This article explores the effect that tourism has on the world, our carbon footprint and how travel companies and hotel chains are offsetting their stamp on the environment. I also discuss the need for responsible and sustainable tourism and how we as travellers can be a positive influence.
Written by Rachael Drury
There are many reasons why people travel. Some travel for business, some for pleasure, some travel to learn, or for love or for artistic inspiration. I have travelled for all of these reasons and still do. But I also travel to live, to breathe, to immerse myself in something different and to soak up the world’s energy. Many of the reasons we have to travel are selfish. They are all about the individual; what can we get out of travel? While it is amazing to immerse ourselves in new cultures and meet people who see the world differently from us, we have to remember why travel is also brilliant for the people whose lives we touch. So that is where I am going to begin.
Travel is a major contributor to the world economy and keeps thousands of communities across the world alive. The World Travel and Tourism Council’s website and home page states that travel and tourism is one of the world’s largest industries, supporting 277 million jobs and generating 9.8% of world GDP. The 2015 report hasn’t been released yet, but the direct contribution to world GDP in 2014 was 2364.8 billion US dollars and that figure is expected to rise by 3.9% each year for the next 10 years. This is from direct spending in tourism, such as hotels, airlines, travel agents and anyone or anything that deals directly with tourists. The wider effects of travel and tourism including supply chains, investments and induced income impacts, have created a total contribution to world GDP of 7580.9 billion US dollars. Just think, 277 million people across the world have jobs, are working and generate an income to put back into their own economies thanks to people who travel; that’s nearly 10% of the global workforce.
Tourism is becoming greener. Ok, so we’re not there yet with climate change, tourism is still contributing to the problem. The travel and tourism industry is currently responsible for 5% of the world’s carbon emissions; 4% from transportation and 1% from accommodation. Climate change could induce severe risks for many tourist destinations in the future due to extreme events such as floods and draughts causing increased infrastructure damage, changes in biodiversity, reduced water availability, strains on emergency services, higher operating costs and increased insurance premiums all affecting competition and profitability. Those most at risk include many small island developing states, Africa and SE Asia where ironically, tourism is relied upon for between 30% and 40% of it’s GDP.
It is not all bad news though. Travel and tourism’s contribution to worldwide anthropogenic climate change has already decreased by 3% since 2005. In the past 20 years, eco-friendly businesses have popped up all over the world claiming to be able to offset your travelling carbon footprint. In their book “Tourism and Sustainability”, Martin Mowforth and Ian Munt report on three companies that aim to do just that. UK based wildlife tour company Naturetrek makes donations to the World Land Trust for its purchases of land with the motivation of forest conservation. A global company called Climate Care offsets CO2 emissions on behalf of individuals and companies through forest restoration and energy efficiency schemes. CarbonNeutral measures the CO2 emissions of companies and attempts to offset them completely, thereby awarding said company with their trademark. Eco-tourism is one of the fastest growing trends in the travel industry. In fact, World Bank reported that nature based tourism is growing three times faster than the industry as a whole, “driven by the environmental consciousness and concerns about climate change”.
It is also reassuring to read a paper released by the World Travel and Tourism Council in 2015 called “Connecting Global Climate Action”. In 2009 the WTTC published “Leading the Challenge on Climate Change” and committed to the industry cutting its CO2 emissions by 50% between 2005 and 2035. This year, they have stated that solid progress has been made. The report says that WTTC members are 20% more carbon efficient today than 10 years ago which goes a long way to reinforce the claim that the industry’s contribution to climate change has decreased by 3% in the past 10 years. Just as an example, the WTTC reports that Ethiad Airways has seen a 24% improvement in CO2 emissions per passenger since 2006. Intrepid Travel became carbon neutral in 2010, Hilton Worldwide reported a 20.2% decrease in emissions per square metre since 2009 and amazingly NH Hotels claim to have decreased carbon emissions by a whopping 69.4% for over two thirds of their hotels worldwide since 2007.
