SDG 4: Education | The Agenda 2030 and Tourism
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    || The 2030 Agenda and Tourism > SDG 4: Education
    Educational Travel Experiences For A Sustainable World


    By Sumesh Mangalassery  | Kabani

    Education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development. It is not just meant for acquiring knowledge, but also liberates the intellect, unlocks the imagination, and is a source of self-respect (The Global Goals, n.d.). Tourism can facilitate education in multifaceted ways if carefully designed and managed.

    As a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), education is considered synergistic, which means that strategic interventions in education could generate progress on several other goals. In turn, this also means that setbacks may have major repercussions in many other areas. The COVID-19 pandemic took a major toll on education. Students experienced learning setbacks due to prolonged periods at home. To maintain access, teachers had to adapt to new pedagogical concepts and methods, for which many were unprepared. Lost learning due to COVID-19 may affect an entire generation of students. The introduction of digital ways of teaching created a revolution in the education sector. But at the same, it also created a digital divide, denying access to education for many.

    According to the Global Sustainable Development Report 2023 (UN, 2023), the impacts have been greatest in low-income countries, and for low-income households, as well as for women and girls, persons with disabilities, migrants, and refugees. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was off-track for achieving quality education at all levels by 2030. According to the report, one success for girls’ education, however, is that the world has come closer to gender parity: At all three levels of education the gender gap is estimated to be less than one percent. Overall, the largest gaps identified in access to education are not by sex, but by income and location.

    Tourism presents opportunities to contribute to the achievement of SDG 4, ”Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all“ (UN, n.d.), at many levels such as industry, academia, travellers, local communities, and destinations. Tourism plays a role as an engine for contributing to progress towards education for all. But we also need to look at education within the tourism industry and for its various stakeholders in order to achieve sustainable tourism. Considering the size and the impacts of the tourism industry (both positive and negative), ensuring sustainable tourism is significant for achieving sustainable development. Uncontrolled tourism development can undermine the achievements towards various goals.

    Tourism academia

    While the role of academia in ensuring sustainable development in the context of tourism is very important, sustainability issues are not adequately addressed by current tourism education. One can see a considerable discrepancy between tourism education provided and the needs of the sector in order to address the challenges of the industry and destinations in general.

    Many academic institutions have started integrating the SDGs and sustainability into their tourism related curricula. But more concrete efforts are required to incorporate sufficient emphasis on sustainability principles, responsible tourism practices, relevant policy topics, social and environmental considerations into courses related to hospitality, tourism management and other disciplines.

    Emphasis on promoting sustainability and resilience has special significance in today’s education in the context of the issues of over tourism and impacts of climate change. This kind of education should be encouraged at academic and destination levels. Since tourism is an interdisciplinary subject, other academic disciplines such as architecture or design should also include tourism in their curricula.

    More in-depth research is required to make tourism practices sustainable, e.g. on environmental and social impact assessments, community engagement, cultural preservation, sustainable tourism strategies and the impacts of tourism on local communities. This research can contribute to innovative practices that can bring more resilience and sustainability to the sector and contributions to achieving the SDGs.

    Consumer education

    Tourism is about people and places. The sector is highly sensitive to social and environmental challenges. Thus, formal and informal education for all stakeholders involved in tourism is very much required. Educating consumers is key in any kind of tourism development. In today’s digital era, many destinations are popularized by social media. This can lead to a sudden “bombshell” moment of tourism development and tourist influx (mostly local tourists) even to rural areas, creating overtourism and unplanned tourist flows without infrastructure support.

    Many developing countries are facing this problem. Local travel with the interest of ‘authentic experiences’ significantly increased, especially post-Covid. This situation demands widespread consumer education across the world. This education should include the subjects of carrying capacity, sustainable travel decisions, and respecting local environments and cultures.

    Local community

    In many cases tourism is presented as a panacea of development for local communities. The relationship between holistic development and resilience of a tourism destination and tourism development is not adequately addressed. Education of local communities in this regard is important in order to plan, manage and monitor tourism locally. The attractiveness of a destination is subject to many factors such as climatic conditions and community health. Covid-19 revealed that high health risks can thwart the performance of the tourism industry completely. The impact of pandemics, political instability and other disasters showed that tourism is one of the most vulnerable industries and lacks pro-active risk mitigation. This shows the relevance of education on sustainable tourism at various levels, especially local community level.


    The role of the industry is crucial in tourism education. Current education is mostly limited to the application side of the industry such as hospitality aspects. Education on design thinking, sustainability and resilience is lacking in most curricula. Industry should place more emphasis on these aspects to make tourism more sustainable. They should also encourage more learning by offering volunteer opportunities, cultural exchange programmes, programmes which can revive resilient local practices and traditional knowledge, post travel reflections and engagement, etc. These all ensure education on various aspects, as well as meaningful exchanges between guests and hosts.

    Digital platforms and their influence on travel is a reality today. Travellers can be informed about the local culture, environment, and social issues of their destination through booking platforms and pre-trip materials. These resources can highlight the importance of responsible behaviour, such as respecting local customs, minimising waste, and supporting local communities.

