Reviews & Quotes

Find out what the experts are saying about Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet: Environmental, Business and Policy Solutions:


Responsible Travel"The great strength of her book, which she is uniquely placed to write, is to give the reader a framework for how this [systemic change] might be done – and to make it real and credible through case histories."  

"The author’s comprehension of the structures and dynamics that lie beneath the industry is impressive, and of course vital to understand for anyone wanting to manage tourism or create change." 

"I’m confident that there will be many eager readers of the book ready and willing to take up the cause."

From the Q&A Review with Justin Francis of Responsible Travel on Sustainability Leaders.  

Read the full Q&A here.


TravelMoleSustainable tourism is not for wimps

Last chance to use tourism to make the world a better and more sustainable place

Over 25 years ago, when I was a 'Blood on tooth and claw' mass tour operator, I remember reading about Megan Epler Wood's creation - the, then new, International Ecotourism Society. Reading that it had thousands of supporters I spouted some bad Trump-like words about people with knitted knickers. But I realized that our industry just had to change.

And then, when the first United Nations Environment Program Earth Summit took place in 1992 - I knew that THIS WAS IT.  Everybody had agreed to Agenda 21, 'Think global act local', Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability accounting - the whole deal. Later Earth summits incorporated sustainable tourism within Agenda 21.

We were even to have COPs (Conferences of the Parties on Climate Change) every year to monitor and manage progress towards a far less suicidal emissions world.

Let's face it - in the 1990's the tourism industry was totally overheating. Destinations that came to prominence in the 1960's and 70's were being horribly devalued and tourists were leaving them like wastelands.

Half a billion international tourists a year were far too many to provide a sustainable future for everybody. In 30 years growth (by a factor of 2000%) had been too great to manage.

Mass tourism as an easy extractive industry was on the ropes - maybe even finished. It had to change.

So what happened?

There were just 500million international travelers in 1990. Now in the UN Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development we have over a billion - and an industry that seems even more overheated and overbalanced.

Megan Epler Wood's latest book tells us how it is today with an industry almost so totally out of control it looks as though it is just too big to fail - maybe it will just explode?

An industry which uses our fragile global inheritance as free powerful tourist draws  - the Great Barrier Reef, the Taj Mahal, Venice, Ankor Wat, the Inca Trail amongst hundreds of others - where the legal owners, the communities are fearful of exercising care and control and/or demanding payment for their use.

An industry where great hulking cruisers can be moved wherever the owners want to get the best profits without care or reference to the delicate destination communities they despoil with their swamping hordes of alien, unknowing passengers.

An industry where its aviation sector's "growing carbon footprint hangs like a black cloud over the travel industry's rosy projections of financial health and environmental respectability" in Megan's words.

An industry where destinations spend billions on marketing to get ever more visitors and tiny amounts on sustainable product creation and management - even less to engage local communities - their own voters - in the tourism management process.

An industry where power has gone from responsible, visible hoteliers those 'with skin in the game' to those gargantuan asset-light bed brands like Marriott to those asset-nil bed marketers such as the OTAs like Airbnb.

In Megan's book - 'Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet' - she meticulously, sets out where we are and her suggestions for our future together with dozens of case studies - lessons good and bad.

She lists the situation today in Supply Chains and sustainability; Economic Development in emerging economies; Hotels; Airlines and airports; Tour Operators; the Cruise Industry and Destinations - in effect, our connected world of tourism - our supply chain in itself.

Each single section embodies an existential problem - what rewards are implicit in managing a supply chain sustainably? Why not give poor areas money rather than chancy tourism development? Are hotels still integral to tourism? Are tour operators dying? Will the cruise industry carry on operating with no oversight as to its horrible emissions level? When will destination managers come to realize that their success is ONLY shown by the benefits their destination accrues from tourism and not their the numbers of tourism hordes they bring to degrade their destinations?

Of course Megan, as a leading academic sustainability professional, comes up with very sustainable solutions - in her view destination management needs a complete rethink, international law needs to be adapted to control mega cruise ships, there needs to be more training in tourism, amongst other innovations.

But above all, she says, we need to fall in line behind the latest UNEP initiative - the new Sustainable Development Goals which relate to tourism and achieve a multinational integrated system of sustainable tourism accounting. All this will be supported by the baseline COP 21 - the Paris agreement on climate change, which an incredible 190 nations supported. Megan's solutions would be financed by the Green Climate Fund, development banks and private finance.

Unfortunately at the time of writing, President Trump is set to take the USA - one of the largest tourism economies - out of both these critical sustainability processes.

