What were the key headlines for tourism’s sustainability in 2019? Here’s 55 of them…

What were the key headlines for tourism’s sustainability in 2019? Here’s 55 of them…

I reckon the sustainability of tourism has been in the headlines more in 2019 than ever before. So for my final blog of the year, I have gathered 55 of those headlines together, to create a picture of the challenges our industry faces, and where possible what it is doing about them. All I have done is shuffled them around, strung them together, and added a few connecting phrases to tie it all together.

These are the stories of how the world sees us, for better or for worse.

In the year that CO2 levels reached a record high, international tourist arrivals reached 1.4 Billion, two years ahead of forecasts. The environmental impact of travel is a threat to Aotearoa’s tourism industry, a report finds. Another report found that the environmental impact of Caribbean tourism undermines Its economic benefit. A former cruise company VP urged Caribbean destinations to unite against ‘Predatory’ cruise lines.

Around the world, destinations and companies responded to the challenges in different ways. Some resisted, with hotel housekeepers around the world rising up for their rights and

residents of Mallorca asking cruise ships to go away. Costa Rica asked tourists not to pose for animal selfies. JK Rowling warned young travellers to avoid ‘voluntourism’ that fuels human trafficking. And a proposed Florida bill could require prescription for sunscreens in an effort to save coral reefs.

China limited numbers of Mount Everest climbers to reduce rubbish. CITES banned the sale of wild baby African elephants to zoos. TripAdvisor axed tickets to whale and dolphin parks. Canada banned all captive cetaceans.

Pledges grew in popularity, from Finland’s ‘Be more like a Finn’, to The Travel Corporation and TreadRight’s ‘Make Travel Matter’ Pledge and TAT, Expedia and UNESCO’s pledge for a Sustainable Tourism policy in Thailand. Eventually Skift observed that destinations leverage tourism pledges as marketing tactic in the age of overtourism.

Partnerships were announced. Sustainable Travel International formed one with Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Areas. Ctrip and UNDP co-launched the ‘Travel for Good Alliance’. Leading ecotourism operators launched the Lionscape Coalition. Prince Harry launched Travalyst.

In the accommodation sector, an eco-resort in Finland charged guests based on their carbon emissions. The world’s largest solar plant at sea was installed at Maldives resort. And Marriott, world’s largest hotel chain, said it will stop using plastic mini toiletry bottles by 2020.

Of all the topics, none got more headlines than aviation, as the year saw nearly 4.6 billion take to the skies, 130% higher than the number of passengers in 2004.  In the UK, a freedom of information request to the government found that nearly one in five flights abroad are taken by just one per cent of the population. Globally, airlines’ CO2 emissions are rising up to 70% faster than predicted by ICAO. Against this ongoing growth, critics complained that the flight shame movement and offsetting were no match for rising passenger numbers and that carbon offsetting programme applicants fall short of meeting criteria for CORSIA scheme.

Individual airlines were often in the news. Emirates boss said he took too long to accept the climate crisis. Ryanair was ranked ‘one of the top 10 carbon emitters in Europe‘, with a complaint submitted to the Advertising Standards Authority about a misleading Ryanair emissions advert. EasyJet was slammed for launching Birmingham to Edinburgh flights, and its carbon offsets were dismissed as not a solution to airlines’ climate problem. KLM and SkyNRG opened a factory to produce low carbon jet fuel, mainly from waste.

Elsewhere, a leaked EU report showed the benefits of ending airlines’ tax break on jet fuel. France considered banning domestic flights. And the Stay Grounded Network released a report “Degrowth of Aviation – Reducing Air Travel in a Just Way”.

Against this backdrop, it was reported that Climate change is forcing major airports to future-proof against rising sea levels and floods.

In fact, everywhere you looked, the impact of climate change on the world that tourism relies upon was shown to be increasingly severe. One report found global warming could cause coral reef tourism revenue losses of more than 90% in Australia by 2100. Another study said the ocean is running out of oxygen. Yet another found 70% of Alpine ski resorts could be lost due to climate change. 250 people attended the funeral of a Swiss Alps glacier.

Bali’s worsening drought was blamed on tourists using more than half its water. The island is installing 100 trash Barriers in Bali rivers to reduce plastic pollution. And Hermit crabs are making homes in plastic litter and it’s killing them, too.

‘Functionally Extinct’ Koalas have now lost 80% of their habitat. Ranthambore Tiger Reserve is unable to handle the tourist load. Oh, and the Climate Crisis is making birds smaller.

Still, it was not all doom and gloom. Consider that one report found Wildlife tourism is five times more lucrative than the illegal wildlife trade; and that another study found the conserving wildlife is key to tropical forests’ carbon storage. In fact, wilderness cuts the risk of extinction for species in half. We know what we have to do.

The challenge facing the industry is perhaps best captured in two headlines, published a couple of weeks ago and just one day apart. On December 6th, I read of Antarctica tourism: the quest for Earth’s vulnerable extremes. A day later, on December 7th, another publication reported that ‘If Antarctica ice melts global sea level will rise by 50 metres.’ Last chance tourism? Or last chance for tourism?

Which path will our industry take in 2020?

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Jeremy Smith is a writer, speaker and sustainable tourism consultant. He is co-founder of Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, an initiative that supports tourism organisations in declaring a climate emergency and working together to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the Science Based Targets. He is the author of Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018), and co-founder of Travindy.com, the travel industry sustainable tourism website news site. He consults widely on sustainable tourism strategy and communication, with recent clients including Bruges Ommeland, GSTC, English National Parks, Tripadvisor, the Travel Foundation, and the European Travel Commission. He is a member of Travalyst’s Independent Advisory Board and was a member of Rotterdam’s International Advisory Board in 2019, helping develop a new vision for the city’s tourism.


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