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 / Autumn 2010 / Issue 60(originally published by Booz & Company)


Destination: Green Tourism

Four Elements of Sustainable Tourism

Capturing the economic benefits of tourism while limiting undesirable environmental consequences is the ultimate goal of a successful green strategy. The experiences of private- and public-sector organizations in many locales suggest that the most powerful strategies are those that take a holistic approach. These businesses treat each destination they oversee as a complete physical, cultural, and economic ecosystem. By crafting a sustainable tourism strategy through a multifaceted lens, policymakers and leaders in the tourism sector can ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and at the same time make sure that no part of the system is neglected.

Building a comprehensive blueprint for sustainability begins with addressing four key environmental issues: reducing carbon emissions, conserving biodiversity, managing waste properly, and protecting and conserving water. The blueprint, however, also requires an analysis of the underlying systems and structures that a destination must have in place to enable change. These include regulations and governance, stakeholder participation, funding and financing, capacity building and education, and marketing and public relations. Once these environmental issues and enabling systems and structures are understood, policymakers and tourism leaders can develop a green strategy for their destination.

Any destination that aspires to succeed in the age of green tourism and to ensure its sustainability should focus on the above-mentioned four key issues:

1. Carbon emission reduction. For decades, a popular slogan greeting visitors at tourist sites was “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” Although this old motto is still relevant, growing concern over climate change has added a new dimension to it. Travelers must now be concerned with their carbon footprint — one far less visible on a dirt trail, but with far greater implications.

The tourism industry is responsible for approximately 5 percent of global carbon emissions, largely generated by air travel and lodging. A recent global study by the World Economic Forum and Booz & Company predicts that without intervention, these emissions will double by 2035. The good news is that because interventions that cut emissions also tend to save energy and materials, they are a cost-effective tactic.

By implementing green technologies and policies, destinations can contribute to the “double bottom line” of environmental sustainability and profitability. Slovakia’s popular AquaCity resort, for example, which was recently designated the World’s Leading Green Resort by World Travels Awards, prevents an estimated 27 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere every day by using geothermal water and solar energy — practices that have also saved the resort millions of euros each year.

To reduce emissions, Vancouver’s Fairmont Waterfront hotel implemented a heat-recovery system that captures condensate — steam that has been condensed back into water — from hot-water tanks, which then heats incoming city water. This technology has saved an estimated 305,380 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, the equivalent of the annual energy needs of seven private homes.

Even small changes can yield tangible benefits. In a 12-month government-funded project, Tasmanian hotels reduced their energy use by a third by installing insulation, repositioning windows, and sectioning off rooms. Carbon emissions dropped by 104 tons, the equivalent of taking 24 cars off the road for a year.

In addition to the possibilities presented by on-site improvements, a unique opportunity exists for smaller tourist destinations to take a lead role in introducing advanced local mobility systems, capitalizing on the fact that customers are not just interested in sun-and-beach holidays, but also in being innovative with respect to sustainable local travel. Destinations should shift from environmentally destructive individual traffic habits to efficient mass transit and advanced automobile technology, including hybrids and electric cars. In countries where they are not prevalent, the introduction of cars with catalytic converters as well as new eco-friendly fuels should be promoted.

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  1. Jennifer Blanke and Thea Chiesa, editors, “Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2009: Managing in a Time of Turbulence,” World Economic Forum: A comprehensive ranking and analysis, including detailed profiles for 133 countries.
  2. Ronald Haddock, Kevin Ma, and Edward Tse, “Tourism: China’s New Diaspora,” s+b, Spring 2007: How China’s economic growth — and its citizens’ increasing appetite for travel — will fuel the next tourism boom.
  3. Jürgen Ringbeck and Stephan Gross, “The Importance of Being a Must-See Destination,” s+b, 05/08/2007: How excellent travel and tourism policies, infrastructure, and services can translate into a vibrant economy.
  4. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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