SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities | The Agenda 2030 and Tourism
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    || The 2030 Agenda and Tourism > SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
    Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable


    By Erick García | UNAM & Alba Sud


    In 1995, the keynote speech of the Conference of Sustainable Tourism in Lanzarote, Spain, recognised that tourism should contribute towards developing the communities located in tourist destinations. This premise is based on undertaking a variety of social, economic and environmental actions so that such contribution is evident at local and global level. Twenty years later, the United Nations declared the urgency of achieving 17 articulated goals by 2030, in order to reaffirm the need for a change in lifestyles and manner of consumption. It has therefore been reasserted that tourism has to contribute to the scope of said goals, one of which is goal number 11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

    The main actions that goal 11 proposes entail the assurance of the following by 2030: safe and affordable housing (11.1), sustainable transport systems (11.2), inclusive urbanization (11.3), protect the world’s cultural and natural heritage (11.4), reduce the adverse effects of natural disasters (11.5), reduce the environmental impact of cities (11.6), provide access to safe and inclusive green and public spaces (11.7), strong national and regional development planning (11.8), implement integrated management of disaster risk at all levels (11.9) and support least developed countries in sustainable and resilient building (11.A) ( In addition, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) argues that said actions will improve the infrastructure of tourist destinations, promote better use of the local heritage and provide a healthier environment for tourists and local residents alike (

    Despite the wishes and actions recommended by international institutions, we must reflect upon the complexity of the interaction between local residents, their environment and tourists. In other words, the sustainable development goals cannot be achieved so long as the belief remains that there will naturally be no conflicts with tourists, that natural resources will be managed optimally and that there will be equal opportunities for participation and decision-making by groups of local people. In addition, what has happened in some parts of the world is that tourism – under an urgent need for economic growth – has been driven by public policies as a priority activity of a specific region, a fact that rather than promoting sustainability, has interfered with everyday social life and has degraded local ecosystems.

    Tourism and resilience

    Given this uncertain scenario that the residents of various tourist destinations experience, it is worth delving into the area of resilience; even goal 11 alludes to the term. However, it is only on very few occasions that its link to sustainability is specified as well as the importance of taking this concept into account for adequate tourism management. The truth is that, depending on the field of the approach, the term can have different meanings. In engineering, for example, it can refer to the resistance of materials (Fielding, 1937), in ecology it can be a capacity for adaptation and equilibrium (Holling, 1973) or in psychology it can refer to how people face catastrophic situations (Scoville, 1942). From an interdisciplinary and complex perspective, therefore, resilience can be understood as the ability of a social ecosystem to face different adversities and overcome them by means of a process of adaptation or transformation (Folke, 2006). It is consequently assumed that in order for a tourist destination to be sustainable all of its components must be resilient. However, and mainly from the social sphere, the main questions to answer are: do all tourist destinations have this ability? Can everyone adapt to the changes caused by tourism in their community?

    Major challenges

    Local agency and training

    A core element for developing resilience in tourism destinations is based on adaptation. However, it must be recognised that, especially in rural contexts, not everyone has the same opportunities (housing, education, income, etc.) or possibilities to change in the short term from their traditional activities to the provision of tourism services. In addition, public policies to promote tourism are sometimes focused on financing infrastructure. In fact, they neglect the opportunity to provide training on topics that are central to sustainability, and which goal 11 takes into consideration, such as road safety and environmental education, the interpretation of heritage, the circular economy and the management of accommodation and food services. The promotion of free courses for residents to broaden their knowledge and skills in tourism is essential for active local participation and proper management that represents more equitable benefits for its inhabitants.

    Commodification of culture

    While biocultural heritage is a major factor in motivating tourists to visit a tourist destination, its management must be carried out with caution and knowledge in order to avoid overcrowded visits to monuments, selling souvenirs that are not representative of the region, or viewing local dances and rituals for show rather than for the sake of understanding their significance. Furthermore, an inappropriate interpretation of heritage can promote stereotyping. It is not enough to argue that tourism strengthens intercultural dialogue, if it is not executed in a sense of equity, respect, and under the same conditions of interest in its knowledge.


