The pandemic has given us all a moment to think about which kind of world we envision for our future. During that moment of reflection, one word has become relevant for every single industry: sustainability. But for the tourism and hospitality sector, this word is not new.
Since the 1990s, the UN World Tourism Organization has used World Tourism Day to discuss tourism’s social, political, economic, and environmental impacts. Later, the UNWTO has tried to establish clear guidance and definition to foster sustainable tourism, defined as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities”.
With the climate crisis already changing the world as we know it, one part of sustainable tourism has gained increasing relevance: the impact we have on our planet. Some people will say that sustainable tourism, and especially eco-tourism, is an oxymoron, but in The ultimate guide to eco-travel in 2022, we will show you that it is possible. Our guide focuses on understanding what each actor can do to create a travel industry with a limited impact on the environment. We have analyzed the role played by hotels, tour operators, the aviation industry, and travelers. Because eco-travel is a collective effort.
The ultimate guide to eco-travel in 2022
What can hotels do?
According to the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, the hotel industry needs to cut carbon emissions by 66% per room by 2030. From water consumption to using renewable energy, the sky is the limit to what the hotel industry can do to reduce its carbon footprint. At Discovery Rottnest Island, named by Forbes and National Geographic as one of the world’s best new green hotels, visitors can sleep in luxury eco-tents. At Qbic Amsterdam, they follow 20 points to ensure an eco-travel experience, including sustainability training for employees, avoiding single packaged items, and serving fair-trade products.
Moreover, hotels can become effective changemakers by joining certifications. In this way, hotels will be obliged to comply with the highest verified standards when it comes to their impact on the environment. Furthermore, thanks to certifications, hotels can attract more visitors and increase their profits. According to a study, 70% of global travelers would be more likely to book an accommodation if they knew it was eco-friendly.
With hundreds of certifications out there, the hotel industry needs to apply to the most prestigious ones, like Green Key or TripAdvisor Green Leaders. The former is an international eco-label awarded to the most sustainable facilities within the tourism industry. The program counts on the recognition of the UNWTO and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The latter is a program launched in 2013 by TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, in consultation with UNEP and other partners, including Rainforest Alliance. Hotels, B&Bs, and hotels can all apply for this certification. Once obtained, the TripAdvisor Green Leaders badge will appear on the hotel’s listing page.
What can airports and airlines do?
By now, we all know that flying is the worst way of traveling for our planet. The aviation industry is responsible for a daunting 5% of global warming. Or as Jocelyn Timperley bluntly wrote for the BBC: “Even a return flight from London to Berlin emits around 0.6 tons CO2e – three times the emissions saved from a year of recycling.”
However, airlines everywhere in the world are making an effort to reduce their impact on the environment. This year, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines committed to achieving net-zero carbon emission by 2050. The idea is to invest in the production and deployment of sustainable aviation fuel. In Europe, KLM and AirFrance ranked again at the top of the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index 2020. In Australia, Qantas has several initiatives in place aiming at changing the aviation industry into an eco-friendlier one.
Airports are also going in the direction of eco-travel. Ideally, they all want to become like Galápagos Ecological Airport. Built in 2012, the airport runs completely on solar and wind power and 80% of the infrastructure was made of recycled material. To make the airport even more sustainable, Galápagos Ecological Airport has its own desalination plant to provide fresh water to its travelers. 18.359 km away, another airport is transporting passengers to the future of eco-travel. Changi Airport, in Singapore, has a green wall to improve the airport’s air quality, water-efficient fittings, and roof-mounted solar panels.
Singapore and the Galapagos provide some of the best examples of green airports, but it is not always feasible to go entirely green, especially if an airport has already been built. What is possible is to take small actions with a great impact. In 2020, airports in Dubai banned the use of single plastic.
What can tour operators do?
According to the 2018 Tourism Survey by Trekksoft, ecotours are the most popular tours offered nowadays. This reflects the growing demand for eco-travels and it also shows that tour operators can play a pedagogical role in protecting the environment.
For example, Intrepid travels offers tours all over the globe without renouncing its commitment to sustainability. Since 2010, this tour operator has been a carbon-neutral business. Furthermore, Intrepid travels strongly encourages travelers to adopt eco-travel habits like eating locally produced food or refilling their water bottles.
Natural Habitat Adventures went a step further. Since 2003, it has partnered with WWF, the world’s leading environmental organization, to promote conservation travel that they define as “sustainable travel that supports the protection of nature, wildlife and local communities”. In 2019, they also organized the World’s First Zero Waste Adventure. The tour was a complete success and it obtained wide press coverage in some of the most popular travel magazines as Condé Nast Traveler and Lonely Planet.
What can you do?
As we have said at the beginning of The ultimate guide to eco-travel in 2022, sustainability requires a collective effort. So far, we have seen what the travel industry can do to foster a more sustainable way of traveling. The question now is what can you do? And even more importantly are you ready to embrace a bit of discomfort to save the planet?
According to a study by The Vacationer, the answer is no. 48% of respondents said they would opt for an eco-travel only if it did not inconvenience them. However, it might be because it is a common perception that traveling sustainably is extremely complicated. You can easily debunk this myth by conducting quick research on the internet. Lonely Planet, the most famous travel guide, has published an expert’s guide to zero-waste travel. Grow Ensemble has analyzed 21 tips to plan your sustainable trip and the list could continue.
At the end of the day, all tips can be boiled down to one thing: learn about your impact on the planet. By adopting this approach, it will be automatic for you to choose a means of transport with a minimal carbon footprint, as in the case of bus or train. If you really can’t do that, you might want to travel with airlines committed to protecting the planet. We are also sure that next time you plan your trip you will opt for an accommodation with sustainability at the core of how they work.
On a final note, you can also lobby the company you are working for to organize business eco-travels. Alternatively, you can change the industry from within. You can opt for a career in the tourism and hospitality industry and make sustainability the priority on how you conduct your business.