Category Archives for Sustainable and Responsible Tourism

Climate Change and Tourism: Action Plans for the Industry

Climate change is a scary yet important topic to think about; it spans every single border and impacts every human and every culture. The impact of climate change and tourism is a more frightening scenario when you realize that Tourism accounts for 8% of all global emissions, 10% of all jobs in the world, 319 Million of us depend on it to survive. One country's entire tourism industry could be knocked out for years by a hurricane, or worse if the sea level waters rise for low elevation landmasses or island nations. 

I wanted to make sense of all these issues, and what the current state is for climate change and tourism. I watched the live forum: Climate and Environment Action Forum by the World Travel and Tourism Council held in New York this last September. This 3.5-hour forum was an eye-opening and enlightening update with interviews and talks by industry leaders and panel discussions of industry and business addressing the hard topic: how the tourism industry can move faster and move together to impact climate change. 

Key Takeaways from the Climate and Environment Action Forum

image of the climate and environment action forum

How can the tourism industry move faster and move together to impact climate change? This issue isn't about becoming sustainable to be competitive, sustainability is necessary to run your travel business.

•The forum's theme became: We need to change now before the change is forced upon us, mentioned by Gloria Guevara, President of the WTTC 

•Plenty of good work is in progress, but it needs to happen faster and the role of the industry is to work together to make change happen and manage the industry goal of carbon-neutral by 2050. WTTC companies have offered to share all their information and know-how to help the industry move faster.

•One vital area to start is measurement - How can you get better on reducing waste, electricity, and finding better solutions when you don't have a starting point? Fortunately, there are helpful resources out there like the carbon disclosure project, that helps businesses get the data to measure their baseline and their reductions. You can find all the details at

2. What are destinations doing to reduce their carbon footprint:

Two destinations shared their challenges and plans on how they will cut their emissions:

a. New York City: Mark Chambers – Director of Sustainability, Mayors Office, shared the collective concern of NYC with their void of national leadership. So, they took it upon themselves to declare an environmental emergency – a declaration that created action to work with their local and state resources on an action plan.

NYC discovered that 70% of its emissions come from the heating and cooling of their 1 Million buildings in the city. Large buildings over 25,000 square feet will be measured and have a capital plan to meet the changes required to reduce their emissions. The city has created low-interest loans, so businesses don't have to deal with the substantial upfront costs.

The city is also preparing for the growth of electric cars – with building an infrastructure of fast charging hubs, which charge cars in 30min instead of 8 hours – to get fewer cars on the road – more electric and shared rides.

When it comes to tourism, 68 Million people visit New York City every year; they need to direct their communications to travelers to play a role in waste reduction.

b. Norway: Ola Elvestuen - Minister of climate and environment Norway shared that they are optimistic as many of their plans are happening faster than they originally planned. 

Their plans include: banning the use of heating oil by 2020, reducing their emissions from transport by using 10% biofuels next year, and changing all buses to electric power by 2025 to get to net 0 emissions increase. 

Other significant challenges: The cruise line industry – the start is creating big goals and restrictions to force change like allowing only 0 emissions cruise lines to go to the UNESCO world heritage sites or the Fjords by 2026. When business is at risk, it forces change. 

Cargo shipping is a challenge they are working on as well as moving all car ferries, a mode of transport used in Norway, to fully electric. There is still work to be on transport like the use of more trains, continued sales taxes on cars based on emissions and regulations on heavy trucks. 

An Egypt representative mentioned their approach to tourism, like creating Greenstar classification for reduced emissions in hotels, and plastic-free cities. 

3. What are Accommodations Doing to Manage Climate Change on Tourism?


a. Hilton Hotels – CEO Christopher Nassetta, explained the challenge – the rise of the middle class has grown tourism, and they want to experience the world, which is a benefit to the industry and a burden to our climate challenge. But Hilton knew they needed to change. They doubled their expenses to figure out how to measure their climate impact; they needed science-based data to set goals, get approval from their shareholders, and compensate people against meeting those goals. As Mr. Nassetta shared that Conservation, must be a priority for their business because change at some point would be imposed against them. Making this kind of change, though, isn't easy with the complexity of 6000 hotels in 115 countries and 1Million rooms. 

