Environmental Sustainability in the Tourism Industry
Table of Contents
WHY ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS 2
WHAT MANY COMPANIES HAVE ALREADY DONE 2
INTERNATIONAL LEADERSHIP & ASSOCIATIONS 3
INVESTOR CONFLICT OF INTEREST VS. GROWING CUSTOMER AWARENESS 4
ECOTOURISM VS. “GREENWASHING” 6
WORKS CITED 8
There are an abundance of studies that show how tourism greatly impacts environmental sustainability in various ways. The purpose of this report is to explore and analyze the activities that occur in the tourism industry as a whole, which cause a negative impact on the environment. Tourism and the environment are interrelated in a complex way, with many variables. This report will address three main issues. This first issue is how the tourism industry faces a conflict of interest between investors wanting short-term return on investment and environmentally sustainable management. Second, environmental issues are often times limited to only natural environment, with a major focus on pollution, global climate change, resources consumption, and habitat/ecosystems. These issues remain very important, however, in order for effective environmentally sustainable management to take place, a broader topic of sustainability must be covered which includes dimensions of economics, equity and environment. This report will explain how ecotourism aims to address these issues. The third issue is “greenwashing.” A lack of standardization in ecotourism allows for some companies to deceive customers into thinking they have implement environmentally sustainable practices, when in reality they are simply taking advantage of the rising popularity of ecotourism to boost revenues. This paper will explore what has been done so far to address sustainability issues and what practices tourism operators need to adopt to become environmentally sustainable in terms of their long-term management strategy.
Why Environmental Sustainability Matters
The reason why environmentally sustainable management is so vital in the tourism industry because of the size and rate of expansion the industry is experiencing on a international level. According to the WTTC, travel and tourism are one of the world’s largest sectors, supporting 266 million jobs and generating 9.5 per cent of global GDP (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2015). The tourism industry has been so prominent that it has managed to become one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world (UNWTO, 2013). In fact, international tourist arrivals grew by 5% in 2013 to 1.087 billion (UNWTO, 2013). Tourism is forecasted to grow continually for many years to come (UNWTO, 2013). Given the fact that tourism continues to expand year after year, it is important that environmental sustainability efforts expand proportionally to address a broader scope of issues. The sooner management identifies steps that must be taken for long-term sustainability, the more likely their business will continue to prosper in future years to come.
What Many Companies Have Already Done
Companies have and always will try to cut costs to improve their bottom line. Companies such as InterContinental, Canadian Pacific Hotels and Scandic were pioneers of both evaluating and reducing environmental impacts caused by their day-to-day operations by using less energy (Stipanuk, 2006). By raising awareness through employee training, switching to efficient light bulbs, tying hotel room lighting to room keys, and other initiatives, Scandic was able to bring their energy consumption down from 57.53kWh/gn in 1996 to 33.5kWh/gn in 2014 (Scandic, 2015). Shown in Figure-1 below, Scandic realized nearly 42% reduction in energy consumption, which not only improved their bottom line, but also their impact on the environment. This concept of reducing energy consumption is nothing new to the tourism industry. New technologies and innovation are a major reason for why companies such as Scandic have successfully been able to reduce waste. It helps businesses involved in the tourism industry, such as hotels, to stay competitive and it improves their bottom line, which translates into higher profits and savings for their customers. It makes perfect economic sense from a short-term perspective. This type of management is still beneficial and necessary for the long-term sustainability of the natural environment, but these initiatives are motivated by short-term economic interest.
Figure-1 Source: (Scandic, 2015)
International Leadership & Associations
So far, international leadership has grown over several decades with the help of associations that promote sustainability in tourism. Currently, there are several tourism associations have been actively providing training materials, technical assistance and awards programs for building a more sustainable industry (Stipanuk, 2006). For example, The International Hotel and Restaurant Association, which is recognized by the United Nations, creates global councils around industry issues to debate positions & create solutions (International Hotel & Restaurant Association, 2015). One of their hot topics is environment and sustainable tourism; the promotion and recognition of innovative development and operating practices aimed towards making the industry more sustainable (International Hotel & Restaurant Association, 2015). The World Travel and Tourism Council campaigns on three strategic priorities which it has recognized as hindering the successful development of travel and tourism now and in the future; freedom to travel, policies for growth, and tourism for tomorrow (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2015). The International Tourism Partnership, formerly known as the International Hotels Environment Initiative, brings together leading international hotel companies to provide a voice for environmental, social responsibility in the industry and sustainability issues (International Tourism Partnership, 2015). These associations have effectively raised international awareness to environmental sustainability within the tourism industry. The issue isn’t what management must do to achieve long-term sustainability; it’s how they’re going to successfully implement the framework and policies to make it happen.
