HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE 31ST INTER-UNIVERSITY SEMINAR ON SUSTAINABLE TOURISM
This seminar marked the start of the 4th year of inspiring a new generation of tourism professionals through monthly inter university seminars on sustainable tourism.
Green practices aim at reducing environmental impact of different operations in tourism sector.
Traditionally, green tourism implies tourism in natural areas, and which minimizes environmental impacts. This can also be eco-friendly tourism.
The following tourism forms are associated with green
- Ecotourism, “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the wellbeing of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES 2015)
- Rural tourism, Travel from densely populated/ urban areas to cultural landscapes for exploration, relaxation and learning
- Nature tourism, The enjoyment of natural areas and the observation of nature that has low impact environmentally, is labor intensive and contribute socially and economically to the nation (destination) (Lukas, 1984).
Most travelers associate sustainable travel choices with staying in eco-friendly accommodation, using eco-friendly transport, or contributing to supplier’s local community Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. Tour operators therefore make travel choices by evaluating accommodation suppliers based on how eco-friendly their designs are, how responsible their water and energy conservation practices are, their efforts on pollution prevention, and level of investment made in supporting local community development.
Green practice and sustainable development
Sustainable tourism has evolved, from a focus on green practice.
Sustainable development perceives green as an approach that prioritizes environmental action as opposed to urgent effort in shared value. Environmental action in green practices closely links to SDG 7 on renewable energy, SDG 13 on climate action, SDG 14 on life under water, and SDG 15 life on land.
The early objectives of green practices in tourism was to mitigate end of the pipe environmental impacts of tourism. Circular economy requires thinking about what goes into the pipe, what happens in the pipe, & ensuring what comes out has value for the economy. In many tourism businesses today, trends in green practice revolve around environmental issues. Destinations are now tapping into off-season travel as an option for reducing overcrowding in natural areas. Sustainable transport options and choices are also picking up as climate change response. Construction in tourism adopts vertical gardens and green walls as green architecture. Water is also an area of focus for tourism. As a finite resource, its scarcity affects the wellbeing and resilience of a destination. Modern day water conservation investments in the hospitality sector include dual flash toilets for and low flow or automated taps & shower heads. Hotels also invest in solar panels, windmills, automated switching systems, and translucent roofs, as green practices aiming to reduce carbon footprints and make financial savings.
Achieving true sustainability through green practice is more than a systematic approach of managing environmental impacts but an approach to create shared value for people. Travelers may confuse environmental practices with sustainability, ignoring social & economic implications of travel. A destination may focus on investing in renewable energy while in reality it may have serious inequalities in employment opportunities created by tourism. Through the SDG lens, green in tourism appears to approach development by prioritizing on environmental SDGs with other SDGs treated as CSR.
Towards green forms of tourism that promote sustainability
Green in tourism has evolved from simple environmental practices and green washing, to alternative tourism forms designed for the creation of shared value & accountability for sustainable development.
Some hotels that operate in natural areas brand themselves eco-lodges or “promoting ecotourism” regardless of whether or not they engage in green practices. Lodges operating in natural areas may label themselves as eco-friendly or practicing eco-tourism, while having no clue of eco-tourism principles. The challenge with eco certification and eco labels is that adoption by industry is slow, application by tourism businesses is only for marketing reasons, and travelers find it hard to identify credible eco labels that exist. Credible eco certification, eco labels, eco-tourism principles and responsible tourism principles align “green” with sustainability.
Sustainability standards should be applied holistically in green practices. This is the only way we can remove green washing in tourism value chains. Credible eco labels minimize green washing and guide travelers in making sustainable travel choices.
Tourism businesses can demonstrate accountability for green practice through;
- Smart capacity management
- Sustainable procurement
- Prioritized investment and spending
- Set standards and regulations for sustainable consumption
- Kept records of green feedback
Policy directives can promote green practice for tourism in countries, for example tax incentives on green buildings, and ban of single use plastic in visitor areas.
Creating the right kind of green needs collaboration, accountability, and transformative leadership. Tourism businesses can adopt sustainable procurement systems, government should have room for tax incentives for green practices, and stakeholder’s capacity needs built on going beyond green.
The future of green practice is in converting practices to experiences for guests, and opportunities for communities to thrive. Tour operators can engage transport suppliers who have certified guides, eliminated single use plastic, and have carbon offsetting initiative.
Green practice in tourism emphasizes low environmental impacts and social responsibilities. Its definitions are unclear on shared value for all, future impact considerations and economic management for sustainability.
With profound new knowledge on sustainable tourism, inspired by SDGs, business and destinations can only succeed by focusing on basic forms of green practice as an add on to creating shared value.
Let’s Go Travel Uniglobe
Students from Machakos University
Faculty from Machakos University
Universities in Attendance
University of Nairobi
Technical University of Mombasa