    Industry should also invest more in vocational training for local people, especially youth and women. Many value-added services can be created through linkages and will help to achieve holistic development of destinations.
    The tourism sector can provide incentives to invest in education and labour mobility, inclusive of youth, women, senior citizens, indigenous peoples and those with special needs, also helping to teach values of tolerance, peace, global exchange and citizenship. A well-trained and skilful workforce is crucial for tourism to prosper.

    Ways forward

    Policy level

    One of the major challenges tourism faces today is overtourism. Education on destination management is very important to tackle many of these issues. Tourism policies at various levels should address this. Governments should use the cross-sectoral nature of tourism to strengthen public-private-civil society partnerships and engage stakeholders (international, national, regional, and local) to work together to achieve the SDGs. Tourism education is important to improve the performance of a destination, especially emerging destinations.

    Capacity building

    Capacity building and skill training is an important aspect in making tourism sustainable. This can be done at various levels. The interdisciplinary nature of tourism provides an opportunity to address education through tourism in multifaceted ways. Educating about the 17 SDGs can be done through tourism. The SDGs can be included in tourism capacity modules, e.g. on gender, food security, biodiversity, climate change, etc. Practical applications of these topics in tourism can be included in capacity building programmes in tourism.

    Building resilience through tourism education

    Promoting traditional knowledge through tourism and educating about it can help to promote more resilience – understood here as systems adapting to new contexts – in tourism and in general. Education on such knowledge can be promoted through tourism as an authentic experience. At the same time, it can create more awareness and revival of such knowledge.

    Suyatri: Educational Excursions For A Sustainable World

    Providing students with transformative educational experiences that go beyond the confines of the classroom is the concept of Suyatri, a Bengaluru-based social enterprise travel start-up in India. It involves exploring new places, meeting people, and gaining knowledge and skills through direct experiences. Suyatri’s programmes convert school excursions into more meaningful learning experiences for the students, connecting classroom learning with real-life situations. Most of the conventional school trips are confined to water theme parks and conventional tourism places. Suyatri designed programmes for educational institutions on topics related to the Sustainable Development Goals, resilience, climate change, design, vernacular architecture, etc.

    These visits of urban children in rural areas help villagers earn an extra income by providing various services such as home stays, guiding, providing food, and as resource persons. “We never knew that our school excursion could help villagers generate a much needed income”, says a 12-year-old student of a public school in Bengaluru. She also understood that many of the cultural activities they learned from communities were in danger of getting obsolete and their trip helped in reviving them. Besides, she found that the activities in the villages were “so much fun”: ploughing agricultural land, trying her hands in planting seeds, playing traditional games, and listening to stories from the elders of the village. She learned where their food comes from, about the hard work involved in producing it, and about challenges like the impacts of climate change.

    “These kinds of interactions definitely help the children to become more sensitive towards nature and more compassionate towards people”, says the mother of an 11-year-old girl. The villagers act as teachers, sharing traditional knowledge with the children, like centuries old water conservation methods or their knowledge about plants and seeds. Most of these repository knowledge systems offer more resilient and climate resistant agricultural and other sustainable practices. These are excellent learning experiences which the children don’t get at school.

    The children also become aware of the importance of travelling sustainably to preserve natural and cultural resources and support the local economy. The elders in the villages help them understand sustainable practices which exist in the villages, e.g. related to agriculture, food processing, and traditional toy making. All the field visits offer further in-depth programmes based on children’s interest in these topics. There are opportunities for field level follow-up research, volunteering and internships. The excursions are providing a meaningful urban and rural connect.

    “We are happy to see children from the city coming to our village and enjoying our culture and learning our way of life. We feel we ourselves need to prepare and learn more about these practices, as many of them are no longer in use. Our old dance forms and songs are no more available in the village because our younger generations are not interested in them. But now we feel proud about them and try to revive them”, says Siddappa Gowda, a farmer and village head of a village called Girigowdana Doddi, close to the Indian city of Bengaluru.

    Suyatri conducts pre-travel workshops on “thoughtful travel” for the kids at school, entitled "Discover Your Inner Animal and Inspire Travel Adventures”. These participatory workshops help them understand how to travel responsibly when they visit the villages. Students try to understand animal movements, like a bird flying, as examples of sustainable travel: They don’t require fossil fuels, nor do they need resource-intensive facilities. The workshops are meant to inspire meaningful and thoughtful travel experiences among the young travellers by helping them develop a deeper understanding of themselves and the natural world. Suyatri created a travel card called “Inner Animal Movement (IAM) Card” which helps them cultivate sustainability in their own lives and track their own actions, behaviours, and awareness related to environmental responsibility and harmonious living while travelling. They define their personal sustainability goals and identify sustainable actions, opportunities for creative initiatives, collaboration and leadership.

    In these ways, Suyatri’s programme combines education on travel, its potentials, benefits and impacts (both positive and negative) with SDG-related learning for a more sustainable world among the young generation of urban Indians.