But after seeing the problem in 1992 - how did we get to make it at least twice the size by today?

The problem is outlined in Megan's book, in essence it is this: Tourism inherently is an expensive activity, if you take into consideration parity in wages and working conditions between hosts and guests, the costs of emissions, the real cost of jet fuel, the costs of maintaining a destination and looking after the asset which visitors want to see.

Yet more than in any other fashion-related industry tourism's growth has been fuelled by ludicrously cheap prices.

So, who pays for these price reductions?

  • The world community who haven't, as yet made the polluters pay (eg there is no tax on airline fuel)
  • Workers who are paid minimal wages on bad conditions to service visitors
  • Accommodation providers who bid the lowest prices and pay up to 25% to OTAs such as Airbnb
  • Local communities who get little in exchange for tourism disturbance

Moreover the massive growth in tourism and development-related tourism has had other victims. If you look at early tourism for economic development (primarily World Bank) projects started in the 1970's you see many powder-keg destinations - Tunisia, Kenya, Morocco, Egypt, The Gambia amongst them. The hope then was that tourism's economic and social benefits would foster harmony. But the danger always was that rich package tourists would expose the excesses of the western world to impoverished hosts, foster rage… and become targets themselves.

And why could it change? Isn't it impossible to wean 1.5 billion people off of the cheap thrills and commodity luxury that they think they deserve?

Yes but only if the destinations have the power to change the paradigm - then maybe… 'Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet' will add to their understanding and ammunition!

        ~Valere Tjolle, CEO of TourismVision Ltd., Publisher & Editor of VISION on Sustainable Tourism, Sustainable Tourism Editor of TravelMole, Principle of Totem Tourism


IECOCLUB.comf you were elected to public office and suddenly installed as head of the tourism ministry without previous professional experience of the travel sector (it does happen) and only a vague idea of sustainability, then this densely written book can be your crash course on how the tourism sector works and what exactly it would take – and how difficult it really is - to make it sustainable. But it is an equally useful and thought-provoking work for seasoned and aspiring tourism sustainability professionals, as it includes detailed praise and criticism of a wide range of stakeholders trying, some harder than others, to make tourism greener.

From the very first pages, it is evident that the author has a 360 degree understanding of the sector, not to mention a solid green track record as the founder of The International Ecotourism Society which she led from 1990 to 2002, then becoming a leading ecotourism consultant and educator. The book also benefits – as we are transparently informed – by the timely field research of over two hundred students that the author supervised in Harvard Extension School during the past 6 years. The book offers an extensive review of academic literature and related news and technological developments, while there are very useful endnotes and detailed references in each chapter, along with a detailed chapter summary.

Unlike many academic books, the book is pleasant to read as it avoids jargon and combines academic rigour with journalistic immediacy and activist passion. Its case studies, analysis and proposals, will appeal to a wide audience ranging from sustainable tourism students to high-level policy makers. The author occasionally switches to first person narrative to intimate first-hand professional experience, both positive and negative.

The book methodically reviews sustainability progress and lack thereof in various sectors, sub-sectors and operational aspects of the tourism industry trying to pinpoint the skills, investments and tools needed in each case so as to protect irreplaceable, finite natural resources from Tourism development.

Numerous, brief but informative case studies are included which indicate that necessary tourism budgets, to create basic sanitation – let alone sustainable destinations - are consistently underestimated by governments and local authorities.

The author probably assumes or hopes that you, unlike most of your tourism industry peers, really believe in the reality and urgency of Climate Change and that (tourism) business-as-usual is not an option. Readers are also expected to share the author’s belief in the ability of the current global (tourism) system to reform so as to combat Climate Change. (“...this volume is calling for reform. Such reform will depend on agreement that new forms of governance and more investment is required to measure and manage tourism’s impacts on the planet” p.301). If you do not believe in the ability of the business/system/capitalism to reform itself through public/private/non-profit/ educational institution cooperation, if you prefer something more radical to reform, or if you assume that smaller businesses are by definition greener and/or more benevolent, then you may feel, wrongly, that this book is biased towards big Tourism, a handful of big, ‘enlightened’, tour operators and hotel chains. On the contrary, the author has an inclusive approach and, in the business of building bridges and alliances, does not want to exclude or dismiss any tool or stakeholder from the outset: for example, critics of carbon offsetting are portrayed as probably “short-sighted” (p.210), market mechanisms for capping airline emissions are presented as hopeful despite a past record of indifference, while rigorous (as opposed to fake), corporate social responsibility is praised as a worthy concept. Along the lines of inclusiveness, we would have loved to also see some discussion of non-mainstream, green alternatives such as tourism cooperatives, worker-management, intentional communities and ecovillages because they also have a part to play, even just as inspiration, as most authentic expressions of greenness. The reader will also generally not find a lot on negative stuff such as human rights abuses by or within tourism (exploitation of undocumented workers, sexual trafficking), gender inequality and pay gaps, and labour rights, with the exception of working conditions in the Cruise sector: the Cruise sector is heavily criticised, and rightly so, by the author in terms of its exploitative and racist labour policies (“the deeper you go in the belly of the ship, the darker the crew” p.236), its abysmal (though still legal, as the author highlights) waste management policies, its tax-avoiding setup with flags of convenience, and its strong-arm, colonial-style tactics against small (and sometimes larger) ports.

