Examples of Sustainable Tourism Practices
Since the Industrial Revolution, human activities have had an impact on the Earth’s ecosystem. Nowadays, it is possible to identify how humans consume more resources than what the planet can regenerate resulting in climate change, over-exploitation of natural oil reserves and water scarcity. Travel and tourism account to 9.8 per cent of the global GDP (UNWTO, 2017) however this great economic contribution is exceeding its benefits, resulting in CO2 emissions of 1302m tonnes for global trips (Peeters and Dubois, 2010). On one side, the tourism industry has made an effort to deal with the impacts on the environment by reducing its carbon emissions and water depletion.
However, the main challenge consists in the fact that the industry is multifaceted meaning that it consists of smaller components and operations such as accommodation, transportation, housekeeping and restaurants which all collaborate. This results in an intense utilisation of energy, water and food resources which consequently produces pollution, waste and pressure on resources. Figures of Hotelier (2015), show how, for example, luxury properties across the Middle East and Dubai report a water usage of 300 to 1,400L per overnight stays resulting in the highest rates of water and electricity consumption in the world (DEWA,n.d.).
With the rise of tourism growth made possible by cheaper and quicker means of transportation and an increase desire to travel to novel destinations thanks to the media exposure; policies and environmental awareness incremented. Starting with the environmental movements in the 19th century, the concept of sustainability emerged with the Brundtland Conference (1987) which aimed at identifying the dimensions, challenges and means of implementing sustainable practices. As a result, the need to coin the term sustainability was needed. According to the Word Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), sustainability is “the forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (WBCSD, 2016). This definition addresses the broad commitment that involves multiple stakeholders in providing programmes and strategies in the three pillars of sustainability that are: economical, environmental and social. One first challenge can be, therefore, identified in the harmonious management of these three dimensions.
However, according to McCool et al. (2013) such harmonious notion of the management of these pillars is utopian. McCool (2013) advocates for the understanding of tourism not simply as type of business, rather as a strategy to build or maintain system resilience. The main challenge in such practice is the actual implementation of sustainable policies. Muangasame and McKercher’s (2015) study examined the implementation of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s award winning “7 Greens” sustainable tourism policy piloted on the mature destination island of Koh Samui and identified its challenges.
The theory showed strong principle support however little willingness to take a leadership role was demonstrated in the practice. This issue explains why Yasarate, Altinay, Burns and Okumus (2010) argue that the politics of tourism is a struggle for power and benefits. If government departments and stakeholder groups see no direct benefits they have little incentive to participate. In fact, low awareness was a consequence of lack of direct involvement in the Thailand program which then translated into a perceived lack of relevance and therefore limited necessity to buy in. The term sustainable was also a challenge. Some local community respondents had no idea of the term and how it could be measured in its complexity. Lastly, the “7 Greens” policy showed no specific objectives, targets or indicators to assess how well or indeed if progress was being made to achieve a more sustainable tourism sector. This shows how the biggest threat to sustainable policies is its implementation and the lack of awareness, measures and perceived benefits of stakeholders.
A similar challenge in stakeholder awareness and government participation was shown in the Maldives. The Quality Tourism Strategy, introduced in order to restrict tourism to uninhabited islands as a sustainable practice, has been shown to be less successful in recent years. While the strategy combined with decades of political stability helped the industry expand at a rapid rate, the recent political turmoil occurring exposed both corruption and inequalities in development. The main requirement in political unstable destinations is the political will together with a government led framework. Political will is in fact, the essential fourth pillar in sustainable development that helps achieve and implement regulations. The main challenge in such destinations is encouraging a broad-based, sustainable and equitable change and a development that interests the local community and not only an established elite (Scheyvens, 2011).
