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How the Travel Industry is Fighting Climate Change

As the effects of climate change materialize in the form of more frequent and destructive extreme weather events, various industries are looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint with renewed intensity. As tourism contributes heavily to carbon emissions thanks to the emissions released by cars and airplanes, the tourism industry is looking for ways to make vacations more environmentally-friendly. The industry is deploying a variety of methods for doing so, from investing in more carbon-neutral infrastructure to educating tourists about the environmental impacts of travel and teaching them how to reduce carbon emissions. And as popular vacation destinations are being transformed by a changing climate, tourists are witnessing first-hand the disastrous impact of climate change, reinforcing the urgency of developing more environmentally-friendly practices like reducing carbon emissions, cutting back on waste, and exploring sustainable alternatives in all parts of life.

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According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the tourism industry is responsible for about 5 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, although others say the real figure is much higher than that. While this percentage may seem small, it accounts for a tremendous amount of carbon being released into the environment, and when it comes to tackling climate change reducing carbon emissions in whatever way possible is essential. Like major corporations in other industries, hotel chains are exploring ways to transform their businesses into ones that have a low or neutral carbon impact. Hilton, for instance, gets more than 50 percent of its electricity from a power plant that burns natural gas, which is a cleaner method than most popular forms of energy production, although it is not entirely carbon neutral. Hilton is also transitioning to using more energy-efficient lighting and appliances, including air conditioning systems that automatically turn off when they’re not being used.

Cruise lines, too, are trying to transition to a more environmentally-friendly business model. Royal Caribbean, for instance, is incorporating technology into their cruise ships that filters almost all of the sulfur dioxide emissions from their exhaust. The popular cruise line, having pledged to respect the oceans in the environment, has also invested in energy-saving lighting systems and has engineered the designs of their ships for optimum efficiency. Another cruise line, Hurtigruten, plans to transition to using liquified biogas, which is derived from organic waste instead of from fossil fuels.

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Educational efforts are part of how the industry is attempting to tackle climate change as well. Many hotels and tour groups encourage tourists to reduce waste by taking shorter baths and showers as well as reducing their laundry by re-using towels, among other strategies for minimizing waste. Tourist destinations, such as Lake Tahoe in Nevada, are trying to reduce their carbon emissions by improving their public transportation systems, reducing the extent to which people rely on cars to get around. Even luxury tourism brands are attempting to become more environmentally-friendly; The Brando, for instance, is a luxury resort that runs entirely on renewable energy, acting as a model for how other resorts can help to provide a luxurious vacation experience while completely eliminating their reliance on fossil fuels and harmful carbon emissions. 

 

As the global economy is currently strong, many expect that the tourism industry will continue to grow in the future, even as the nature of tourism itself changes due to climate change, both in terms of how a changing climate affects the weather conditions of tourist destinations and in terms of how the tourism industry is changing to reduce its contributions to the crisis.