A quick read through the facts on the front page of SustainingTourism makes a chilling case for sustainable and responsible tourism. Picking out some salient points:
- Over 1 billion people ( 14.28% of the world’s population) travelled internationally in 2012 and this is expected to rise to 1.5 billion in 2020 (18.75% of the anticipated population of 8 billion).
- Travel and tourism represents 10% of the world’s total Gross Domestic Product and provides 10% of the employment of the world’s population.
- Simply buying locally could save 4 – 5% of greenhouse gas emissions.
- The average person in the UK uses 150 litres of water a day whilst a typical village of 700 people in the developing world uses 500 litres of water a month.
- On average, a European uses 14 times more energy than someone living in India.
The lines are blurred between the two, but sustainable and responsible tourism are construction and operational practices which involve “The informed participation of all relevant stakeholders” and minimises the negative social, economic and environmental impacts of tourism whilst creating working conditions, generating greater economic benefits and for local communities and enabling a more enjoyable experience for tourists through providing connections with local people to gain an appreciation of their lives and culture. Ultimately, sustainable tourism also aims to send tourists home again with a better understanding of sustainability issues, which they will then apply in their own communities.
With tourism such a major part of the world’s economy, it’s unsurprising that the last 10 years has seen growing adoption of sustainable and responsible tourism policies by the major hotel groups. IHG, in its Corporate Responsibility Report and Green Engage programmes talks a lot about these policies but shows fairly modest achievements. Accor, with its’ Planet 21 Sustainability Initiative seems to have made better progress but both of these giants are, to some extent, held back by being franchisors finding it harder to rope its franchisees into practices which they worry will impact profits. The result, often, is accusations of “green wash” – the accusation that such programmes have far more to do with marketing than a real commitment across the board to sustainability.
There are sustainable hotels in the developed world but those that shine are, primarily, boutique independent hotels, such as some cited in The Guardian Sustainable Business blog – including the Hotel Stadthalle in Vienna, the world’s first CO2-neutral city hotel on opening in 2008. These are largely hotels who have a genuine commitment to sustainability but which also see the path they have taken as good for business.
In developing countries, across Asia, Africa and Latin America, sustainable and responsible tourism has gained a much stronger grip. El Nido Resorts at El Nido on Palawan, The Philippines, are a good example. Recently winners of the WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Award for Community Benefit, El Nido Resorts started out 31 years ago with a mission to achieve harmony between nature and the local community. El Nido Resorts’ web site details sustainable and responsible tourism practices that go far beyond what any western hotel chain contemplates, whilst applying the same dedication to profitability as their western counterparts. So, why this stark contrast ?
- Tourism projects in developing countries very often start from a blank slate – they are not developments of existing infrastructure but all-new developments of what may otherwise be undeveloped land.
- Sustainability is built into their culture – some of the figures at the start of this post illustrate the stark differences between water and energy consumption between the developed and developing world in day to day lives.
- Economic necessity: without sustainable policies, the income from tourism often ‘leaks’ out of the country. With sustainable policies, more of the economic benefits stay in the hands of local workers, business people and entrepreneurs.
- More help is available – the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, the World Travel and Tourism Council and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council all get behind to help and encourage sustainable development in developing countries more so than they can in developed countries.
- More to lose – developing nations often lack the technology, infrastructure and government regulation their developed counterparts have. Without these, the environmental impact, especially, of non-sustainable projects can be very much greater.
Last but far from least, of course, the population of developed countries are generally now more aware of sustainability issues but also feel open minded to learn more. As the developed countries are very often the developing countries’ prime markets, being seen to operate strong sustainable and responsible tourism policies helps projects succeed and make the profits all businesses exist for.
A significant part of major travel trade events ahead – WTM and ITB – will be dedicated to sustainable and responsible tourism discussion. Numerous separate, dedicated events will take place over the year ahead. The success of sustainable and responsible tourism in developing countries begs the obvious question: what stops major hotel chains and more independent hotels in developed countries from being as committed to the cause ? What’s your view ? Please leave your comment below.