The weather is getting warmer. Summer is quickly approaching and you may be in the midst of planning a summer vacation—or maybe it’s already planned and you are now preparing your packing list.
Tourism is rapidly increasing. According to the United Nations, there were nearly 1.2 billion international travelers in 2015, up from 674 million in 2000. This figure is expected to reach 1.8 billion people by 2030.
The cold, hard truth is, if you’re flying, you’re adding a significant amount of planet-warming gases to the atmosphere. According to the World Bank, “the average American generated about 16.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2013; according to some calculations, a round-trip flight from New York to San Francisco emits about 0.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide per person.”
The problem is, as Air Asia puts it, “Now everyone can fly”. And those who already had the ability to fly are flying more than ever before. This increasing demand from both new and existing travelers means the number of passenger aircraft in the sky is set to double by 2035.
Unfortunately, (for now) electric planes remain decades away, weighed down by batteries that can’t deliver nearly as much power per kilo as jet fuel. However, as the number of socially conscious travelers increases, more and more tourism companies are expanding sustainability efforts, and eco-friendly travel alternatives are more widely available than ever before.
The United Nations designated 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development—an opportunity to raise global awareness about how responsible tourism can act as a vehicle for positive change. Although the year 2017 has passed, the need for more sustainable avenues of travel is still great.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future.” Sustainable tourism has three guiding principles for hotels, tour operators, airlines, and cruises: (1) environmentally friendly practices like minimizing the use of plastic, (2) protecting natural and cultural heritage (rainforests, historic sites, etc.), and (3) supporting local communities by employing local staff, buying local products and engaging in charity work.
Although the travel industry and travelers have made significant progress in recent years, sustainable tourism is still a niche movement. In a survey conducted last year by booking.com, the world’s largest travel hotel booking site with a database of around a million properties, the company found that of about 5,700 hotels, only 25 percent reported that they had sustainable travel initiatives in place.
It is up to travelers to further the adoption of sustainable tourism, and not only take advantage of, but demand new ways to minimize their impact on local communities and the environment.