9 tips to make your tourism business sustainable


We’re excited to 🌿 Introduce Balkan Green 🌍, a regional sustainable tourism initiative with partners Terena in Albania, Green Visions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, HYVÄ Coaching & Consulting in Montenegro, Mustseedonia in North Macedonia, and Good Place in Slovenia.

🤝 Our mission? To build a strong and reliable network of professionals dedicated to sustainable tourism development in the region.

As the official representative of Green Destinations and Good Travel Program in the region 🏆, we have the incredible opportunity and responsibility to work with destinations and businesses, providing education, coaching, advisory services, and certification in sustainable tourism practices.

In the next period we will share concrete examples on how to make your tourism business more sustainable. From understanding sustainability criteria and green product development, to marketing, we’re dedicated to assisting you make your business more responsible every step of the way.

Let’s join forces to make a difference! Together, we can elevate sustainable tourism in the Balkans and ensure a better future for our region. 🌿🌍💚

Tip 1 –  Eliminate single use plastic

Eliminating single-use plastic in your tourism business is a great initiative that can contribute to environmental sustainability. Here are some steps:

1. Conduct a plastic audit: Assess your business’s current plastic usage to understand the extent of the problem and identify areas for change.

2. Set goals and create a plan: Establish specific goals and develop an action plan with clear steps and timelines for reducing or eliminating single-use plastic.

3. Educate and train staff: Raise awareness among employees about the importance of reducing single-use plastic and provide training on alternative solutions.

4. Provide alternatives: Replace single-use plastic items with sustainable options, such as installing water stations instead of providing plastic bottles or offering paper, bamboo, or metal straws as alternatives.

5. Engage with suppliers: Communicate your commitment to plastic reduction to suppliers and encourage them to provide products with minimal packaging or in bulk.

6. Raise awareness among guests: Educate guests about the importance of reducing single-use plastic and suggest ways they can participate, such as bringing their own bags or using refillable toiletry dispensers.

7. Collaborate with local initiatives: Support local environmental initiatives and partner with organizations promoting sustainable practices to have a broader impact.

8. Track progress and celebrate successes: Regularly monitor and measure progress, celebrate milestones, and communicate achievements to staff and guests to inspire continued engagement and motivate others.

Remember that eliminating single-use plastic is an ongoing process. Continuously assess and improve your practices to ensure long-term sustainability and reduce the environmental impact of your tourism business.


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Tip 2 – Support local products and services

Supporting local products and services in your sustainable tourism business is an excellent way to contribute to the local economy, preserve cultural heritage, and minimize the environmental impact of your operations. Here are some strategies you can implement:

1. Prioritize sourcing products and services from local suppliers and businesses to support the local economy.

2. Engage with the local community, involve them in decision-making processes, and seek their input to foster cooperation and ownership.

3. Promote and support local cultural traditions, festivals, and events while educating tourists about their significance.

4. Provide training and employment opportunities to local residents to enhance their skills and create job opportunities.

5. Implement sustainable practices in your operations, such as waste reduction, water and energy conservation, and recycling.

6. Raise awareness among tourists about the importance of supporting local products and services and their positive impacts.

7. Collaborate with local businesses, tourism associations, and organizations to strengthen the local tourism ecosystem.

8. Continuously seek feedback and make necessary adjustments to improve sustainable practices and align with local needs and objectives.

Remember, the key is to develop long-term relationships with the local community and integrate sustainability into every aspect of your tourism business. By doing so, you can create a positive impact on the environment, society, and economy while providing an authentic and enriching experience for your guests.


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Tip 3 – Consult the local communities regarding your trips and services

When conducting trips and activities, it is crucial to consult and engage with the local communities to avoid any adverse effects on their access to livelihoods and resources. Here are some steps you can take:

🌲 Identify in the local communities groups that may be affected by your business activities. This can include local residents, indigenous communities, fishermen, farmers, and other relevant groups.

🍀 Engage in meaningful dialogue with the local communities to understand their needs, concerns, and aspirations. Actively listen to their perspectives and involve them in decision-making processes related to your business activities.