The author is overall not in favour of outright privatisation of tourism resources: “As income inequality continues to grow worldwide and resources become less available to a growing percentage of the poor, privatisation is proving to be a perilous and flawed solution for deciding upon a common future. (p. 64)”. Yet, elsewhere Epler Wood recognises that “private reserves are one the the most effective tools for achieving conservation and the protection of natural areas”(p.93). We infer that the author is probably in favour of a combination of public-private partnerships. The author also praises Elinor Ostrom's Economic theory of the Commons (communities successfully managing shared wealth) and presents the Monteverde, Costa Rica, case study as a successful case of shared wealth management (p.65). Other relevant case studies include a community-managed waterfall in Thenmala, Kerala, India and the jointly owned (community & private) Peru’s Tambopata Lodge (Ese Eja People & Rainforest Expeditions) and Ecuador’s Kapawi Lodge (Achuar People & Conodros Company). She also rightly points out that local communities are easily & soon displaced by tourism development “locals sell quickly” as they opt for short-term cash benefits over long-term potential opportunities due to lack of alternative options, information and knowledge.

Therefore readers of all green hues, even if they have objections and reservations about market-based, capitalist tools and recipes, will agree that this book is very informative and contains an accurate and realistic assessment of the situation. Most readers will agree that “Business as usual” i.e. externalising the social and environmental costs of tourism (spending huge amounts on marketing tourism destinations and a pittance to building public tourism infrastructure to enable sustainable management of waste, and energy use as the author rightly points out) is no longer an acceptable option. This realisation, however, does not usually bring action - there are various “green gaps” ranging from policy decisions to consumer decisions and spending. (Which also begs the question what will a tourism professional do after reading and agreeing with this book?)

The book sets out to make the case that since Tourism is ideal to combat poverty it is also ideal for donor financing to “foster economic development” (p.316) but we lack the proper metrics to measure progress in terms of greater inclusiveness and lower environmental impact:

“Net contribution of tourism to conservation is still unknown (p.93). The author's central idea, repeated with reference to different travel sectors, is that the COP 21 Paris Agreement has finally (N.B. the Kyoto treaty did not cover Travel, the Paris agreement still does not cover Cruise industry and maritime carbon emissions) created the possibility of serious funding for sustainability (“Finance will be key to achieving these goals with US 100 bn to be mobilized by 2025”. p.302) and now there is a unique window of opportunity (perhaps short in the light of the new US administration) as well as an urgent need for public-private cooperation with the assistance of local prestigious educational institutions operating as a global consortium, and international cooperation, so as to create meaningful environmental impact indices, statistics, the latest GIS tools, honest certification systems with teeth, and realistic, enforceable legislation, as well as a new generation of skilled, tourism sustainability professionals at every level, nook and corner of the industry. Some readers will probably wonder how easy the above combination is, especially with a climate agnostic US administration that currently threatens to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, something which would probably cancel a huge chunk of available funding.  Read More Here

        ~Antonis Petropoulos, Founder & Editor of


HM DesignMegan Epler Wood has been one of the visionaries of the Ecotourism movement which birthed the current Sustainable Tourism industry. Under her charge at The International Ecotourism Society (which she founded in 1990), Megan helped publish the two seminal books on Ecolodges both of which contained significant chapters on site-sensitive planning and architectural design.

And now, she has written one of the more in-depth books ever written on Sustainable Tourism. Intensely researched and with real life case studies, Megan meticulously makes a case for Land Use Master Planning as a pre-requisite to ecologically and socially-sound Sustainable Tourism Products.

She breaks down all the various aspects of Sustainable Tourism in an easy to read and understandable language. The book addresses green infrastructural planning, land use planning for airports etc. and balances research with real-life projects that showcase successful Master Planning efforts such as destinations like Koh Lanta Hai, Thailand, Jamaica etc.

