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Accountability and Responsibility: How the Travel & Tourism Sector is Combating Climate Change

The Travel & Tourism sector is one of the world’s fastest growing, with annual growth outpacing that of the world’s economy. By the end of this year, Travel & Tourism will account for an estimated 10 per cent of the world’s economy; that’s $7.6 billion in GDP and 277 million jobs. As climate change continues impacting the globe, it’s an inescapable fact climate change will affect Travel & Tourism, and vice verse. As a major force in the world’s economy, Travel & Tourism has a responsibility to address climate change throughout the industry. In our report on Connecting Global Climate Action, we examined the progress Travel & Tourism has already made to address climate change, and we looked toward the future in terms of more areas for growth in addressing this pressing issue.

The travel industry has made the most progress in the area of accountability and responsibility — member groups acknowledged that climate change is a critical problem and have already begun steps to combat it. Many groups have focused on sustainable growth and capacity building, both within their own communities and further afield. Most players in the Travel & Tourism industry have also taken on the role of educating customers and stakeholders about sustainability — now the norm within our sector. What exactly are members of the travel industry doing to combat climate change? The examples are widespread and as unique as the companies implementing them.

Marriott, a major player in the hotel industry, is taking on climate change through Spirit to Preserve, an initiative meant to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program’s widely encompassing strategies attack the factors behind climate change. These programs green the multi-billion dollar supply chain while reducing water and energy consumption. Marriott has gone even further in offsetting its carbon footprint by committing $2 million to preserve the Juma reserve in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. The money is funnelled to the rainforest’s residents, who in turn protect the rainforest from illegal farming and logging. The money is also used toward building a school, a community centre, and more. This is a living example of two of the WTTC’s top five priorities from this year, which include supporting the global transition to a low-carbon economy and strengthening local resilience to climate change.

Context Travel is another example of a travel company doing great things in the fight against climate change, though in a very different manner than Marriott. Context offers small tour groups (a maximum of six people) led by Ph.D.- and MA-level scholar guides. Sustainable tourism is the beating heart of Context. Clients visit locally-run establishments, eat authentic cuisine, and every tour is offered in the most carbon-neutral way possible. Most Context tours are on foot, and tours covering larger distances use lower-carbon options like bicycles, subways, trains, and public boats. This integrative approach to promoting a responsible tourism experience is an innovative solution and showcases another of the WTTC 2015 priorities.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts offers a different yet equally innovative approach to addressing climate action. Xanterra is “the largest national and state park concessioner in the United States.” The company operates resorts in nine national parks and seven state parks across the U.S. Xanterra is committed to what it calls a “softer footprint,” which includes “aggressive” sustainability goals and the efficient use of resources. This commitment fuels just about all of the decision-making in Xanterra’s operations, from the sourcing of food for their restaurants to the choice of paint in guest rooms. In Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio, for example, Xanterra powers the park with a 10 kilowatt wind turbine. On that same property, electric vehicles transport guests and laundry. Xanterra is committed to making similar changes across all its properties and truly lives the principles of a Travel & Tourism company with integrative, climate-action oriented business strategies.

These climate initiatives are from the companies providing travel and tourism, but individual worldwide destinations are also working toward the key sustainable solutions that we have identified are needed within our sector. The Ethical Traveler organisation releases an annual list of the top ten Ethical Destinations, each of which is working to maintain “strong environmental, human rights, and eco-tourism values.” Chile emerges from the list as a real winner; the country scored highest on Ethical Traveler’s environmental protection measurement, in part for the country’s continued protection of the Patagonian wilderness. Chile also approved the first carbon tax in South America, which will take effect in 2018, and the government announced an overall goal to generate 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

These organisations and destinations bear out our findings that the Travel & Tourism industry is taking innovative actions to address climate change. Throughout the coming 20 years, Travel & Tourism will need to focus on a few key areas to continue leading the world climate change initiatives. Companies will need to continue developing business strategies that prioritise factors like carbon emissions, sustainability, and eco-friendliness. We anticipate that our members and the industry as a whole will increase their impact throughout their tourism operations, but also throughout their supply-chain. It is through this focus that Travel & Tourism will continue giving millions of travellers each year the education and resources they need to be responsible travellers.

You can read the full report on connecting global climate change action here.

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