🪴Assess the potential impacts of your business activities on local access to livelihoods, land, aquatic resources, rights-of-way, transport, and housing.

♻️ Identify and implement ways to minimize any adverse effects on local access to livelihoods and resources. This can include measures such as land or resource restoration, alternative livelihood opportunities, or compensation for any losses incurred.

❇️Support and collaborate with local initiatives that promote sustainable development, community empowerment, and the protection of local livelihoods.

💹Regularly monitor and evaluate the impacts of your business activities, addressing concerns and ensuring satisfaction within the local communities.

By following these steps and actively involving the local communities in decision-making processes, you can work towards minimizing adverse effects on local access to livelihoods and ensure sustainable development in the areas where you operate.


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Tip 4 – Inform your guests about key sustainability issues in the destination

Why is it important for tourism operators to inform guests about key sustainability aspects in the destination?

– Guests who are aware of the environmental impact of their actions are more likely to make conscious choices that minimize harm to the destination’s ecosystems, such as conserving water💦, reducing waste♻️, and respecting local flora and fauna🌸.

– By informing guests about the destination’s unique cultural traditions, heritage sites, and indigenous communities, operators can raise awareness about the importance of respecting local cultures and traditions. This helps preserve the authenticity of the destination and ensures that tourism activities do not negatively📈 impact local communities.

– Sustainable tourism aims to ensure the long-term viability of a destination by balancing ⚖️economic, environmental, and social factors. By informing guests about sustainability aspects, operators can foster a sense of responsibility and encourage sustainable practices among visitors. This can help reduce the negative impacts of tourism, such as overconsumption of resources, overcrowding, and strain on local infrastructure.

– Increasingly, travelers are seeking out destinations and operators that prioritize sustainability🏅. By proactively addressing sustainability issues and informing guests about their efforts, tourism operators can build a positive reputation among environmentally and socially conscious travelers.

Ultimately, the success of our industry hinges on our ability to foster a deep sense of responsibility and stewardship among travelers💚. By equipping guests with knowledge about sustainability and encouraging them to make conscious choices, we can collectively protect our fragile ecosystems, celebrate and preserve diverse cultures, and uplift local communities.


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Tip 5 – Offer low-impact activities

🚵Low-impact activities , such as outdoor sports like walking, hiking, and cycling, rural tourism, wildlife watching, non-motorized water sports, and insightful cultural activities, are crucial for several reasons:

  • They minimize the negative impact on the environment. These activities generally have a smaller carbon footprint 👣, reduce pollution, and preserve natural resources compared to more resource-intensive and polluting alternatives.
  • Engaging in wildlife 🐻watching and non-motorized water sports allows people to appreciate and connect with nature without causing disturbance or harm to ecosystems and wildlife. This promotes the conservation of biodiversity and helps protect vulnerable species and habitats.
  • They provide opportunities for education 📚and awareness about environmental ♻️issues. Through guided tours, interpretation centers, and informative materials, people can learn about ecosystems, conservation, and sustainable practices. This can lead to increased environmental consciousness and more informed decision-making.


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Tip 6 – Preserve the Integrity of your Activity Areas

When tour operators cause damages to the activity area and community, it is crucial for them to take responsibility and implement measures to👩‍🔧 repair, compensate, and prevent future harm caused. Here are some ways tour operators can achieve this:

Immediate action: Assess the extent of the damages and take steps to prevent further harm. This may involve halting the activity temporarily, removing any hazardous materials ☢️, or securing the area to prevent additional damage.

Community🏘️ involvement and support: Engage with the affected stakeholders and involve them in the repair, compensation, and prevention process. Seek their input and involve local residents in the restoration activities, ensuring their voices are heard and respected.

Environmental restoration: Develop a comprehensive plan 🌲for restoring the natural environment or any damaged infrastructure. This may involve activities like replanting vegetation, repairing trails or pathways, cleaning up pollution, or restoring habitats for local wildlife.

💰Financial compensation: Work with local stakeholders to determine a fair and equitable compensation structure that considers the extent of the harm caused.