Another recent policy in sustainable tourism practices has been ecolabelling, used as a marketing tool for hospitality. The major challenge of such practice is in the effort shown by guests in identifying which labels are valuable and credible. Additionally, ecolabels are often seen as too expensive for individual hotels especially when the cost-benefit ratio is not properly understood (Legrand, Sloan and Chen, 2017). However this practice has been used by many companies as an opportunity, one successful example is provided by Scandic Hotels. Scandic Hotels are pioneers in ecolabelling and the idea of guests using their towels more than once originated in fact here, a practice now applied worldwide (EU Ecolabel, 2009). To demonstrate their sustainability effect they also introduced an online calculator that allows customers to visualise their environmental gains. As an effect, ecolabelling has been shown to provide many advantages and opportunities. Firstly it provides enhanced visibility and marketing opportunities, allows benchmarking and recognition, cost saving and lastly as shown by Scandic Hotels the economic, environmental and social performance increases following the implementation of such ecolabels guidelines (Green Globe, 2016).
Such benefits also include an improved company image in the market place (D’Souza, 2004; Harris, 2007), an opportunity to claim competitive advantage (Lynes & Andrachuk, 2008), and for policy makers the chance for greater destination marketing opportunities ( Font & Epler and Wood, 2007). With regard to marketing benefit, a 2006 UK study of GTBS certified hospitality and tourism businesses revealed more than 60 per cent thought this was an important consideration for joining (Tourism South East and South West Tourism, 2007). This findings also support an earlier 2004 Green Globe 21 survey indicating that 18 per cent of members had received increased media exposure since joining the scheme and 22 per cent perceiving they had more green market appeal, with 8 per cent believing they attracted more customers (Font & Epler and Wood, 2007).
A practice that is used to face the aforementioned challenges of low stakeholder participation is corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is intrinsically linked to the concept of sustainable development. This interaction is one of the key methods companies employ to adapt to the challenges of sustainability. The main opportunity is that CSR is the mean for integrating social and environmental objectives into its managerial decisions, meaning that the expectations of all the stakeholders are taken into consideration in strategic decision making. A successful case is presented by the Chumbe Island Coral Park Hotel which collaborates on sustainability initiatives established by the hotel and marine research centre (Legrand, Sloan and Chen, 2017).
The hotel strives to work with the local people on issues of education, sustainable fishing, preservation of coral-rag forests and the coral reefs in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The Chumbe Lodge Hotel is completely sustainable with solar water heating, solar energy and waste management protocols that carefully benefit the local environment and produce no carbon footprint. At the beginning of the project, Chumbe had serious problems obtaining environmentally friendly technologies and local partners who understood the principles of sustainability. Obtaining technological and financial resources can be identified as another main challenge of sustainable practices. However, CSR programmes benefits include commitment and agreement on objectives, the availability of such resources, clear policies, no conflicts with other policies and a coordination of efforts and communication by a committee (Riedmiller, 2012).
In terms of transportation, the increase in air traffic made sustainable tourism practices such as sustainable fuels and development necessary. Alternative jet fuel (AJF) is expected to play an important role in reducing CO2 emissions from aviation and meeting the carbon reduction goals of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Although the substantially lower carbon intensity of some AJF makes it environmentally attractive, this is a difficult challenge because the industry is still under development. The government of Canada is working on a Clean Fuel Standard that may include AJF.
In 2013, United Airlines and AltAir Fuels signed an AJF offtake agreement with a duration of three years. United agreed to purchase as many as 5 million gallons of AJF a year from AltAir with deliveries starting in March 2016 under a variable pricing structure. According to Honeywell (2016), fuel such as AltAir’s that is produced using the UOP Renewable Jet Fuel Process™ brings the opportunity of a carbon intensity 85 percent lower than petroleum jet fuel. However, a challenge consists in the fact that if biofuel feedstock prices go up, United may have to bear extra cost. In fact, producing alternative fuels, especially during initial deployment, is expensive because of upfront capital investments in manufacturing capacity on top of production costs such as feedstock acquisition, chemical inputs, and staff time. In order to sustain such practice, Altair received a few government grants to help defray some of the cost, including $5 million from the California Energy Commission (2014). Moreover, to reduce production costs, AltAir took advantage of policies offering financial support for alternative fuel production, such as the California LCFS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). It can be shown therefore that with the opportunity and support of governmental practices and will, sustainable fuels can bring opportunities and face the main challenge of cost (ICCT, 2016).