Megan’s treatise has come at an opportune time as United Nations has designated 2017 as “The International Year of Sustainable Tourism”.  She argues that proper Land use planning can help to improve the quality of life for residents whilst helping to maintain the value of Tourism real estate. She prophesies that Tourism Destination Planning must consider open spaces and wildlife corridors and it is refreshing to see her endorsement of GIS as an integral tool to be used for large scale Master and ecological Planning. 

This book is a must read for Tourism Physical Planners, Landscape Architects, Architects, Developers and Govt. officials in the Ministries of Tourism and Environment. It provides valuable information on this inevitably fast- growing segment of the Tourism Industry.

        ~Hitesh Mehta, FASLA FAAK RIBA Associate AIA, President, HM Design


TAPASI read Megan’s new book with great anticipation, not least because she coordinates Knowledge Development for the TAPAS Group, and was not disappointed. Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet is a thought provoking and insightful book, which includes information on tourism in protected areas.  Megan has provided an innovative and accessible text, that combines findings from her own research and consulting journey, descriptions of novel and engaging research by her students, and also reviews work by other practitioners and academics in this field.  In particular, I found the profiling of student research work to be most engaging, in particular because the book provides a platform to showcase their achievements (that perhaps would otherwise not be publically available), and hopefully encourage them in their careers as emerging experts in this field.   The book takes us through tourism supply chains, impacts of tourism in emerging economies, sustainability in the hotel, airline, cruise and tour operator sector, and also provides a considered approach to destination development.

Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet is valuable research for students, academic and practitioners, who want an easy-to-read, but comprehensive current snapshot of the status of sustainable tourism globally.

        ~ Dr. Anna Spenceley, Chair, IUCN WCPA Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group


This book will give you a comprehensive and deep understanding of all the multiple actors in the international tourism industry and their environmental impacts and challenges, along with economic, political, and cultural dimensions. The comprehensive analyses of each segment of the industry - tour operators, cruise lines, airlines, hotels, and the emerging online tourism entrants - lay out quantitatively and qualitatively the business models, competitive dynamics, policy, and environmental aspects. A comprehensive, penetrating, and highly readable analysis of the challenges and possible solutions for achieving environmental sustainability. Read this and become instantly knowledgeable

        ~ James E. Austin, Eliot I. Snider and Family Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, Co-Founder, Social Enterprise Initiative, Harvard Business School


Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet is both comprehensive and provocative. A must-read for anyone interested in the present and future state of travel and tourism in the face of global climate change, poverty, and ecosystem degradation. Grounded in decades of leadership and experience, Epler Wood methodically presents the comprehensive social, environmental, and financial impacts of what has become one of the most important economic engines of the global economy and introduces new business models and approaches to move us beyond overconsumption of limited tourism assets. 

       ~ Mark B. Milstein, Ph.D., Director, Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University


Epler Wood's book carefully documents why travel and tourism plays a critical role in preserving natural and social capital and its seminal importance to human health, well-being, and compassion in this multicultural world. With equal emphasis, it outlines the importance of replicable measurements of the industry's cumulative impacts, with in-depth analysis of each sector's major industrial sectors - hotels, tour operators, cruise lines, airlines, and airports. Read this book to learn how to approach this global industry.

       ~ John D. Spengler, Ph.D., Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation, Director, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health


How will we protect destinations with projected global population growth and an increase in the demand for travel? Epler Wood lays out an integrated vision for sustainable tourism that effectively addresses the relationship between traveler consumption patterns and their impact on natural resources. For corporate social responsibility and tourism destination managers alike, this book offers indispensable real-world case studies and provides a vision for a pragmatic way forward.

       ~ Seleni Matus, Executive Director, International Institute of Tourism Studies, The George Washington University


Table of Contents: 

  1. The Challenge of Sustainably Managing Tourism on a Finite Planet
  2. Managing a Spider Web: The Tourism Industry Supply Chains & Sustainability
  3. Economic Development of Tourism in Emerging Economies
  4. Hotels – The Backbone of the Tourism Industry
  5. I’ll Fly Away- Airlines, Airports and the Global Circulation of Travelers
  6. Tour Operators – Exporting and Importing Customers Worldwide
  7. The Cruise Industry – Empire of the Seas
  8. Destinations – the Heart of the Tourism Sustainability
  9. Conclusions – The Future of Sustainable Tourism

Read more about the contents of the book and pre-order here.