Long-term sustainability: Implement sustainable practices to minimize future damages, including training guides and staff on environmental conservation, adhering to responsible tourism practices, and monitoring the impact of activities on the area and community.

It’s essential for tour operators to prioritize the well-being of the environment and local communities, and to take proactive steps to repair damages and provide fair compensation. By demonstrating responsible practices and fostering positive relationships 🦚, tour operators can help rebuild trust and contribute to the sustainable development of the activity area.


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Tip 7 – Provide your drivers with an eco driving 🚌code of conduct

Eco-driving is a method to decrease fuel consumption and CO2 emissions without needing to upgrade a vehicle’s technology. Driving behavior, along with factors like weather and road conditions, can have a significant impact on fuel efficiency. By adopting eco-driving habits, it is possible to save a noteworthy amount of fuel (up to 10-20% with professional training) while also improving road safety.

Additionally, eco-driving has the following benefits:

  • Ability to travel longer distances with the same amount of fuel.
  • Less stress, wear, and tear on the vehicle, resulting in fewer and less costly repairs.
  • Safer driving, leading to fewer accidents.
  • Reduced fuel use resulting in fewer CO2 emissions and less air pollution.

Use the following set of recommendations to create an eco-driving code for your drivers and transport companies

– Drive at the designated speed limit 🚫and use lower gears to save carbon emissions.
– Use the engine more consciously by letting go of the gas pedal in time.
– Check your route 🗺️ before leaving to avoid traffic and prevent getting lost.
– Adopt a relaxed and defensive driving style, and look ahead to avoid sudden stops (e.g., by anticipating traffic jams or red lights and easing off the gas pedal).
– Avoid idling; instead, switch off the engine when anticipating a long wait (e.g., at railroad tracks or checkpoints).
– Remove the roof rack or any unnecessary accessories when not in use.
– Check tire pressure before leaving.
– Use heating 🔥or air conditioning only when necessary.


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Tip 8 – 💰Pay staff a living wage

All employees of the company have an employment contract, including labor conditions and a job description. The company pays employees at least a living wage which is equal to or above the legal minimum.

A living wage is the remuneration a worker receives for a standard workweek. The amount should be sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and their family. Elements of a decent standard of living include food🍎, wate💦r, housing🏘️ , education📚, health care🏥 , transportation🚙, clothing, and other essential needs, including provision for unexpected events.

The living wage is often defined by law and redefined on a yearly basis; however, it can be incremented by companies to ensure their employees will earn enough to live, based on the real cost of living in their respective countries.

In the employment contracts, the salary/wage must be mentioned and be of an accepted level in your country.


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Tip 9 – Lose the single use plastic spoons 🥄

We love coffee ☕️, and we 😡hate these plastic spoons!

Can anyone help with a quick calculation? Let’s take Montenegro as an example, considering only the inhabitants and not even counting the tourists’ consumption. Montenegro 🇲🇪has approximately 650,000 inhabitants, of which maybe half have one coffee per day in a cafe, restaurant, or at work. This amounts to 325,000 coffees per day.

If 90% of these coffees are served with a plastic spoon (which seems to be the case), it means there are 292,000 single-use plastic spoons used per day. Unfortunately, not all of them end up in the garbage; we find them in various places.

Let’s assume there are 300 such days in a year, resulting in a total of 292,000 spoons multiplied by 300 days. This amounts to 87 million single-use plastic spoons per year, just in Montenegro. Over five years, this adds up to 439 million spoons 🥄🥄🥄or over 1,000 tonnes, which eventually end up in landfills, rivers, lakes, seas, and harm wildlife such as fish and birds. Ultimately, these microplastics affect all of us.

Therefore, let’s go back to a coffee culture that embraces real spoons that can be washed 💦 and reused ♼, just like cups are.


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How the first tourism destinations and businesses in Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia are greening the Balkans

Four sustainable tourism events in Trebinje, Tivat, Vevcani and Belsh, were organized from 30 March to 6 April by the five Balkan Green partners from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Slovenia.  The Roadshow raised awareness among destinations, businesses, and stakeholders on sustainable tourism topics, including: the Why, the How, and the Who on sustainability in tourism – Why should destinations and businesses get involved, highlighting regional good practice initiatives, lessons learned, post-pandemic travel trends, and more.

