The world's top 10 countries for sustainable tourism, from Sweden to Slovenia

The Covid-19 pandemic crippled tourism, but the travel industry is restarting with a sustainable reboot, and Sweden is leading the way

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The global pandemic has halted tourism as borders across the world have closed, flights are grounded and demand for international travel has plummeted.

While devastating for the industry in terms of economics, this enforced pause has served to highlight some of the problems with the global model of mass tourism: overcrowded cities, pollution from air travel and environmental degradation, to name a few.

Now, as nations slowly start to reopen, there are calls for a sustainable reboot, with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation asking for a "responsible recovery of the tourism sector".

Norway ranks fifth in Euromonitor International's Sustainable Travel Index Rankings 2020. Unsplash

Such a sustainable restart will be easier for some countries than for others. A new report by Euromonitor International details the nations leading the way for sustainable tourism, and those lagging far behind.

These are the top 10 countries for sustainable tourism

1. Sweden

2. Finland

3. Austria

4. Estonia

5. Norway

6. Slovakia

7. Iceland

8. Latvia

9. France

10. Slovenia

The Sustainable Travel Index by market research company Euromonitor International was designed to help destinations shift to more sustainable and purpose-driven tourism models.

It ranks the top 99 sustainable destinations in the world, having analysed them for seven different factors, including environmental, social and economic sustainability, country risk, sustainable tourism demand, transport and lodgings.

The top 20 leading countries are all in Europe. Sweden was ranked first, followed by Finland and Austria. Just outside the top 20 are New Zealand, Bolivia and Canada, where progress is being made.

"Scandinavia is exemplary in its engagement and awareness of sustainability, where 65 per cent of travel businesses already have implemented a sustainability strategy," stated Euromonitor’s Voice of the Industry: Sustainability Survey in July 2020.

The EU is also driving a strong sustainability agenda through its European Green Deal.

Elsewhere, the UK ranks in 40th position, Jordan is 43rd and the UAE is ranked 53rd, although the Emirates is noted for its improvement. Oman slips in a few paces behind at number 57 and Bahrain is placed at number 70, then Saudi Arabia at number 72.

The list runs to number 99 – a slot that is held by Pakistan.

Why is Sweden the world's most sustainable tourism destination? 

Sweden is the birthplace of climate activist Greta Thunberg, home of the flight-shaming movement and abundant with alternative transport options. Unsplash

Sweden tops the Sustainable Travel Index in 2020 and proves sustainability can enhance the travel experience. The birthplace of the flygskam (flight shaming) movement and home to climate strike activist, Greta Thunberg, the country is an example for other destinations looking to recover sustainably.

The Scandinavian country also promotes rural and regional tourism in core cities, offers alternative forms of travel besides air and has award-winning Nordic sustainable lodgings.

Sweden is also very involved in green initiatives such as preserving the Arctic ice and permafrost to help stop climate change, and aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2045.

Saudi Arabia ranks first for 'risk', UAE noted for improvement

Saudi Arabia ranked first for mitigating "risk" in sustainable tourism by the Euromonitor International report. Courtesy RCU

While Saudi Arabia only ranked in 72nd place in the list of the world's most sustainable tourism destinations, it ranked first in the "Risk" category, meaning its risk mitigation strategies are strong in various areas.

Within this, destinations are ranked depending on how susceptible they are "to external risks such as geopolitics, natural disasters, man-made catastrophes and diseases". The risk pillar has three main areas: safety, healthcare and endangered cultural sites and species.

As the report states: "Safety and healthcare go hand in hand for creating a resilient tourism model, and countries must be able to meet the needs of their residents."

The kingdom was particularly commended for its strong record in nature and heritage conservation.

The UAE was also noted for improving its risk ranking. It was the sixth most improved country in 2020.