Hilton's process – called Lightstay – is their measurement platform to track their waste, energy, and water usage. It's allowed them to see their current state and put plans in place to that reduced their carbon by 30%, reduced their energy by -22%, their water -30%, including a goal of no soap ending up on landfills, resulting in the recycling of 9.6 million bars of soap. As well, all plastic straws and bottles are no longer served in hotels, along with digital plastic keys, which account for 40 tonnes of plastic. The investment paid out because it allowed the hotel chain to save more than $550 Million in costs. 

Conservation initiatives are not about competition, it's our shared responsibility, and Hilton hotels will provide information to anyone to make conservation changes to their business. 

b. Iberostar Hotels - Gloria Fluxa-Vice-chairman and chief sustainability officer of Iberostar hotels, shared their sustainability process. Iberostar is a family and privately-owned of 120 hotels, 140,000 employees, in 19 countries. Admittedly, she mentioned it was probably easier to bring her organization on board to sustainability without the need to convince shareholders, yet the challenge is operating in many different countries. They looked at their entire business chain to develop a sustainable platform. Their first pillar was removing all single-use plastic –which will be completed in 100% of their hotels in all 19 countries. 

Their next sustainability pillar was looking at the oceans – as a top priority aspect of their business, as they operate in beachside vacation destinations. They now work in conjunction with WWF to contribute and educate their guests about marine pollution and global overfishing. This program led to looking at their entire chain – the seafood they buy, and what responsible seafood options look like while educating guests to understand the conservation choices they made. Their next mission is looking at the challenge with their laundry system and clothing fibers washing out to the oceans. 

4. The Elephant in the Room – Aviation

Aviation and Oil - David Hone - Chief Climate Change Advisor for Shell Oil, spoke about challenges and opportunities in aviation. 

Aviation is 40% of the emissions in travel and tourism; the other large percentage is transportation. 

The biggest challenge is the time-cycle of planes– what is getting built today will be flown for 20+ years or more, so the cycle for change is exceptionally long. 

-Some opportunities involve different fuel options Like Biofuels, as well as synthetic fuels, although the cost today is prohibitive mainly as it requires capturing CO2 in the air where we don't have the technology to do that yet. The same goes for Hydrogen as a fuel source, but that also requires more development for a solution to be viable. More near term solutions involve battery-operated planes for short-haul distances. 

The larger opportunity is also looking at the entire ecosystem chain, from the power of trees taking out carbon and oil companies using CCS – Carbon capture and storage – which is a process used on a small scale with oil companies today. More work needs to be done on the wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal technologies for both aviation and shipping to get away from boilers/heaters to electric heat pumps.

The Dallas Fort Worth Airport and sustainability 

Sean Donohue, CEO of the airport, shared some massive goals they have met, including their use of 100% renewable energy – as they purchase only wind-generated power for the entire airport. 

-They also saw the opportunity with the number of buses they use and now have a fleet of renewable energy buses that capture methane - recycle it and inject it in the natural gas pipeline. 

-They also built a new runway with wholly recycled materials from past building projects.

All these initiatives have reduced carbon emissions by 80% and reduced their energy costs by 20M dollars. They did admit more work is needed with plastics and food waste in the airports. 

How does this airport get things done? They believe in finding the right companies to partner with, the ones that want to make change, and want to find solutions. Often it's younger people that pay more attention to this kind of solutions. 

5. Does the investment community put funding towards Green Tourism projects? 

As Marisa Drew, CEO of Impact and Advisor Finance - Credit Suisse and Curtis Ravel – global head of sustainable finance for Bloomberg mentioned:

•Investors want to invest in green, sustainable projects. A big shift has happened – in the past, companies got pressure from investors to stay the same, and now investors are putting their money into businesses that are changing. 

•There is more interest now than ever from the investment community, in fact, the dollars for sustainable strategies are in excess of $30Trillion dollars to fund projects.

•Getting investment for sustainable projects is not an issue.

6. What can all tourism industry players do – regardless of size?

-Now more than ever, Storytelling and Education are critical to explain the challenges and show our guests the issues so they can connect the dots.

For example: Jamaica tourism charged a tax to inbound travelers. Once they explained that these charges were going towards their conservation plan, travelers were more inclined to pay.

- When guests can see with their own eyes the massive laundry facilities in a hotel, the water, and phosphates that are used, they are more inclined to hang up their towel and use it again. Conservation needs to become the new luxury.

