Too Many Tourisms? Defining Our Most Common Types of Travel

It’s easy to overlook just how many categories of tourism there are; mass tourism, incentive travel, gap year, group travel, budget, luxury, adventure, tour packages, dark tourism, the list could go on. No matter what style of excursion you prefer you are unavoidably taking part in a certain category of travel! And now that I’ve just listed off a bunch of them I’m going to add a few more– my favorites! Sustainable, responsible, eco and volunteer! Because there are so many terms being thrown around nowadays I find it important to define and differentiate what each means and why they are important.

Sustainable Tourism

You’ve likely heard this term before, but to get specific the United Nations World Tourism Organization defines it 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.”

Sustainable Tourism should:

  1. Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
  2. Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.
  3. Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.
A textile shop run by a local in Tofo, Mozambique. Choosing to purchase a custom-made bag from this man sustained his business and provided me with a one of a kind souvenir to bring home!

Responsible Tourism

The World Summit on Sustainable Tourism defined Responsible Tourism as “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit”. Essentially it requires all levels of society– tourism operators, hotels, local governments, locals and visitors– to take responsibility and action and uphold the sustainability previously mentioned above.

While Responsible and Sustainable sound a bit alike and do share the same goals what sets them apart from each other is Responsible leads to and upholds Sustainability.

Responsible Tourism:

  • minimizes negative social, economic and environmental impacts
  • generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities
  • improves working conditions and access to the industry
  • involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances
  • provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues
  • provides access for physically challenged people
  • is culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence

Sustainability is the goal achieved through Responsibility!

Dr. Harold Goodwin


According to the International Ecotourism Society this term is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. 

In simpler terms:

  • 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
A vehicle respectfully observes a zebra while on safari in South Africa. Respect, awareness and education of wild animals is key to maintaining Africa’s ecosystem.


Perhaps the trickiest and most controversial of all tourisms-types I’m covering because the traveler or “volunteer” can be easily manipulated. Voluntourism is traveling to a destination with the purpose of offering your time and ability to help a cause. Without going too in depth here, voluntourism can often be manipulated or become a ploy that negatively effects the local society. If you would like to read more on this topic I encourage you to do so here!

Although I gave it a glum introduction, voluntourism can also be hugely enlightening and beneficial to all parties involved. I myself have taken part in a handful of volunteer trips taking me as far as South Africa! I have aided in Hurricane Katrina relief, caring for the homeless community in Philadelphia and even gotten a firsthand look at wildlife conservation in Africa. Voluntourism has shaped my character and opened my eyes, but I advise you to seek out a cause very carefully as it is a major buzzword and can sometimes do more damage than good.

Cleaning a pool for the crocodiles cared for at the Crocodile Centre in St Lucia, South Africa. Volunteering can be a great way to help local businesses as well as expand your education on the local environment.


  • Do not fall for buzzwords! Although the marketing may be great that doesn’t mean their cause is.
  • Just because the itinerary falls under one of these categories does not mean it is beneficial!
  • Be conscious of how and where you are spending your money! Your money is equal to power and can be utilized to demand change!
  • Be aware of the impact you are having/leaving on the place you visited. Whether it is the local people, the physical environment or the economy make sure you put some thought into how you affect it.

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