The United Nations has an agency that is dedicated to promoting responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism, which is called the World Tourism Organization or the UNWTO (UNWTO, 2015). UNWTO promotes the tourism industry as a driver of economic growth, environmental sustainability, and inclusive development (UNWTO, 2015). UNWTO launched the Global Observatory of Sustainable Tourism (GOST) which was a concept designed to provide policy makers and tourism managers with a framework for scheduled gatherings, analysis and communication of issues related to tourism’s impacts on environmental, social and economic aspects (UNWTO, 2015). GOST’s main objective is to create improved and informed sustainable tourism policies around the globe (UNWTO, 2015).
Tourism operators looking to achieve successful long-term environmental sustainability should follow GOST’s methodical recommendations. GOST creates awareness and support in sustainability among tourism stakeholders while stimulating local community participation (UNWTO, 2015). It also analyzes and reports current policy trends and impacts on tourism (UNWTO, 2015). Tourism operators’ benefit by participating because they get to exchange and compare information related to tourism sustainability with a well-established network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories around the world (UNWTO, 2015).
Investor Conflict of Interest Vs. Growing Customer Awareness
Companies in the tourism industry recognize the need for a strong social responsibility to keep a positive public image. For this reason, management must make environmental sustainability a top priority. The problem is that there is not always an immediate financial return or reward for supporting these priorities. Many investors are looking for profitable return on investment, sooner rather than later. In other words, there is a conflict of interest between many investors and management’s long-term environmentally sustainable agenda. What investors must keep in mind is that consumers have become more aware of hot topics such as environmental sustainability. Eventually, tourism companies that haven’t yet made this a priority will have no choice but to recognize the need for more investment in long-term environmentally sustainable initiatives. Beyond factors involving the natural environment, exist broader issues such as economics, environment and equity. These issues will have to be a greater priority for management and stakeholders for companies to not only survive long-term, but to retain and attract customers.
The tourism industry must recognize the growing awareness of customers, which is leading to an increased demand for more environmentally conscious practices. For tourism companies, such as hotels, to stay competitive, they must adopt an ecological framework in which they benefit from economic activity and show competitiveness rather than just focusing on customer service and satisfaction (Mirela, 2014). Studies at Athens Laboratory of Research, on the topic of green marketing, indicate that more than 92% of consumers have a positive attitude towards businesses that participate in “green activities” (Eslaminosratabadi, 2014). Research indicates accelerating rates of consumers’ shift in awareness, intention and demand toward green products and services, has resulted in their intention to pay premium prices for green products and services (Eslaminosratabadi, 2014). With the explosive growth of the Internet, tourist are able to access more information and data at a faster rate than ever before. Consumers, in general, are becoming more aware and informed of issues all over the world due to globalization. More and more companies are being punished for engaging in unethical practices. The same applies to tourism companies that are not supporting environmentally sustainable practices.
The need for integrated sustainable tourism is present as economic and environmental forces clash to generate social conflicts and industry inefficiencies (Dodds, 2007). Economic sustainability is another challenging aspect of sustainability. Correcting environmental problems early on can prevent hospitality firms from “killing the golden goose,” which is a major concern for operators who rely on the natural environment (Stipanuk, 2006). In other words, if destination resorts and hotels are not consciously trying to limit the harm they are creating to the natural environment, they may eventually damage it beyond repair and be out of business. Once again, this is a conflict of interest between the environment and certain types of investors who want to operate as lean as possible to increase the bottom line. There are investors out there that tend to prefer short-term return on investment at any cost. For this reason, long-term sustainability issues that address environmental socio-cultural issues can be easily overlooked. Protecting the surrounding natural environment is a long-term investment than can protect “the golden goose” so that it may continue to provide economic prosperity for future years. A relationship of accountability must exist between environment and tourism operators, such as hoteliers. If accountability does not exist within management’s agenda, eventually it will lead to a “tragedy of the commons,” which is degraded resources that are owned collectively but destroyed individually through overuse (Dodds, 2007). In other words, this is what “killing the golden goose” means.