- Green choices have to be easy for your guests. Make it easy for them to choose a better option for the other.

- We can't wait for regulation and legislation. Industries can have the power to make a change, and unfortunately, may be much faster than regulations.

- Ask your guests about how your tourism company can do better. Travelers see a lot of good examples of climate action around the world, their views and opinions count.

- We need to change our thinking – Climate policies and initiatives drive economic development. Climate action isn't a burden, and big companies see climate policies as an opportunity to be competitive. In fact, green energy can be cheaper! Solar power is down 65% in the last five years in 2/3 of the world green energy better than fossil energy. 75% of your employees want organizations to have a climate action plan 

- We also need to change our thinking that there are tradeoffs to climate change. We need more nature in the future and tourism can be part of that. We need to see the economic value of preserving nature. 

-Staff training, when you show your staff the opportunity and reward them for positive reinforcement – they see more purpose in their work, that their actions are going towards an important cause. 

After watching this forum, there is a lot more work done than I originally thought on climate change on tourism but its hard to feel optimistic when the goals and the timeline this industry needs to band together to make it an essential element of business. Is this possible? After all, our industry and our livelihood depends on it. 

Climate change and tourism - action plans for the industry

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Travelers speak out about their sustainable tourism examples

Sustainable tourism is not just an option as a tourism business owner anymore. It’s a necessary aspect of your business to survive. (and for any company in any industry) To do so, we need to look at our business and the world differently. In our last post, we defined and looked at the four areas of responsible and sustainable travel. Now, travelers speak out with their views on sustainable tourism examples from our industry.

Sustainable tourism - peace tours in Colombia

Community based tourism – peace projects in Medellin,Colombia.

Just like your tourism businesses, travelers are forced to change in this complicated world too. Now more than ever, they see brands differently. In fact, 87% of global consumers look for brands that place equal weight on society’s interests AND business interests. This fact doesn’t mean that 87% of consumers buy products this way, but it is a considering factor for them.

Long term travelers share their views about tourism companies with some sustainable tourism examples: 

1. Conservation is a big topic with travelers

Long term and full-time babyboomer travelers Duncan and Jane from To travel too mentioned:  

Sustainability means different things to different travelers, and some are passionate about different things like replacing plastic straws with environmentally friendly options, less use of plastic bottles, and looking for solutions for clean water in developing countries.

To others, they want to see hotels doing away with plastic toiletry bottles and water bottles in rooms. We traveled extensively throughout Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia and stayed in many hotels. Our focus was looking at the amount of plastic used and asked hotels and hospitality businesses how they were putting plans in place to reduce their plastic use.

2. When you show travelers what’s important to you, there are travelers inspired by it.

One of Jane’s most memorable sustainable tourism examples is from the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort in Siem Reap, Cambodia shared a story on the wall of their hotel lobby about the owner of the Eco-Soap Bank – his purpose is to get soap for bathing into local villages. Before toxic laundry powders were used for bathing in rural communities, now the Eco-soap bank recycles soap from hotels from the Sofitel and distributes to local villages including in schools, hospitals, and orphanages. Even though other hotel properties support this project, the Sofitel made a point of communicating with their guests, what is important to them.

3. Travelers want to know where their tourism dollars are going. 

Some travelers are conscientious of how their dollars are impacting the communities and the environment. Elizabeth, a full-time traveler from Thrivethisday wants the ensure her visit isn’t causing further harm, like visiting restaurants that are sourcing their food locally, or hotels and tours that are paying a fair wage to their staff.

4. Ask Tourists to Help You Support Better Choices 

Elizabeth responsible tourism example is when she appreciates it when a hotel asks guests to conserve water and to think about their choices in using linens and washing towels – we all play a role in conservation. Ocean and wildlife conservation are an important focus for Elizabeth, and she seeks out dive tour operators that are conscientious about reefs and sites they visit, and what they think about and invest some of her tourism dollars into conservation.

5. Ask for Traveler Feedback 

In general, travelers are reasonable people; they are open to give feedback (if given the opportunity) instead of an impersonal comment box or to just ask for a review – which tends to happen very infrequently. It might be assumed that travelers want excellent customer service, but it goes beyond this. A tour, hotel, or attraction can ask us for feedback on issues that impact them, and how their travel experience can improve all around. Ask for feedback; its a vital part of being a relevant sustainable tourism company.

