Tourism and environmental sustainability have steadily become intertwined. As global awareness of climate change grows, travellers are demanding environmentally sustainable destinations. Heeding their call, leading tour operators are giving marketing preference to such locales. Across the globe, tourism destinations are realising that becoming environmentally sustainable is key to staying competitive.
Although many destinations are currently taking steps to become environmentally sustainable, their efforts often fall short. Too often, they underestimate the magnitude of the efforts necessary, the need to coordinate stakeholders from a wide variety of groups, and the long-term commitment that a true green transformation requires.
Based on work with a sun and beach destination that is going through its own transformation, Booz & Company has developed a framework that other destinations can follow in their attempt to become environmentally sustainable. “A green transformation should begin with a three-step process that includes an assessment of the destination’s environmental status, the development of a green strategy, and the collaborative execution of projects related to the green strategy,” commented Nabih Maroun, a partner at Booz & Company.
The Emergence and Growth of Green Tourism
As awareness about the threat of climate change grows, there is an increasing demand for “green” destinations—those that make an active effort to improve their environmental sustainability by addressing such issues as carbon emissions, biodiversity conservation, waste management and water supply.
In response, leading tour operators have been demanding higher standards from hotels and giving marketing and booking preference to environmentally sustainable destinations.
“Tourism destinations are realising that in order to stay competitive, becoming green must be a principal element of their branding and marketing policies,” commented George Atalla, a partner at Booz & Company.
In addition, as stringent carbon regulations are being implemented across the globe, and investment in green tourism begins to present economic benefits for hosting countries, destinations have another goal to keep in mind: the financial rewards of adopting sustainable policies.
The Power of a Holistic Green Approach
There is currently both urgent need and tremendous incentive to focus on environmental sustainability and pursue a meaningful, substantive green strategy.
Booz & Company’s recent experience with green tourism initiatives has revealed that the path to success as a green tourist destination lies in a holistic approach to an environmental strategy.
“We’ve identified the components required for any destination to call itself green, as well as the ‘enabling’ structures that will ensure the success of green policy. Taken together, they allow a destination to create comprehensive transformation and long-term success,” commented Maroun.
1. Carbon emissions: The tourism industry is currently responsible for around five per cent of global carbon emissions, largely a result of air travel and accommodations. A recent global study from the World Economic Forum and Booz & Company estimates that these emissions will double by 2035 if left unchecked.
Carbon mitigation efforts, therefore, are key to green policy. These efforts should include eliminating and reducing emissions, substituting environmentally harmful practices with more sustainable ones and offsetting remaining emissions.
2. Biodiversity conservation: A location’s unique natural assets are key to its value as a tourist destination. Preservation of these assets is therefore a critical component of sustainable tourism. Over the past two decades, tourism in biodiversity hot spots has increased more than 100 per cent, making conservation all the more urgent.
“Without proper conservation efforts, tourism can contribute to the damage and destruction of flora and fauna. Without biodiversity conservation, destinations leave their most precious assets unprotected, and shielding these assets is a high-yielding investment in the future,” commented Atalla.
3. Waste management: Effective liquid and solid waste management is key to the “clean perception” of a destination. As a major pollutant, waste affects the entire ecosystem, including land degradation, water quality, and health and hygiene. Cutting-edge waste management methods such as waste-to-energy conversion can enhance a destination’s reputation in the green playing field.
4. Water supply: Water is an increasingly scarce resource, with many countries facing severe shortages. An adequate and healthy water supply is crucial to a destination’s long-term environmental sustainability. Because water provision and desalination are typically significant sources of energy usage and emissions, conservative water policy is doubly important.
Enabling Support Structures
“None of these components can be properly addressed and managed without key support structures in place that enable and facilitate greening efforts. And just like the green components themselves, these enablers must be viewed through a holistic lens,” commented Maroun.
1. Regulations and governance: A destination cannot successfully embark on a green strategy without the right laws and regulations in place, or the right governance structure to oversee them. Legislation should protect the environment, limit potentially harmful development, control detrimental practices, and encourage healthy behaviour.
