Tourism is an important industry with demonstrated impacts – from the economic benefits brought to destination communities to the enjoyment of the tourists themselves. However, tourists bring with them an environmental cost to both the places they visit, and the planet overall. We’ve explored that cost previously as well as discussed how the consumer can change to be more climate conscious. This article explores how the industry is coming together to mitigate the costs to our travels. 

An Industry-Wide Issue

The tourism industry faces threats – both direct and indirect from extreme weather events, pollution, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, and damage to attractions and destinations. In a recent report analysing travel trends, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) found that “69% of travellers are actively seeking sustainable travel options” and is partnering with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to form a cohesive response in order to meet the demands of the Paris Agreement and be net zero by 2050. It is clear that the industry now realises that the sustainability onus goes beyond the consumer and is looking to meet demand and offer solutions.

“69% of travellers are actively seeking sustainable travel options”

World Travel & Tourism Council

Rising to the Challenge

One of the world’s largest hotel chains is leading the way to lower their environmental impact. The Hilton brand has been working for years to influence the travel industry to lower their emissions. In 2019, the company installed a cogeneration plant at the New York Hilton Midtown which reduces the hotel’s carbon footprint by more than 30%. The Company has set ambitious carbon and energy reduction targets while sharing its strategy through wider industry initiatives (such as the WTTC). 

Hilton is not the only brand rising to meet the sustainability challenges of its industry – Royal Caribbean has also committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. In reaching this goal, over 70% of its ships have systems which remove 98% of sulfur dioxides from ships exhausts. This year, the Company plans to increase that number as well as debut a new class of ship – the first hybrid-powered cruise vessel. 

Looking Ahead

After years of travel bans and disruption fallout from the pandemic, tourists were back in action last year with a 109% increase in international arrivals compared to 2021. According to the WTTC, this year – 2023 – looks to be just as, if not more, busy for global tourism. With the tourism industry accounting for roughly 8% of global carbon emissions, it is more important than ever for it to innovate sustainability solutions and offer tourists more options to choose the climate-conscious pathway. 

No environmental problem has a one-sided solution. While the industry works to mitigate its climate impact, educate yourself before booking that next vacation on your impact, your sustainable hotel options, and if there are other (feasible) methods to get there besides airplane. It takes a village!

Be Curious!

  • Thinking of going on a cruise vacation? Use this Friends of the Earth Cruise Ship Sustainability Report Card to help you choose a more environmentally conscious cruise line. 
  • Limit your travel by airplane – take a road trip or travel by train! Condé Nast recently profiled the top 20 train trips to take around the world.  
  • If you do fly – offset the trip! Many airlines – Delta, JetBlue, British Airways, and more! – offer ways to offset your trip directly.
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