Over all 125+ participants from destinations, SMEs, and individual service providers attended the Roadshow over the course of four days.

The Roadshow and other Balkan Green activities are supported by the USAID Economic Development, Governance and Enterprise Growth Project (EDGE).




Trebinje, BiH

The first day of the BG Roadshow was dedicated to sustainability and what it means in tourism. For the first time public institutions, businesses, and policy makers had an opportunity to discuss and take initial steps toward a joint strategy for a sustainable future of BiH tourism.

The participants were welcomed and inspired by Mr. Albert Salman, founder and President of Green Destinations, who provided a framework for advancing sustainability in tourism in the region.  Trebinje, as the first BiH destination to receive the Green Destinations recognition, shared experience and lessons learned with the  audience.

During the day, five new destinations (Bosanska Krupa, Konjic, Kozara National Park, Skakavac Nature Monument, and Samac) signed up in the Green Destinations Top 100 Good Practice Story Competition 2023, while Trebinje signed up to pursuing the Green Destinations Award & Certification program.

A separate session was dedicated to the Good Travel Program, and Balkan Green partners Green Visions discussed the opportunities for businesses and provided in depth information about the processes and requirements, as well as benefits of the Good Travel Program certification.

At the end of a full day participants were treated to a networking event at Herzeg House, a cooperative promoting and selling goods from over 120 local companies and producers. Herzeg House is a 2021 Top 100 Story Award winner.


Tivat, MNE

Tivat, Montenegro, a destination that received the Green Destinations Bronze award in 2022 for its sustainable development and monitoring efforts, started in 2020. Discussions focused on the municipality’s support programs for rural revitalization and how to make successful use of them – in the afternoon the group got insights into practical examples and challenges in the village of Gornja Lastva. Danica Banjevic, the Director of the Tivat Tourism Organisation, shared some interesting key figures, showing a stronger pre- and post-seasonal flow of visitors and overnight stays. The group also learned about balancing nature protection with responsible tourism promotion and management in the Special Nature Reserve Tivatska Solila, the 2020 winner of Top 100 Good Practice Stories in the category of Nature and Ecotourism.


Vevcani, NMK

Vevcani, Macedonia’s smallest municipality, and first participant in the Green Destinations Top 100 Story awards, appropriately hosted the Balkan Green roadshow in North Macedonia.  In addition to the municipality of Vevcani, four businesses also began their journey towards sustainable development through Green Destinations’ Good Travel Program.

Welcomed by the mayor of Vevcani, we began our event by introducing Balkan Green and Green Destinations, bringing the programs closer to the participants, and talking about Vevcani’s journey and progress. We had the pleasure to be greeted and inspired by Albert Salman, Green Destinations founder and president. During our break we enjoyed some delicious traditional food prepared by local producers. This was followed by an interactive panel discussion on the Why, Who, and How and the realities in sustainable tourism with Jasminka Varnalieva from USAID-EDGE, Jana Apih from Good Place, Slovenia, Natalija Angelova from MES (Macedonian Ecological Society), and Thierry Jourbert from Green Visions, Bosnia & Herzegovina,  moderated by Aleksandar Donev from Mustseedonia, which contributed to a lively discussion by participants from the private sector, destinations, donors, and Balkan Green partners.


Belsh, AL

This last stop on the Roadshow was marked by high level participation from Jasminka Varnalieva, Chief of Party  of USAID EDGE Project, the Roadshow’s main financial supporter, and Green Destinations founder and president Albert Salman.

Participants were exposed to the central topic of branding and marketing sustainability in the area of tourism. Jana Apih of Good Place, the organization instrumental for creating and supporting  “Slovenia Green” presented  some of the best practices and lessons learned of Slovenia’s successful national sustainability program.

The afternoon sessions focused on public-private partnerships in tourism development, with a lively panel discussion between Elvis Kotherja from Elite Travel, Mirtjon Meta from RisiAlbania, Fetah Elezi, from the Inst. of Plant Genetic Resources, Agricultural University, Tirana, Kastriot Beshiri and Dritan Kamani.