A successful sustainability programme should be sponsored by the highest levels of government, with appropriate governing bodies at the national, regional, or local level that are responsible for spearheading the programme and facilitating its implementation.
2. Stakeholder participation: A truly holistic green transformation programme requires the participation of many different players. It is absolutely vital that government, the private sector and civil society collaborate to create and implement sustainable policy.
3. Funding and financing: Destinations contemplating a green initiative may be concerned about the prospect of financing it. However, destinations should consider not only the costs associated with undertaking a green transformation, but the socioeconomic effects of lost tourism revenue; if destinations do not protect assets such as marine life, rainforests, and desert landscapes, they may irrevocably degrade these tourist attractions. Additionally, destinations can often generate revenue by leveraging their own resources and many initiatives that require private funds pay off quickly through savings in operating costs.
4. Capacity-building and education: A destination seeking private-sector investment should ensure that critical information about the benefits and opportunities of green initiatives is widely available.
5. Marketing and public relations: When embarking on a green initiative, a strong marketing and public relations campaign is essential. By raising awareness about upcoming changes, a campaign can attract ecologically oriented tourists. In addition, it encourages stakeholders to participate in the programme and addresses potential investors.
Three Steps to Creating a Green Strategy
No matter what the destination’s circumstances, there are three critical steps to follow in developing an environmentally sustainable destination.
Step One: Assess Environmental Health
“Policymakers must first conduct a professional and credible baseline analysis, assessing a destination’s environmental health. The baseline analysis helps a destination understand the real issues that need to be addressed immediately, as well as those that may become obstacles on the road to green transformation,” commented Atalla.
Step Two: Mapping Out the Green Journey
The second step in creating a sustainable strategy is to create a vision that encompasses the destination’s goals for environmental sustainability.
A destination can create its vision by developing a set of strategic green policy scenarios. These scenarios should reflect the trade-offs between environmental benefits, the speed at which results can be obtained, and associated costs. The final decision of which green vision to embrace should draw upon the destination’s unique strengths and resources, and be tailored to its specific needs and challenges as identified in Step One.
After developing a green vision, destinations must determine the impact of that vision. When evaluating the ecological, commercial and financial implications of the various green scenarios, a destination must not forget to assess the social impact of the change as well. “Destination must ensure that their assessment is comprehensive enough to reflect the full impact of the strategy, and diversified enough to address all relevant stakeholders and at a minimum, cover aspects including the environmental and commercial impact, implications on customers/demand, as well as social impact on the community,” commented Maroun.
Step Three: Realising the Green Vision
First and foremost, implementing a holistic green transformation strategy requires a holistic approach. It is crucial for destinations to get community buy-in, with energetic involvement of the government, private sector and civil society. “By setting up a dedicated governing body that oversees the implementation of its identified environmental sustainability projects, a destination can smooth and expedite the implementation process,” commented Atalla.
The governing body can also be crucial in gathering critical and concrete buy-in from relevant stakeholders and leading public relations, marketing and educational campaigns.
A Call for Transformation
“As fears of climate change’s effects continue to mount, the tourism industry is realising that becoming environmentally sustainable is key to staying competitive, and good for the double bottom line,” commented Maroun. Yet implementation of a strategic green transformation is by no means an easy task and decision makers should keep the following principles in mind when launching and implementing a green destination strategy:
Firstly, destinations should analyse their current environmental performance across key green dimensions, as compared to global best practices. Tourism governance bodies should take the initiative to launch pilot projects and investigate issues that need urgent attention, in order to avoid a drop in tourism.
Secondly, destinations should not approach green initiatives as a marketing campaign but rather as a serious effort to become an environmentally sustainable destination. When a tourism destination does decide to become a green destination, it should ensure that its road map is holistic and designed for the long-term.
Thirdly, destinations seeking to become green must make sure they engage all relevant stakeholders. Tourism ministries should reach out within and across sectors to transform their destination. Compliance with international guidelines and rules is critical to capturing funding and support.
“By following these principles, as well as the strategies discussed above, destinations can ensure that their green strategies are indeed sustainable. Going green allows destinations to tap into a well of potential that will nourish today’s needs while protecting and enhancing those of tomorrow,” concluded Atalla.