    The decision to implement public policies that promote tourism in a given place is often made without the consensus of its residents. There is even tolerance towards business owners to approve tourism projects without the prior knowledge of local residents. In addition, other local stakeholders who are not directly involved in tourism, but who could and should be involved and benefit from it (such as farmers or traders), are often segregated. The active participation of citizens' committees and civil society organisations is essential in order to define decisions that are more equitable and of greater benefit to the inhabitants of a tourism destination.

    Simplicity over complexity

    When talking about tourism globally, the focus is always on economic output, the number of jobs generated, or the number of tourist arrivals and departures. While there is no denying the economic importance of tourism in the world, this comes before the equanimity that must be maintained in its analysis with the three pillars of sustainable development. It is therefore necessary to make the social and environmental aspects of tourism and its dynamics more widely known. Their study and dissemination with an interdisciplinary approach can lead to a better understanding of the situations caused by tourism, but also to an improvement in its local management.

    Tangible Ways Forward

    For a tourism destination to be sustainable, resilient, safe and inclusive, it requires that individuals know their environment, interact with others and have the ability to make decisions about tourism management in their community. Sustainability in a human settlement thus depends to a large extent on the capacities of social collectives to adapt and cooperate in order to achieve collective benefit (García, López and López, 2022).

    Public policy of Pueblos Mágicos in Zacatlán

    Since 2011, the town of Zacatlán de las Manzanas, located in the Sierra Norte of the State of Puebla, Mexico, has been part of the Pueblos Mágicos Programme. However, the economic benefit has been concentrated in the municipal capital of the town and has remained in the hands of few people. In addition, there is a higher population density and saturation of public space, poor management of the biocultural heritage and little influence in decision-making by local residents who are not directly linked to tourism activity.

    Faced with this situation, since 2021, the Citizens Committee of Pueblos Mágicos has collaborated with academic institutions and local residents of different profiles to co-create solution strategies that promote the decentralisation of the benefits of tourism activity through the construction of local agency and social capital. The following proposals are currently underway:

    • Elox Park-Coacuila ecotourism route; the aim of the project is to offer tours to localities surrounding the municipal capital, which are rich in gastronomic heritage, handicrafts, the living culture of native peoples, landscapes and agricultural activities, and to ensure that various communities participate in tourism and benefit from it. The tourism services committee, farmers from Coacuila and Eloxochitlán, tourist guides, forestry engineering students and the environmental committee are all involved.
    • Digital platform "Intégrate Zacatlán"; artisans, farmers, restaurant owners, administration students and members of the ecology department, seek to articulate different commercial trades in order to promote the purchase and sale of typical products both within and outside the municipality, thus reducing the participation of intermediaries to promote local consumption and fair trade.
    • Development of a botanical garden: it is a space not just for the interpretation of natural heritage, but also for the study, valuation, conservation and dissemination of the diversity of plant species representative of the location.
    • Recovery of the Náhuatl and Temazcal in San Joaquín, Tomatlán; guides and students of tourism administration seek to recover and preserve ancestral practices of herbal medicine and temazcal through the creation of an interpretative trail.
    • Improvement of apple orchards in the Eloxochitlán ejido [communal land]; owners of this communal land of Eloxochitlán and social services students, seek to promote agro-ecological alternatives that in the medium and long term will lead to improved production in the orchards, the production of preserves rather than selling the fruit for juicing (due to not meeting certain requirements for sale as fruit), and the implementation of interpretative trails in the orchards.

    The proposals and actions are incipient, but they may well represent a starting point for disseminating new options for collaboration, fostering trust and collective action among more actors and encouraging consensual decision-making with greater representation of diverse social groups with a view to promoting social resilience and a more sustainable destination.