For a somewhat obsessive follower of tourism industry news like me, the spike in press releases that mark the annual Earth Day celebrations provide a quick reference point to the industry’s mindset. This year the theme of Earth Day – which took place last Sunday on April 22 – was ‘End Plastic Pollution’. To mark the event, the Earth Day Network announced the launch of a global campaign toward the ultimate goal of replacing fossil fuel based plastics with nonpolluting materials.
Many across tourism followed suit…
The Association of British Travel Agents said that plastics would be the focus of its 2018 Make Holidays Greener campaign. The Anguilla Hotel and Tourism Association (AHTA) announced the same focus in a new partnership with the Anguilla National Trust. Meanwhile the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association called on the industry to work together to achieve these goals, announcing that it will provide online resources for research, best practices and practical information to help guide hoteliers, their employees and guests. Elsewhere the South East Asian tourism news website TTR Weekly called for stories, stating: “If you have a no-plastic story to tell, alert us. TTR Weekly will give priority to your story as we focus on the urgent need for tourism and hospitality to be a leader in the war against plastic pollution.”
For hotels and other businesses, the best of such stories show how a combination of inspirational leadership and the full engagement of staff can deliver dramatic changes throughout a business and its supply chain. St. Lucia’s Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain resorts used Earth Day to announce the elimination of 90 percent of single-use plastics from their operation. They have achieved this by committing to “an immediate stop to the purchasing of all plastic cups, plastic straws, plastic/styrofoam take-away containers and plastic cutleries.” Plastic straws have been replaced with cornstarch alternatives. Plastic cups have been removed from staff water stations – Staff now bring their own reusable cups or bottles – and this change alone saves 500 single-use plastic containers daily. In the grounds of the 600-acre estate, single-use plastic bags used for clearing waste vegetation have been replaced with heavy duty reusable bags that are ultimately compostable at the end of their life cycle.
Some companies used Earth Day to take the message wider and to engage their guests and communities in the issue as well. Tour Company Intrepid announced a special cycling tour through Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam. The Peloton Against Plastic will combine the expected “beautiful scenery and must-see tourist destinations” with visits to grass-roots organisations in the region that are helping reduce the negative impacts of plastic pollution. Meanwhile the Sandals Foundation said that it was committing to educating adults and children on the issue of plastic – as part of this work it began the distribution of 5000 reusable water bottles in schools across the Caribbean.
Of course, not everyone will be so quick to rise to the challenge. At a destination level, these individual initiatives need to be supported with regulation to drive the slower parts of industry and society towards change. According to an Earth day article in the Kashmir Reader, the Jammu and Kashmir government has declared tourist destinations and resorts in the Valley and Ladakh region as polythene-free zones, and banned the use of non-biodegradable plastic at its properties. The article says operators will lose their licenses if they use polythene and disposable plastic at tourist destinations. That should do it.
Where will this story be by Earth Day 2019? Will it be about even more beaches closed because of pollution? Or will companies, organisations and destinations increasingly see addressing this issue as providing an opportunity to act and be seen as leaders in preserving the beautiful places on which we rely for our industry’s existence?