6. Educate Travelers. They Won’t Know Unless You Tell Them

Often travelers don’t know the issues, and challenges you are facing in your region, your area, or your country.  Rachel, a long term solo traveler mentioned that she looks to tourism businesses to explain what is happening in their area. That is the reason why she books tours and guides. It’s a privilege for us (travelers)  to travel and also a duty to open our minds to understand and be empathetic to places that we are visiting.

Ivana, a long-term traveler from Nomad is Beautiful, mentioned that she and her partner make it a priority to buy servces from locally run businesses because they feel they learn the best about what changes a place has gone through and what a community needs the most. Also, they care about waste reduction and look for companies that are doing their part as well as educating their staff on their importance of doing so.

In Summary:

Travel businesses can learn a lot from their guests – as to what sustainable issues are important to them; you just need to ask. Consumers are changing, they are becoming more conscious about the issues around them, but to do that, tourism brands like yours need to educate them.  Tell them your stories, help them understand your world. Don’t discount that they want to see what’s important to you. Your purpose, your causes matter, after all, don’t we want our work and career to be fulfilling beyond just making money?

Tell us about your experiences with your guests and your sustainable and responsible tourism examples. How are you supporting your sustainable tourism goals and initiatives? 

travelers at a peace tour- an example of a sustainable tourism example.

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The What and How of Sustainable and Responsible Tourism

We have heard all the buzz words haven't we? – responsible, sustainable, low impact, eco-friendly. You name it – they are all out there.  There are also myths circulating as to what sustainable and responsible tourism means.But one thing is for sure: these themes are important to our guests and our businesses and environmental pressures are depending on us to act for tourism to survive.

image to portray sustainable and responsible tourism

Sustainable tourism, however, is not just about the environment or community-based tourism; it is much more than that.

One of the best examples of sustainable and responsible tourism in action in countries like New Zealand. This country has made sustainable tourism, their purpose and a significant platform for their country.  They are committed to standards for tourism businesses and communications to every traveler that visits New Zealand.  

example of newzealand and how they communicate responsible and sustainable tourism

New Zealand's sustainability communication to every guests coming to the country. 

What is the difference between sustainable and responsible tourism? 

For you to understand better, let's break all of these down to know what sustainable and responsible tourism means for tourism companies, how you can stay informed to make wiser decisions for your business, and how you can understand your guests’ point of view better. 

Sustainable tourism and responsible tourism are generally the same thing. But if we are to dig deeper, responsible tourism is the action, and sustainable tourism is the outcome of those actions.  Responsible tourism involves the accountable and ethical actions of travelers, tourism companies, suppliers, governments, and NGOs - all bodies. The result of those efforts? Is sustainability.

Four Areas of Sustainable and Responsible Tourism

To be truly sustainable, every tourism business needs to look at four distinct areas: 

1. Environmental Sustainability 

This is the aspect of sustainability that receives the most news for good reason, given our environmental crisis around the world. It includes:
  • Waste reduction – This includes reducing materials harmful to the environment, such as plastic, engaging with initiatives instead of dropping waste into landfills, and reusing, as well as asking your guests to participate in it
  • Restoration of environmental areas – This includes helping to restore nature, such as participating in beach and water clean-up events, tree planting, and other significant initiatives of restoring parks and ecological areas.
  • Carbon offset – This means reducing your carbon footprint. Generally, it includes energy efficiency, saving natural resources like water, transportation, and fuel, and making wise decisions on what you purchase and how these products are made. Carbon offset is the most complex of the environmental components. Fortunately, carbon measurement calculators are available to help measure your baseline and improvements.
  • Education – Simply, this means educating and informing your guests, your supply chain partners, and your staff on what you are doing to help and contribute to environmental sustainability. 

Good examples of environmentally sustainable tourism companies:

Eagle Wing Whale views themselves as a conservation company that just happens to do whale watching tours and sees to it that with every tour, they are a part of the solution to reduce carbon footprint. Carbon neutrality is one of their top goals, so they measure the carbon footprint of every one of their staff members. This video explains who they are. 

