The rise in sustainable tourism has many searching to truly understanding the dynamics of what it takes to be a sustainable traveller

8 May, 2018

Tourism and travel is an ever-growing industry. According to the United Nations, there were approximately 1.32 billion international travellers in 2017, and that number is expected to grow to 1.8 billion in 2030. While there is no denying the numerous benefits travelling the world and experiencing other cultures offer, tourism also contributes to many issues facing our planet, including climate change and the degradation of historical sites.

Tourism will never be completely sustainable, but it can easily work towards becoming more sustainable - it is about educating and re-focusing and adapting how we travel. What is clear is that we are now starting to better understand the importance of sustainability.

Ultimately, all tourism activities of whatever motivation - holidays, business travel, conferences, adventure travel and ecotourism - need to consider sustainability. Sustainable tourism is defined as "tourism that respects both local people and the traveller, cultural heritage and the environment". Effectively, it should seek to provide people with an exciting and educational holiday that is also of benefit to the people of the host country.

The Blue Swan Daily spoke to Anna Fisher, director, account management & implementations - EMEA for global travel management company, Frosch Travel about the increasing prominence of sustainable travel and the emergence of the sustainable traveller. The company says it has noticed a recent spike in travel managers and travellers putting an increased emphasis on offsetting carbon footprints and striving for travel that is as eco-friendly as possible.

Frosch Travel has now, along with its numerous industry partners including hotels, airlines, cruise lines, and tour operators, taken steps to offer travellers more sustainable options, as well as unique reporting options to quantify a traveller and travel programme's carbon footprint.

While understanding the sustainability of one's travel programme is useful, it is also up to each traveller to make sure that when they travel, they are using tourism as a force for good. According to Ms Fisher, with just a few small changes to travel habits, anyone can be a sustainable traveller.

The United Nations designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. In the context of the universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the International Year has promoted the change in policies, business practices and consumer behaviour towards a more sustainable tourism sector that can contribute to all the 17 SDGs.

But, what does it mean to be a sustainable traveller? As Ms Fisher highlights, it is important to note that "you don't have to stop travelling to be a sustainable traveller". In general, when the subject of carbon footprints or sustainability is mentioned, our gut reaction is to assume we are only talking about the environment. "While it's true that the environment is certainly a component of sustainable tourism, it's just one piece of a much larger picture," she says.

Sustainable tourism applies to the full spectrum of the travel and tourism industry. In addition to employing environmentally friendly practices, protecting cultural and natural heritage, and providing social and economic benefits to local communities are the other two essential components of sustainable travel. From LEED hotels to carbon offsetting airline programmes, the travel industry has implemented notable changes to become more sustainable. But in today's environment, it is also up to us as travellers to embrace sustainability and do what we can to make a positive impact when we travel.

Ms Fisher highlights to The Blue Swan Daily some of the key areas where travel managers can work with clients to ensure they deliver sustainable solutions. Here's what they had to say…

  • Do your research - Planning a holiday is arguably half the fun of a trip. Working with your travel consultant, figuring out where you're going to stay, what you're going to do, and where you're going to eat in another country is stressful, but exciting. During this process, you should spend a little time reading up on the social and environmental issues, history, and any other unique facts of the destination you are going to visit. Gaining a better understanding of the customs, people, and environmental problems facing a destination will go a long way in improving your ability to interact with locals in a positive way.
  • Offset your emissions when you fly - Unfortunately, there is no getting around the fact that air travel is not good for the environment. While there is no way to eliminate flying for our long-haul business or leisure trips, there are ways we can help lower the carbon footprint and emissions the flights cause. For starters, book non-stop flights whenever possible as aircraft create the most carbon emissions during take-offs and landings. Reducing the segments needed to fly will offset unneeded emissions and make traveling easier in the process. Packing light and only bringing what you need on a trip is another simple way to decrease the aircraft's carbon emissions. Lastly, a growing number of airlines and airports offer carbon offset programmes. For a small cost, donations go to climate and sustainability development programs all around the world and offset the carbon you are contributing to by flying.
  • Plan how you're getting around - Once you arrive in a destination, the travelling has just begun. How will you get to the hotel? Will you be driving to each destination? If there is no way of getting around renting a car, consider renting a hybrid or electric vehicle. To get from place to place, walk, cycle or use public transportation. Not only do these options cut down gas usage, it also gives you the opportunity to meet and travel with locals. On multiple city trips throughout Europe and Southeast Asia, consider taking the train if you can to get around having to fly. Not only will you experience a deeper sense of place, but it's a great way to decrease your carbon footprint.
  • Pick environmentally-friendly accommodations - Luckily, hotels around the world have become eco-friendlier over the past few years, giving travellers plenty of opportunities to decrease their carbon footprints. Sustainable programmes are in place around the world, including LEED Certification in the US, Green Globe in Latin America, EarthCheck in Australia, and the Green Tourism Business Scheme in the UK. During your stay, make sure to unplug electronics when you leave the room, limit the amount of times you need housekeeping, bring your own toiletries, and hang your towels up after each use.

Above all, Ms Fisher says it is important to keep tabs on that carbon footprint and that is where global travel management companies like Frosch Travel can support the sustainable traveller, implementing travel programmes on a global basis - providing one, simple view of entire spends globally.

By using a single global platform, Ms Fisher says Frosch Travel is able "to provide consolidated reporting, including a web-based sustainability solution that has automated the collection and reporting of enterprise-wide carbon footprint data for business travel (air, airport commute, rental car, hotel, video conferences), facilities (real estate, data centre, waste, energy), transportation (employee commute and fleet), and supply chain."

FROSCH's flight carbon calculator estimates the carbon dioxide emissions from air travel based on the number and distance of trips. These calculations are based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHS Protocol), the most widely used international account toll for government and business leaders to understand, quantify, and manage greenhouse gas emissions. The GHS Protocol is used by the World Resources Institute, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.

In a world in which growing populations with endless consumer demands are pitted against a fragile environment, delivering sustainable travel solutions may continue to be a tough exercise. And without governments, the industry, travellers and communities coming together to develop achievable measures, destinations could ultimately end up biting off the hand that is feeding them and travellers could destroy the motivations for future travel.