Linnaeus Knowledge Environment: Sustainable Tourism (KEST) – a burgeoning knowledge environment

The purpose of our aspiring knowledge environment is to inspire and support interdisciplinary efforts related to tourism’s transformation toward sustainability. To this end, we organize efforts at Linnaeus University (and beyond) that relate to balancing the virtues and vices of tourism in research, teaching, and outreach. Our efforts relate to the complex challenges acknowledged by international institutions and Swedish authorities.

Sustainable tourism as the norm, not the exception

Why tourism matters

Tourism is much more than holidays, travel marketing, or a single industry.

Tourism is a socio-ecological phenomenon associated with people’s mobilities. It shapes and is shaped by environmental, social, economic, technological, political, and legal developments.

Tourism involves different industries and public as well as non-profit organizations. It involves manifold human as well as non-human stakeholders. And, it thereby touches important aspects of society such as public health and social inclusion, but also planetary issues related to biodiversity and climate change.

In short, its development and impact affect us all.

What is a Linnaeus Knowledge Environment?

Meeting societal challenges with knowledge in creative environments that integrate education, research, and collaboration – knowledge environments – is something that permeates Linnaeus University’s vision and work.

Seven of our knowledge environments have been appointed Linnaeus Knowledge Environment. They all work interdisciplinary in order to get a broad take on the societal challenges within each field.

Why KEST is needed

Transitioning to a green travel and tourism sector is a UNWTO/G20 priority and important for Sweden. Transitioning to sustainable tourism as the norm rather than exception requires a broad involvement of actors, interdisciplinary knowledge, and strong research environments that connect insight through research with education and knowledge co-creation with societal actors.

The European Parliament stresses the need for action from national down to regional levels to facilitate a tourism transition to benefit visitors, local communities, economic actors, and the environment.

Linnaeus University has the necessary seeds to develop such a knowledge environment with the aspiring Knowledge Environment in Sustainable Tourism (KEST).

Why this knowledge environment is needed – some voices from the team

 

Meet: Stefan Gössling, Professor of tourism, Karin Ekebjär, Länsturismsamordnare, Region Kalmar län, Anders Högberg, Professor i arkeologi & Per Pettersson Löfquist, Lektor i turismvetenskap

The global challenges of tourism

Tourism is a hallmark of modern society. Yet, developing and managing tourism in sustainable ways comes with many challenges. At a local and global level, interests among actors are often misaligned. Norms within different societal spheres collide. Tourism’s sustainability and growth paradoxes are evidenced by tourism’s contribution to climate change, social and economic inequalities in tourism, and exploitation of natural resources. The future of tourism depends on responding to its environmental and socio-economic challenges. For example, transport-related emissions from tourism are expected to account for 5,3% of all man-made CO2 emissions by 2030, while more ecological problems arise locally.

Exemplary challenges

  • Tourism’s contribution to exceeding planetary boundaries and deterioration of socio-ecological health;
  • Urgency to respond to climate crisis vs practical hurdles in green transition for the many small- and mid-sized enterprises (SME) in the sector;
  • Difficulties in in navigating sustainability frameworks and certifications for regulators, operators and consumers;
  • Governance issues for system- and destination level sustainability perspectives;
  • Reliable measurement and data infrastructure for sustainability purposes.

Tourism as a force for good

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) highlights tourism’s potential to contribute across a wide range of 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, reflecting the contemporary developmental challenges humanity must address to safely navigate the Anthropocene. We aim to contribute to existing SDGs and lead the way forward to new horizons, eventually replacing existing targets for sustainable transformation.

Examplary challenges

  • Pressure put on communities to host increasing numbers of tourists happens to the detriment of local well-being.
  • Changes in landscapes, environments, and land-use practices can negatively impact local livelihoods and cultural identities.

Examplary benefits

  • Contributes to economic development by providing employment opportunities to local populations and the opportunity for business innovation to entrepreneurs.
  • Strengthens economies by providing revenue and foreign currency to the diverse economic sectors that make up the tourism industry.
  • Contributes to the development of local infrastructure and services that can be beneficial to the living standards and well-being of local populations.
  • Supports the preservation of natural environments, landscapes, cultural assets, and traditions by showcasing them as valuable place attributes.
  • Enriches communities with cultural exchanges that can reinforce their pride, identity, and well-being.
  • Provides human with the opportunity to discover the natural and cultural riches of the world and become more culturally sensitive in the process.

Research

As a start, we identified six challenging core work areas related to tourism sustainability that KEST can address. Each of these areas requires intervention focused on sustainability for a societal transformation to occur:

  • Planetary health and climate change
  • Cultural heritage and change
  • Sustainable and circular business models
  • Sustainable consumption and behavioral change
  • Socio-ecological health and wellbeing
  • Sustainable destination development

Education

Members of KEST