A visit to the local Eco Park (https://www.instagram.com/dumrea_ecopark/) ended the day.



  1. Green networking events with practical information, exchange, and applied experiences are crucial for getting more destinations, businesses, protected areas and travelers involved and excited in sustainable tourism practices and services. When done right, a combination of events and communication platforms have enormous cross-sector potential to contribute to sustainable growth, diversification, poverty reduction, biodiversity conservation, and natural resources management.
  2. Protected areas play an important role in a destination’s sustainability process. Putting protection of the environment at the center of any destination, especially when ratified by law, puts the destination at an advantage to engage outlying communities and government services in the long term management of the destination. A protected area, when managed well, protects the environment, attracts, informs and manages visitors, as well as stimulates the creation of services in the surrounding communities around the destination.
  3. Public Private Partnerships are the key to a long term sustainable tourism strategy in a destination, by engaging and supporting local businesses.  Governments can participate in and plan the sustainable development of the tourism industry in the destination. While all along the way assisting businesses to become more competitive and successful without depleting the natural and cultural resources our countries depend on.
  4. Green Teams and their Sustainability Coordinators need clear job descriptions and commitment from their destinations, i.e. municipal governments, park boards, development organizations and destination management organizations. By investing in their Green Team, destinations can work towards long term sustainable development goals requiring significant commitment and resources, i.e. human, financial, and social.
  5. Sustainable tourism certification for SMEs is a cornerstone for developing sustainable destinations and regional products. The more the business sector is involved in making their services and business management practices sustainable, the more the destination is required to coordinate the activities of a wide range of stakeholders, ie. municipal services including planning, waste management, energy & water, labor, environmental protection, etc.


Raising industry standards and awareness at the same time

Sustainable tourism in the Western Balkans has always been a challenge. But lately, major investments and efforts have been made to promote sustainable tourism development in the region. Unfortunately, many locals, especially during the pandemic, have been reluctant to focus on long-term benefits in favor of immediate survival. Balkan Green, a regional initiative to raise sustainability standards and awareness in the tourism industry, aims to make this practice more accessible and attractive to residents.

Conceptually, the responsible-tourism tide is starting to turn. In 2022, for instance, a greater interest in sustainability has been seen across the sector, as sustainable development and management has been increasingly associated with resilience, customer confidence, limiting negative impacts, and cost-saving.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in Albania. In March 2022, partners of SUSTOUR (Sustainable Tourism Destination Development), an EU-funded COSME project, put out a call for SMEs to apply for a comprehensive support program to improve their sustainability performance. The goal was to select 175 tour operators and travel agencies to participate. In the end, they accepted three times as many SMEs to the program, from 35 European countries, including 14 SMEs from Albania, the highest number of participants from a Western Balkan country.

This is a promising step for sustainable tourism in the country and the region. In fact, the number of applications from the Western Balkans was much higher than anticipated, indicating that the interest from business owners to further develop sustainably is growing.

The SUSTOUR program, which began in July of 2022, will run until the end of June 2023. Participating tour operators and travel agencies have the choice of pursuing Travelife Partner or Certification awards, which are based on the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) standards for sustainable management in the tourism industry. Alternatively, they may pursue a specialized program targeting specific topics, such as sustainable plastic, carbon, supply chain management, or certification for shore excursions.

The program will include online training, comprehensive individualized and group coaching, and peer-to-peer exchanges. Participants will also be encouraged to attend European trade fairs, where they can be showcased, and where experience-exchange events will be organized, including awards presentations to those who have completed their program.

Balkan Green is supporting this program by coaching and co-financing 37 participants in South Eastern Europe. Balkan Green Representatives, five in total so far, have been trained as Travelife coaches to help meet the demands of SUSTOUR’s ambitious goal to simultaneously coach over 600 European tour operators and travel agencies in sustainable management. Our coaches will also be organizing additional support activities and resources for the participating SMEs in the region.

To get involved in this movement and see a full list of participants please visit the site.