Green tourism and competitiveness

(Originally posted on 18 October 2012)

A new book published this summer and launched at Rio +20 is entitled “Green Growth and Travelism – Letters from Leaders“. It includes a Letter from Patricia Francis, Executive Director of ITC who speaks about the opportunities for developing countries in the green tourism niche and the work of ITC in this field. The Letter highlights the particularly important role that tourism has for creating jobs in LDCs.

Developing countries according to the World Economic Forum compete successfully against rich countries in two areas: “price competitiveness” and “richness of economic resources”. The Letter sets out 5 actions that ITC thinks governments can take to build on this “green” competitiveness

1. Understand the costs of destroying natural assets

Nature provides society with a vast diversity of benefits such as food, fibres, clean water, carbon sequestration and more. Unfortunately, economic incentives are often stronger for the destruction of nature rather than for its preservation. Tourism can build economic value in nature, removing its “economic invisibility”.

The value of nature is revealed through eco-tourism. For example, whale watching was estimated to generate US$2.1 billion per year in 2008, with over 13 million people undertaking the activity in 119 countries.

A strategy to increase green tourism competitiveness in developing countries
Eco-tourism: realizing economic value of nature
© John Krzesinski, 2012.

2. Focus resources on niche markets

Price-based markets are still hugely important for developing countries. However, as the world’s middle class grows in size, demand will increase for greener holidays, including eco-tourism. The potential for further growth is still significant.

3. Take actions to reduce environmental impacts

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has described tourism as a “double edged sword”. The tourism sector makes positive contributions to conservation but also can have major negative impacts on the environment, for example high emissions of greenhouse gases. Governments can encourage the growth of ecotourism through implementing policies to protect nature and so maintain the assets that attract tourists. Certification could also help tourism providers attract a higher number of higher-end visitors.

4. Draft strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation

Climate change will undoubtedly change the competitiveness of tourism in developing countries. Some will benefit, many will lose. Small island states are particularly exposed to rising water levels, ocean acidification and extreme weather events. The challenge for island states and coastal areas is to reduce their vulnerability, through investment, insurance, planning, and policy decisions, and inform UNFCCC negotiations regarding adaptation assistance from international funds.

The tourism industry also needs to reduce emissions, particularly from air travel. Business-as-usual scenarios see tourism’s emissions growing by 152% by 2035. Setting the right policies for reducing aviation emissions is key to making the tourism industry less carbon-intensive.

5. Support SMEs in greening the tourism sector

SMEs dominate the tourism sector, accounting for 80% of all hotels worldwide. SMEs, however, can also cause significant environmental impacts and are often ill-prepared to deal with economic and environmental shocks. As the UNEP Green Economy report highlights, green tourism awareness exists mainly among larger companies, rather than SMEs. Capacity building support is therefore needed to help businesses understand the practical aspects and advantages of sustainable.

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