Another example is the sustainable efforts of Hilton hotels, such as installing measurement tools for energy and waste in their 300 hotels and challenging stretch goals and plans to achieve it.

2. Local Community Sustainability  

This pertains to the support of local people, animals and communities to ensure they are treated fairly, including: 

  • Providing fair wages for staff, as well as education, programs, and training that will help them succeed in their careers.
  • Ensuring tourism dollars are going to the people and staying in the communities where your business is, instead of going to international sources
  • Working with communities instead of dominating the agenda – helping solve issues, having open dialogues and working together on tourism initiatives and decisions
  • No animal cruelty - Wildlife attractions that involve poor and cruel treatment of animals for business gain, Often this is behind the scenes out of view of tourists like living in chains, denial of food and whippings to perform.  It includes activities like elephant riding, performing animals of any kind, or even taking a selfie with a dangerous and wild animal. 
  • Discouraging overtourism – Overtourism is a relatively new problem due to the growth of travel around the world. Understanding its negative impact and looking to distribute activities and tours to other areas instead of putting more burdens on densely visited areas should be done. Tourism boards also play a big role in limiting permits, visas, and usage of locations that cannot handle the scale of tourists in key periods of the year. You can play a role too, like this company:

A good example of a locally sustainable company:

TigerTrek, a tour company in Laos, recognized that all the tourism dollars were flooding to the province of Luang Prabang where Luang Prabang, a world UNESCO heritage site, is located, while many surrounding villages in the province are still struggling. 80% of the population is subsistence farmers, and some villages don't even have running water.

It is this disparity that prompted the launch of Fair Trek to bring tourism dollars to these villages and help residents with long term employment and personal development. They built hiking trails and Airbnb accommodations where the funds go back to the community. These guys are committed to a cause and communicate it very well on their website.

3. Visitor Care Sustainability 

 This area of sustainable and responsible tourism includes: 

  1. Educating travelers and visitors about behavioral and cultural expectations during their stay. This may include the way they should behave when photographing people and places, not exploiting children and no tolerance for sex tourism, and the way they treat animals.
  2. Getting visitor feedback on how to improve tourism to meet and exceed expectations. Gathering feedback not only about your business but also about their experiences in your city, country, and with your practices. If we can't enhance our visitor experience, how can we expect them to continue to visit?
How can you contribute to Visitor Care Sustainability?
  • Online surveys are an excellent start to understanding not only the feedback of your guests but also their expectations regarding what they want and what is not good. What could your city or country do better? And what do they need to be doing?
  • For traveler education, New Zealand tourism has created its guest behavior code that includes expectations on what they should do and not do while visiting NZ. This is a government initiative that attractions, hotels, and tours have adopted wholeheartedly with signage, information, and dialogue with their guests. Take a look at the link provided for more details.
  • Continue to innovate your product and service offerings, as longer stays of guests are another example of visitor care sustainability. 
4. Economic Sustainability 

If tourism is not financially profitable, it will not be sustainable. Financial growth is vital for future investments in infrastructure, employment opportunities, and management of traffic, pollution and every facet of tourism. Making money is not a bad thing; it's a necessity that allows you to offer jobs, pay your staff, and make business improvements, all while in the face of more challenging tasks like environmental sustainability. 

How Can My Small Business Play a Role in Sustainable Tourism? 

You 100% play a role in sustainable tourism.

It starts with:

  • Getting informed of all areas of sustainability and asking questions such as: "why do we do it this way?" and "what impact does this have on the economy, environment, people, and communities?" Although it may feel like you have no control over your supply chain of distributors, partners, and your tourism board, start by setting a good example (i.e. how you sustainably manage your business). 
  • Using your associations as a platform and voice to challenge others, and the best way to create change is to hear from your guests. Listen to their views about your area's sustainable tourism platform.
  • Measurement – You can't improve your sustainability efforts unless you set goals and benchmarks before you start. Things not measured cannot be improved.
So where do I start? 

Start with your goals. What facets of sustainable tourism are essential for your business, values, guests, and future? 

Sustainable and responsible tourism is the responsibility of all of us. Our voice – where we spend our money and what we chose to create for our businesses – is our power.

We have more tips and tools for sustainable tourism in upcoming articles, sign up to our newsletter here to be kept up to date. 

image explaining sustainability in tourism has 4 distince categories.

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