New-tourism is also a great reason to advocate travel and is connected to my previous mention of tourism’s contribution to world GDP. New-tourism is about taking the travel industry to developing countries, otherwise known as Pro-Poor Tourism (PPT). In 2002, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation launched the ST-EP initiative (Sustainable Tourism — Eliminating Poverty) at the World Summit of Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. This initiative focuses on “long-term measures to encourage sustainable tourism – social, economic and ecological – and which specifically alleviates poverty, bringing development and jobs to people living on less than a dollar a day. PPT is not a specific product or niche sector of the travel industry, but an approach to tourism development and management, enhancing the linkages between tourism business and poor people so that tourism’s contribution to poverty reduction is increased and poor people are able to participate more effectively in product development.” UNWTO believes that tourism can play a significant role in addressing extreme poverty and hunger, gender equality, environmental sustainability and global partnerships. It is something to be believed; figures indicate that the contribution of tourism in developing countries to world GDP has on average increased some 600% since 2005.
On the 4th December 2014, UNWTO declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. It is their hope and belief that such a year will lead to “a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilisations and bring about a better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures and thereby contribute to the strengthening of peace in the world.” It is an interesting concept considering the current unrest and the effect that war and conflict must be having on tourism in certain areas of the world. Still, for as long as I can remember, it has been a trend among travellers, particularly backpackers, to visit under developed countries and cultures that are different from their own. By travelling myself and meeting other travellers, nomads are always looking for countries that have not been affected by the growth of tourism and that have been left largely in their original state. Ironically, to the traveller, there is nothing worse than a place overrun by tourists. The challenge here must be to bring a trade to these countries without ruining them for future generations.
This is where the advantages of travel bring into question how tourism can impact the world in a negative way. Putting aside the question of its negative effect on climate change, we have to remember that tourism can create other environmental destruction. The building of high rise hotels, golf courses, huge resorts and the creation of primary products such as beach holidays, ski vacations and safaris can put a huge strain on local environments. Something has to give way for these commodities to be built and run. Monuments of cultural heritage can be damaged or even destroyed by heavy footfall and irresponsible tourists; you just have to visit the pyramids in Egypt to see the negative effect that littering has had on the surrounding area.
Tourism does create employment, but in some areas you will find that workers are exploited; wages are low and hours are high. You will find low job security, a lack of health care and very little standard of health and safety. This, and the influx of comparably wealthy tourists, can create the problem of prostitution and drug trades. Employment can be seasonal in many places, meaning that their economies and quality of life suffers in quieter months. Tourism can be such a huge industry in some countries that young adults are lured into hospitality when they could be encouraged to further their prospects by studying or training in other areas. 2015 can also be a great example of how fickle the travel industry can be, effected by world events and media scaremongering; many businesses in Turkey who depend on the tourist trade have reported a 30% drop in revenue this year due to the war in Syria, for example.
However, the evidence suggesting the advantages of travel is overwhelming. Tourism is a huge industry across the world. It contributes to almost 10% of world GDP and 10% of global employment. The industry is committed to tackling climate change. New-tourism is attempting to eradicate extreme poverty. It is not just hospitality that benefits from tourism; retail, entertainment, education, cultural heritage and even housing markets are more profitable. Tourism spreading to more remote areas results in the development of infrastructure such as airports, schools, roads and hospitals which will all directly benefit local communities. All of this and the fact that increasingly, tourism is bringing about the preservation of cultures and traditions as people want to learn about them, see them and experience them with their own eyes and more effort than ever is being made ensure environmental and cultural protection through organisations like UNESCO.
So what can we as travellers do to ensure that the tourism industry continues to move in the right direction? We need to strive to bring the most benefits with the least amount harm through our desire to travel. We need to make sure that we don’t impose too many foreign elements that will conflict the cultural, historical and religious heritage of a community. We need to support cultural diversity and attempt to add value to the communities that we visit; respect their beliefs their religions and their historical architecture. Don’t subscribe to huge corporate run package holidays, stay in locally run, one of a kind accommodations. Be kind to the locals, try and speak their language and give them something to smile about. Donate books and toys or stationary to local schools in deprived areas. Eat at local family run restaurants and consume locally produced food and drink, and for goodness sake…. leave a tip!