News and Insights

Navigating Responsible Tourism

July 22, 2019

When most of us think of sustainable or responsible tourism, we think eco-tourism – like staying in a solar-paneled hotel with an organic garden and a water conservation system. While eco-tourism is certainly a mainstay, it is much more.

As with any other consumer-focused industry, expectations of travel and tourism have evolved. Not only has sustainability become increasingly complex and complicated, it has also expanded beyond planning for the next hurricane season.

It now includes social and governance issues such as wages for housekeeping staff, human trafficking as well as data and personal privacy.

Specifically, responsible tourism includes managing the environmental and social impact of your travelers and operations and understanding how a business prepares and responds to these concerns can either damage or improve its bottom line.

The travel and tourism industry is grappling with challenging issues. Business plans should consider:

Over-tourism: 1.3 billion overseas trips in 2018 overburdened newly-trending destinations, leading to strained infrastructure and the degradation of tourist sites. Destinations, such as Barcelona, responded with anti-tourism protests, bans on new hotel construction and day tripper taxes.

Climate Change: Tourism contributes 5% of worldwide GHG emissions and an increase in hurricanes, ocean acidification and algae. Unseasonable weather makes some destinations undesirable or risky.

Modern Slavery: Human trafficking and forced labor are business liabilities and impact licenses to operate.

Political Unrest & Terrorism: Riots and fear of terrorism attacks are now a global issue.

Millennial Travelers: This generation of sustainability-minded tourists demand hotels, airlines and cruise companies to provide environmentally and socially responsible travel options.

The above issues are just a few of the challenges the travel industry faces. Success is dependent on three actions: Prioritize, Measure, Communicate.

Prioritization narrows the ocean of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. It also provides deep insight into issues important to the business and its various stakeholders. Understanding the issues that employees, investors, activists and consumers believe to be risks allows companies to focus on a core set of business-critical issues. 

 As we all know, what get measured, gets managed. Identify goals and metrics that will demonstrate progress.

Finally, communicate often to stakeholders in a way that is concise and specific in its language about your sustainability programs, polices and performance. Be transparent and modest when discussing accomplishments and never “greenwash.”  But also, create dialogue and listen to communities, employees and travelers. Walking the talk builds trust and credibility.

Sustainability is a business imperative in today’s marketplace. It helps businesses, whether large or small, manage these issues and mitigate risk. Sustainability, if deeply integrated in your business model, can expand opportunities and grow business.