Why Tourism Needs a Quintuple Bottom Line

Being a sustainable business is all about the triple bottom line—balancing your impact on the environment, supporting your people resources and continuing to make a profit. However, in the 16 years Tartan has been supporting destinations and their experiences in becoming more sustainable, company founder Deirdre Campbell makes a case for adding two more bottom lines to balance and measure.


Sustainable tourism organizations and destinations are very proud to say they balance their triple bottom line but you say that is not enough. Why not?


Tourism is a dynamic industry that impacts communities and economic development in ways that many ignore or fail to realize. When hotels are full, the local shops and restaurants benefit, more jobs are needed to service visitors (on top of residents) and profits are reinvested back into infrastructure to bring in more visitors. Smart communities and businesses invest in their people resources so turnover is reduced and service levels are high. They also monitor and report on their environmental footprint and reinvest profits into new experiences to remain more competitive.


In the past we called this focusing on the Planet, People and Profit—the three Ps of tourism. With the growing demand for authentic experiences that celebrate a destination’s unique attributes and culture, it has become clear that focusing on a greater sense of place—its history, indigenous people, local food/beverage, arts and culture—also became a positive competitive advantage. The destinations that shared the positive impact of tourism equally among community members and invested in educating local businesses and governments on managing growth and investment in a consultative way with local communities better understand the power of cultivating a safe peaceful destination, where tourism and visitors are welcome not as outsiders but as part of everyday life. Therefore, we recommend all our clients focus on the five Ps or the quintuple bottom line—Planet, People, Profit, Place and Peace.


That seems like a lot for a tourism organization or destination to balance. Are there examples of those who are doing it well?


Think of the growing demand for Aboriginal tourism and how first British Columbia and now Canada is investing in its development. Indigenous communities have always held their natural assets in high regard and see themselves as stewards of the environment. They see the value in bear and wildlife viewing versus killing. They provide interpretation, which speaks to their long-standing relationship with nature and how it impacts their lives. Through story, song, dance and art they provide visitors with an engaging and intimate experience of their “place,” which is authentic and therefore viewed as a higher-value experience for many guests. More jobs are created, younger generations understand the value of maintaining ancient traditions and languages and profits are shared back with more community members.


Costa Rica is a good example of a country which has embraced peace and conserving the planet as a differentiator. Being an early adopter of tourism as the biggest contributor to its economy, Costa Rica derives much of its income from the tourism industry. Costa Ricans therefore, work hard collectively to ensure visitors are made to feel welcome and safe. Locally owned companies like Cayuga Collection are encouraged to invest in rural communities and they have become global thought leaders in managing eco-lodges and sustainable hotel experiences.


Unfortunately, we are seeing the bigger impact of lack of peace and safety negatively affecting destinations like Mexico, Jamaica, Turkey and the Middle East. Ultimately, it is about realizing what there is to lose (and it’s a lot!) if we don’t add cultural and place-based tourism as well as peace and safety into the balance of more sustainable tourism development.


With global tourism expecting to hit the 2 billion mark in 2031, what further advice are you giving to your clients?  

It is not too late to begin incorporating the quintuple bottom line into destination development strategies.


Recently I was working in Chile with the Global Ecotourism Network. Chile’s tourism organization, Sernatur, had begun to identify the communities which were experiencing ‘over-tourism’ and where tensions grew between residents and tour operators. They also began to identify other communities which offered similar experiences but were not yet accessible or well-known. With their mantra “better tourism, not more tourism,” they are focusing on the type of visitor who sees a higher value in a local, authentic experience that may be more remote and challenging to access—and is willing to pay more for it. Though Chile is already known as one of the more peaceful and safe destinations in South America, they are investing more in the sense of place.


We also worked with Palau, an island nation that feels tourism is running it, not the other way around. Its leadership is now building policies and strategies that benefit the community ownership of tourism experiences versus the foreign investment which can seem so enticing in earlier stages of development.


Putting the types of initiatives in place that focus on the quintuple bottom line will set these destinations and their providers up for a more positive and sustainable future in tourism. It will also steer them away from the mass tourism models which we see no longer working, if you consider destinations like Barcelona and Venice.  Luckily, countries like Costa Rica are sharing their expertise through their biennial P3 Conference (Planet, People, Peace) and associations like the Adventure Travel Trade Association ensure there are educational streams which focus on sustainable tourism in their annual AdventureElevate and Adventure World Summit events. These are excellent gathering places for thought leaders within the area of sustainable tourism focused on the quintuple bottom line.

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