 2021-2023 can be viewed, whether from information from official sources or from surveys carried out with tourists and residents in the high and low seasons and also with tourist companies.

“The detailed information obtained with this project and the knowledge based on perceptions highlights the importance of constantly monitoring the involvement of residents, tourists and companies in positive and negative impacts, in economic, socio-cultural and environmental terms”.



Author João Albino Silva is Professor Emeritus at the University of Algarve. Guest professor at the Faculty of Economics of the University of Algarve. Integrated member of the Research Center for Tourism, Sustainability and Well-being. Member of the Order of Economists

A very special thank you to colleagues from the University of Algarve and members of the Scientific Council of the Observatory for Sustainable Tourism of the Algarve and the team at MONITOR, for the stimulating technical-scientific dialogue and for the enthusiastic work developed around this important topic of sustainable tourism development in the Algarve.

Entering the week of the “high season” calendar, here is my wish for success for Algarve tourism and my thanks to everyone who works hard to achieve that goal.


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