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


Destination: Green Tourism

In the same vein, policymakers should encourage guests to choose energy-efficient methods of transportation for arriving at their recreational activities. In some locations, visitors can be steered toward smart mass-transit options such as electric trains and hybrid buses; other locations can offer innovative options for individual vehicles, such as bicycles and hybrid cars.

Paris, for example, implemented the Vélib bicycle co-op program in 2007, which allows visitors and residents to reserve, pick up, and return bikes at 750 locations. The city currently has more than 230 miles of bike lanes, with plans for expansion. Israel recently created a network of bike trails and walking paths as an alternative to bus transportation for Christian pilgrims going from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee, and Switzerland has seen a boom in the new generation of e-bikes, powered by lithium-ion batteries, also for tourists.

Destinations can also reduce their environmental impact by integrating carbon-friendly principles into their supply chains, and purchasing sustainably sourced goods and materials. In addition, they can implement low-carbon waste management policies, including energy-efficient recycling.

Finally, destinations can create incentives for tourists to offset their remaining emissions through local donation programs that invest in renewable technologies. Tour operator Thomas Cook, for example, asks clients to donate £2 (US$3) that it matches and funnels into emissions-offset projects.

2. Biodiversity conservation. Whether scuba diving in the Red Sea, exploring hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest, or venturing into the jungles of Central America, a growing number of travelers are reaching out to experience a world beyond their own. Destinations with natural beauty offer tourists an escape from the pressures and sensory overload of urban life. Unique natural assets are therefore precious, and their preservation is a critical component of sustainable tourism. In the past two decades, tourism to biodiversity hot spots has increased more than 100 percent, making conservation all the more urgent.

If proper conservation measures are not in place, tourism can exacerbate the damage and destruction of flora and fauna. Unregulated wildlife viewing has disrupted feeding and nesting sites in such places as the Caribbean wetlands and New Zealand. Mushrooming tourism resorts in India have encroached upon tiger habitats, both reducing the tiger population and leading to dangerous encounters for humans. In addition, more than 35 million acres of coral reef has been obliterated during the past few decades, largely through contact with cruise ships, divers, and other human activity.

Policymakers eager to prevent this sort of damage should develop national parks and wildlife corridors, regulate access to potentially fragile areas, and protect indigenous species and control pests.

In Bhutan, known as one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots, more than 72 percent of the country is still forested. Parts of Bhutan have been declared wildlife reserves, and many mountains are closed to trekking for fear of littering and pollution. In recognition of more than 20 years of sustainable ecological development of sensitive ecosystems, UNESCO declared the Wadden Sea of Germany and the Netherlands a World Heritage site in June 2009. These countries’ traditional reverence for nature has helped them preserve their environment, even as they welcome more tourists each year.

3. Waste management. As a major pollutant, waste affects both water and soil quality and can detract from a destination’s image if treated improperly. The effective management of liquid and solid waste — from households and any local industrial processes — is therefore essential to the perception of a destination as clean and healthy. No traveler wants to worry about contracting a disease on his or her journey; a whiff of foul air can quickly change a tourist’s perception of even the most beautiful locale.

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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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