“They just take photos and leave without a trace”, tourists that leave no carbon footprint
The list of reasons that motivate tourists to choose one hotel (or destination) or another is very clear. Its seafront setting, appetising culinary options, a privileged location in the city, good reviews on booking.com or TripAdvisor, price-quality ratio… These main factors do not include the way in which an establishment controls its carbon footprint, its energy saving programme, its social integration policy or its charity work. They do not feature on the list, but they should do.
Times change and when referring to tourism, we cannot help but refer to sustainability as part of tourism innovation; however, as always, the tourist or traveller takes centre stage when considering an appropriate strategy. What role should the hotel industry play in raising environmental awareness? How does its ecological footprint fit into this panorama? New travellers should enjoy their destination, hotel, beaches, traditional cuisine, natural environments, etc. to the maximum. However, when they depart, the only trace they should leave behind are their footprints in the sand. These are travellers that leave no ecological footprint, or zero footprint.
In order to reflect on and really recognise the significance of a tourist’s impact on each destination and the environment, it is essential to accurately define said impact, or, ecological footprint. To this end, and delving a little deeper into the specifics, the term carbon footprint is used; this concept is used to assess the volume of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. As part of society’s shared responsibility to care for the environment, this indicator represents a management tool to ensure compliance with relevant legislation and reduce the adverse effects caused by climate change.
Many tourist destinations will start to feel the effects of the continuous transformation of our climate in the near future (and in some instances, these effects are already been noted). The increase in temperatures and scarcity of water will be the key factor for beach destinations, whereas the lack of snow will be vital for ski resorts. Therefore, the more we do to contain this impact, the better for tourist destinations that have to fight against this phenomenon.
In 2013, the renowned international responsible tourism awards “Tourism for Tomorrow” placed particular emphasis on climate change studies. This edition drew five main conclusions that tourist accommodation establishments should seek to implement: gradually reducing the carbon footprint; the use of renewable energies; saving water and separating waste; investing in more sustainable infrastructures; and, raising client awareness.
One example of such practices has been implemented by the Fuerte Hoteles chain of hotels. The company, in addition to other actions, measures the carbon footprint of each of its establishments on a monthly basis; for 2013, the company reports that for the almost 500,000 guests staying in its establishment, CO2 released into the atmosphere at the seven hotels belonging to the group amounted to 10.42 kg/CO2 per stay. This represents a reduction of 11.02% compared to the 2012 average, which totalled 11.71 Kg CO2/guest; this drop has been attributed to the implementation of new energy saving techniques. Many more examples of these measures can be found here.
However, it is irrefutable that one of the key pieces in this zero footprint jigsaw for holiday destinations are the tourists themselves. The need for travellers to sustainably organise their transfers and accommodations is gradually propagating throughout Europe. According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), tourists generate 5% of the world’s CO2 emissions, which is why reducing them is so important. The combined total of the actions taken by the world’s inhabitants is what makes climate change news and studies increasingly more concerning.
It is undoubted that changing our daily habits or the ways we spend our holidays is complicated; however, sometimes small changes in certain behaviours can lead to huge steps forward. Each time tourists want to enjoy a hidden gem in a destination they are visiting, choosing to travel by public transport or bicycle instead of by car would help to reduce the amount of gases released into the atmosphere. The same can be said of deciding not to have their sheets changed on a daily basis, as this would save water spent on washing. These and other small details limit the impact of our time in a place to a minimum.
We are responsible for raising awareness of the importance of our ecological footprint or carbon footprint on a daily basis and try to reduce the trace we leave in destinations that we visit as tourists to a minimum. Furthermore, travellers are progressively more demanding on establishments they choose to stay at as regards these responsibilities; this makes the sector more and more competitive when it comes to proposing actions to improve the environment. A common objective that, together, we can achieve.
The impact of tourism on the environment is equal to the number of holidays taken multiplied by the ecological footprint. As the number of holidays we take shows no sign of dropping (in fact, we are travelling more and more), we must reduce the ecological footprint per tourist to ensure we do not take more from the planet than we are entitled to.