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It’s time for the tourism industry to go green

Travel industry report for 2014

Dear TripAdvisorThe power of digital: I recently saw an article on Icenews titled “Hotel sustainability TripAdvisor rating being pushed by Norwegian ecotourism campaign” and it got me thinking about the power that TripAdvisor actually has on environmental issues. (Update TripAdvisor seems to have come back and answered Icenews). Anyway, here are my thoughts:

With more and more of us flying across the globe to bask in the sun on some tropical beach, or take selfies in front of the Eiffel tower the burden on the environment from the tourist industry is becoming too much to ignore. We all like a holiday in luxury hotel don’t we, but at what cost? And how can we be responsible travellers, committed to minimising our carbon footprint?

We now have airlines offering carbon credits by urging you to pick up the tab for the tonnes of carbon your plane will dump into the atmosphere in getting you to Bali or Barbados but what happens when you get there? How can I be sure that the hotel I will stay in is making an effort towards sustainability.

Tourism is a growing industry that empowers so many, particularly in the third world, so it’s difficult to start telling people to stop travelling because it’s causing global warming. Millions of people are employed as hotel service staff and airport limo drivers, or tour guides and waiters. But what about the big companies who own the hotel chains and tour companies. We rate them for customer services and value for money, if they can get that right they succeed and make good profits, but we never seem to ask the uncomfortable questions on whether they minimise fuel and water usage, or blend in with the local communities.

In Thailand as a small sample, there are numerous five star resorts that have displaced traditional communities. The locals aren’t complaining because they appreciate the jobs but it places a burden on limited resources such as fresh water, garbage disposal and electricity (which ultimately needs to be generated by burning natural gases purchased from Myanmar).

Travellers expect to be pampered, wooed with the idea of an afternoon in a spa that is ridiculously air-conditioned, and though they are politely asked to ‘recycle soiled bath towels’ this smacks more of a desire for the hotel to cut costs than ‘save the environment’. This same hotel might well be offering ‘wagyu beef’ on the menu though it needs to be air freighted in from Australia.

In recent years we have seen trends for hotels to ‘out do’ each other in luxury, wowing travellers with lobbies replete with massive water features, and gas guzzling limousines or rooms that are so hermetically sealed for comfort that you can’t even open the windows to enjoy the natural cooling of a sea breeze. The net result is they maintain wonderfully high reviews which is good for business but bad for the environment. When everyone has checked out and asked for their comments – glowing of course – no one stops to consider the carbon footprint that was created in the increasing pursuit of luxurious vacations.

Might it be that #DearTripAdvisor has some merits?

Here is their video:

Kristjan Mar
Kristján Már Hauksson COO SMFB Engine @optimizeyourweb