As traveling for both business and pleasure have been on the rise during the past 50 years, we are beginning to notice the effects this has on the Earth’s environment. According to a 2018 study conducted by a research journal called Nature, the global footprint of tourism is nearly four times larger than previously thought – accounting for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Fortunately, with the rise of travel also comes the rise in “Impact Travel,” which means being an environmentally conscious traveler. These eco-travelers can practice several types of tourism: ecotourism, which is more focused on being close to fragile/undisturbed natural areas, ecological conservation and the use of local resources; and sustainable tourism, which is a much broader term that implies traveling with the intent to provide minimal impact on the environment. Those that practice ecotourism often do so locally as a way to avoid taking air transportation. Since many people around the globe aren’t interested in giving up flying, the next best thing we can do is make careful travel choices to minimize our environmental impact.
Being an eco-traveler starts at home when the trip is planned. There are three sectors to take into consideration when arranging a sustainable vacation: the destination, flights, and accommodations.
- Destination: Plan a vacation in a town that offers easy exploration by bike or foot, rather than having to travel by trains, busses and car to see everything.
- Flight: Book a flight with an airline that offers a carbon offset program or uses locally sourced jet fuel.
- Accommodations: Book a hotel that is eco-conscious and offers an array of green initiatives.
The biggest trend in sustainable tourism is the rise in environmentally conscious hotels. According to a 2018 Sustainable Travel Report released by Booking.com, 87% of global travelers say that they want to travel sustainably. While sustainable travel is subjective, 46% confirmed that to them, this term means staying in eco-friendly accommodations. Many hotels are catching on and beginning to adapt this trend by implementing sustainable practices.
Often times, hotels will begin by starting small and gradually installing larger protocols. Thanks to advances in technology, the “going green” process is now easier, more affordable, and provides more advanced strides in environmental changes.
- High efficiency lighting: Hotels have lights on throughout their facilities for long periods of time (if not 24/7). Technologies such as occupancy sensors and LED lighting are a simple and cost-effective way to reduce energy waste.
- Eco-Friendly heating and energy: Between heating/cooling the entire building, supplying mass amounts of hot water, and having to keep commercial appliances constantly running is a huge contributing factor to a hotel’s carbon footprint. The first thing to do is employ a building energy management system – a sophisticated method using monitoring technology as a way to control the building’s energy needs and reduce monthly energy consumption. Another way to increase energy efficiency is by installing smart thermostats as a way to regulate heating/cooling.
- Low-flow water: Low-flow toilets, faucets and shower heads have come a long way. Just a decade ago, most toilets used roughly 3.5 gallons of water each flush. Today’s models that incorporate low-flow technology can go as low as using .8 gallons a flush. Similarly, faucets and showers that use this same technology can save thousands of gallons of water.
- Green appliances: The amount of energy and water it takes to use commercial laundry washers, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers and other large appliances on a daily basis is extremely high. Fortunately, there are companies that create green appliances that use about 30% less energy and water needed to run a traditional appliance.
- Green fitness: Similar to a hotel kitchen or laundry room, the fitness center is also a huge component of where the carbon emissions are coming from. Standard workout equipment uses a lot of electricity in order to be put to use. Today, there is sustainable equipment that will not only reduce energy, but will actually produce it. These machines are plugged into an outlet, and once a user jumps on a machine, they are instantly harnessing their energy that then goes back onto the grid through the electrical source. These machines also have the ability to show users how much electricity they’re producing, which often incentivizes them to keep going.
Implementing these types of sustainable practices not only helps hotels in a social sense, but ultimately helps to attract a whole demographic of eco travelers looking to minimize their environmental impact while on vacation. Beyond attaining new customers, these types of initiatives can also help to retain existing hotel guests and create a better reason for them to practice loyalty. In order to ensure this demographic is reached, it is important that hotels validate their green accomplishments. Whether it’s becoming LEED certified, applying for relevant awards such as TripAdvisor GreenLeaders Award, or simply going on record to announce new green goals, it is important to promote these efforts.