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Overcoming the Ultimate Paradox of Promoting Tourism in a World Gripped by Climate Crisis


Sarah Barnett, business director and travel specialist at One Green Bean, on the current state of the travel industry and how it should approach the climate crisis

Overcoming the Ultimate Paradox of Promoting Tourism in a World Gripped by Climate Crisis

COP26: Pitched as the answer to all our climate change prayers, promising the lowdown on positive actions to avert disaster and to ensure a brighter future for our planet or, at the very least, something to reassure us the future that isn’t quite so bleak. 

A failed summit? A cop out? It certainly looks like they didn’t fully understand the assignment… but how do we tackle this paradoxical position of promoting an industry that significantly contributes to the world’s emissions, with doing the right thing for the future of our planet? 

Are we contributing towards climate damage or are we ensuring cultures are recognised, livelihoods are protected, our adventures and curiosity allowed to evolve, and the value of tourism wealth fairly distributed to the local economy?  

Climate change has already affected our business, as rising temperatures increase the risk of natural disasters, putting tourism sites at risk. More frequently, crisis communications have moved away from manmade events, and we’ve had to deal with forest and bush fires, floods, rising sea levels, loss of ecosystems and disruption to cultural and natural heritage sites.

COP26 at the very least proved that the great travel debate is being brought to the fore and our passionate industry, one of the most hard hit by the global pandemic, has had the opportunity to set itself on a greener, more sustainable path – and commit to it. 

Seeing the launch of an ambitious pledge for the tourism industry to reach net zero by 2050 and cut emissions in half by 2030 is a strong sentiment indeed. The ‘Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action in Tourism’ roadmap sets practical recommendations for business on how they can achieve their net-zero targets and be more sustainable. 

Already, more than 300 tourism stakeholders have signed up to the Declaration, including leading industry players and destinations, entire countries and other tourism stakeholders from large to small. The Glasgow Declaration was developed through the collaboration of UNWTO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Visit Scotland, the Travel Foundation and Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, within the framework of the One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme, which is committed to accelerate sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Requiring significant investment and innovation from the tourism industry, this move towards sustainable tourism was extremely clear as countries, such as Mauritius, pledged to go 100 per cent single-use plastic free. Additionally, the increased attention rail travel is generating as we look to alternatives to taking to the skies, along with exciting innovations such as the low cost LUMO rail route from London to Edinburgh, is notable, as are the numerous operator commitments, including Intrepid Travel’s comprehensive carbon measurement toolkit to empower tour operators to decarbonise their operations.

The tourism sector has widespread economic impact. In 2019 it was estimated it accounted for 10.4 per cent of global GDP and one in 10 jobs. Its revival and longevity will be critical to ensure its continued contribution to livelihoods and economies – but only if it can be made sustainable. 

As we look towards 2022, it’s clear that sustainability is increasingly a deciding factor for travel plans. With this in mind, brands should be upping their game and continuing to deliver credible progress, being evermore mindful in their approach without greenwashing. 

Through clever consumer communications, such as offering slow travel options, it could be a win-win for both up-selling a product and the planet – allowing travellers to linger for longer in a destination and making the most of those airmiles. 

As well as offering carbon offsetting options, verified sustainability practises should be brought to the fore, such as highlighting local experiences and on-the-ground projects that travellers can get involved with, during their time in destination. Some larger brands are already marching the march; searching for hotel options on Google now reveals a property’s sustainability efforts, while Skyscanner allows users to limit flight searches to options that have lower CO2 emissions. 

As 2022 is predicted to be the year of slow travel, high-tech hotels and bucket-list adventures, here’s to an industry that always gets up when we’re down and strives to continually better itself. 

Sarah Barnett is business director and travel specialist at One Green Bean

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Havas UK, Thu, 25 Nov 2021 13:20:12 GMT