Why Sustainable Travel Matters

     2017 is on track to being the hottest year ever recorded on earth. According to the studies of three main agencies that track global temperature, 2017 has so far been the warmest year in more than a century. With the average temperatures rising around the globe seemingly every year, we can clearly see where this trend is heading. Global climate change is becoming more and more evident with its effects being seen and felt worldwide. Industries across the world are beginning to realize that they will need to adapt their policies and guidelines to work in a more eco-friendly and sustainable manner. One of the biggest industries being affected is the multi-billion dollar tourism industry. Climate change, destruction of natural resources and destinations, and increased consumer awareness is causing a movement in the tourism industry towards adopting sustainable practices. It is for these reasons, that sustainable tourism will be one of the most important and fastest growing industries in the decades ahead.

Tourism provides jobs and economic stimulation for billions of people around the world.  According to David Edgell, using 2006 statistics, global tourism provided “employment for more than 222 million people worldwide, or approximately one in every twelve workers.” (Edgell) He went on to state that the number was expected to reach 269 million by 2015.  When dealing with such a large industry that was been around for decades there are some challenges that must be faced when trying to enforce change.  However, when the majority of consumers demand change, such as for tourism companies to become more sustainable, companies will need to adapt or face being put out of business by competitors.  World Travel and Tourism Council projections suggest “that the tourism industry will generate $7.8 trillion by 2015.) (Edgell) Furthermore, it is not just dominant wealthy countries that rely on tourism, “83 percent of countries in the world, tourism is one of the top five sources of foreign exchange.”(Wood)  That being said, the word “tourism” encompasses a wide range of other industries such as; transportation, lodging, hospitality, and more.   

                  The transportation and hospitality industries have seen a large increase in customer demand for sustainable products within the past 10 years.  This is due in part to increased awareness about climate change, but also because of the increase in fuel prices. As resources like fossil fuels become increasingly scarce, the price for consumers skyrockets.  More and more cities worldwide are transforming their transportation systems to run in a sustainable manner.  These methods range from using clean fuel buses, electric tram systems, and setting new emission requirements.   The creation of the National Center for Sustainable Transportation has helped to work with, “federal, state, regional, and local agencies reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions from passenger and freight travel that contribute to climate change.” (Kulieke)  The movement to make transportation more sustainable is imperative considering that in 2013, carbon dioxide accounted for about, “82 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities” according to the EPA.  The most damaging human activity contributing to carbon dioxide gas increases is the use of fossil fuels like coal and oil.  That being said sadly “Only 50% of Americans understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities.” (Scott)  While that percentage should be higher, it is important to acknowledge that the statist shows that half of Americans are at least somewhat environmentally conscious. According to the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, 37 percent of greenhouse gases come through generating electricity while 31 percent comes from transportation.  These statistics show the importance of sustainability in the electric and transportation industries.  Similarly, the hospitality industry has been undergoing changes to their policies to ensure that they are able to reduce their energy costs and carbon footprint.  There has been a boom in the solar industry over the past five years as the U.S. government started giving “solar incentives” to businesses and corporations to encourage them to switch to solar energy.  These incentives include tax credits, rebates, and free installation of solar panels.  In addition there are now eco-certification awards the hotels and businesses can be awarded for meeting certain sustainability measures.  Certifications such a LEED and Green Globe are desirable for hospitality companies to achieve because there is a growing market of consumers who value the sustainability of a business they are giving their money to.  Hotels and organizations boost incoming eco-tourism after they are awarded these types of certification which leads to more change in the industry.

                  Ecotourism has been steadily growing over the past few decades as a solution for environmentally conscious travelers who want to reduce their impact on the environment without sacrificing traveling all together.  According to Megan Wood, founder of TIES, “Ecotourism was defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990 as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.” (Wood)  Over the past two decades, the management and sustainability of tourism have become vital focus points for tourism organizations throughout the world.  Ecotourism is growing in vulnerable locations like the Amazon due to the endangered species that live within it and eco-conscious tourists who want to travel there.  Unfortunately, according to Catherine Trobaugh, “more than 20 percent of the Amazon has been destroyed” (Trobaugh) and an increasing number of plant and animal species are becoming extinct.  Ecotourism has been a solution to the problems of environmental conservation because it allows for tourists to become more aware of the travesties happening in the rainforest while reducing their impact on it.  Some may say that the best way to reduce human impact on the environment is to vacate the areas being affected, however humans tend to value things for their instrumental value more than for their intrinsic value so doing so is difficult.   The success ecotourism will have in the future is heavily dependent on; global awareness, political action, and standardization of the tourism industry through eco-certifications. 

                  To conclude, ecotourism is a steadily growing industry that is transforming the travel industry into becoming more sustainable and responsible in response to man-made climate change and environmental destruction.  Consumers are starting to become aware of the challenges that face the environment and demand that the businesses they give their money to operate in a sustainable manner. Environmental codes and standards for travel organizations will begin to become commonplace in the upcoming decades as the effects of climate change and deforestation becomemore apparent.  More importantly, global awareness and support for the environment will lead to a society where ecotourism overtakes general tourism as the preferred and accepted way to travel the world.


Edgell, D. (2006). Managing sustainable tourism: A legacy for the future. New York:         Haworth Hospitality Press.

Kulieke, S. (n.d.). About the National Center for Sustainable Transportation.          Retrieved October 7, 2015.

Scott, D. (2011). Why sustainable tourism must address climate change. Journal of           Sustainable Tourism, 19(1), 17-34.

Thompson, A. (2015, April 17). 2015 Hottest Year to Date, Could Top 2014 Record.          Retrieved October 7, 2015.

Trobaugh, C. (n.d.). Ecotourism in the Amazon. Retrieved October 14, 2015.

Wood, M. (n.d.). The Next 20 Years of Ecotourism | Green Money Journal. Retrieved          October 7, 2015.

Leave a Comment