Another piece of the environmental sustainability pictures is equity. It is a challenging aspect of sustainability, in terms of distribution of the profits and income earned from hospitality operations on local communities and cultures, and the potential for operations to not only minimize damage but also make positive contributions to the environment (Stipanuk, 2006). It is about giving back to the local community, rather than just taking from it. This is an opportunity for management to grow their corporate social responsibility and gain a positive public image.
Barriers to Policy Implementation
Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry is a comprehensive program of action adopted by 182 governments at the United Nations Conference on Environmental Development (Agora 21, 2015). Agenda 21 identifies environmental and developmental issues that will potentially lead to economic and ecological catastrophe and presents a strategy for transition for increased sustainable development practices (Agora 21, 2015). Although it is widely accepted on an international level, policy implementation faces many barriers. Some of the most common barriers are a focus on short-term economic priorities, lack of planning (too little, too late) and lack of stakeholder involvement (Dodds, 2007). Other common barriers are a lack of integration with regional and national framework and policies, accountability of politicians, and coordination with other government parties (Dodds, 2007).
In order for environmentally sustainable management to take place, stakeholder’s agendas have to be aligned with ideal policy goals so that a favorable outcome can be reached. For this reason, the local government is an important factor for achieving long-term sustainability. It cannot be achieved in one term. It must be achieved over many terms.
Ecotourism Vs. “Greenwashing”
Ecotourism is tourism that aims to reduce the negative impacts of tourism in both the present and future by conserving the environment, improving the welfare of local people, and providing beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations (Self, R., Self, D., & Bell-Haynes, J., 2010). Ecotourism is the fastest growing sector within the tourism industry (Self, R., Self, D., & Bell-Haynes, J., 2010). In short, ecotourism addresses a broader range of issues of environmental sustainability beyond the natural environment. Tourism operators can reap financial benefits by adopting ecotourism practices, which are aligned with environmental sustainability, due to its popularity.
Ecotourism has become mainstream in consumer and corporate culture. Because of its popularity, it has allowed the industry to become susceptible to greenwashing. Greenwashing is using ecotourism as a marketing tool to simply boost revenue by taking advantage of the increased consumer demand (Self, R., Self, D., & Bell-Haynes, J., 2010). The issue is a lack of standardization and labeling in using the term “ecotourism” or “eco” in advertisements of companies who in reality are only offering an outdoor experience but does not stand for the environmentally sustainable objectives which ecotourism stands for (Self, R., Self, D., & Bell-Haynes, J., 2010).
Real ecotourism operations engage in sustainable practices, hire employees locally, and have clear environmental policies in place (Self, R., Self, D., & Bell-Haynes, J., 2010). Besides this, they have initiatives to protect local wildlife and flora, provide educational programs to inform visitors about the local area and provide financial support for local conservation (Self, R., Self, D., & Bell-Haynes, J., 2010). Legitimate ecotourism companies will have some type of “ecotourism” certification and will also be listed on the TIES website (Self, R., Self, D., & Bell-Haynes, J., 2010). It’s only a matter of time before customers will become more aware of the differences between real ecotourism and a “greenwashing” operation. With the power of social media and the rise of the Internet, campaigns against unethical issues frequently go viral and educate the masses. Tourism companies that engage in greenwashing will have to adjust their management objectives to promote environmental sustainability rather than using deception in their marketing or they will be faced with backlash from their customers.
Seeing as the tourism industry is one of the largest industries in the world, it’s long term environmental sustainability must be a top priority for management in order for the industry to continue to strive. Investors need to align their agendas with that of management, so that the conflict of interest is eliminated. Management must change their paradigm and look into long-term environmental impacts rather than just short-term one’s that are primarily focused on the natural environment. Tourism companies involved in greenwashing will face backlash from customers due to the ease of access to information, which has led to a global growth in awareness. Operator’s management strategy must recognize the importance of long-term environmental sustainability, not only to retain and attract customers, but so there is a profitable industry for years to come.