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


Destination: Green Tourism

Unfortunately, the increasing presence of tourists themselves often adds significantly to the waste management problem — especially if untreated sewage from hotels and cruise ships is allowed to contaminate water and coastal areas. During the mid-1990s, cruise ships in the Caribbean Sea alone produced more than 70,000 tons of liquid and solid waste a year. The waste produced by the enormous influx of tourists to Venice over the last few decades led to pollution and flooding of the city’s iconic canals, which caused the city to withdraw its application to host Expo 2000, a global exhibition welcoming the new millennium, out of fear for its future.

Destinations must therefore invest in waste management early: following best practices by reducing sewage and industrial waste streams, minimizing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and incinerators, and recycling whenever possible. Ideally, waste should be used to generate energy. Cutting-edge methods such as waste-to-energy conversion can enhance a destination’s reputation in the green playing field and attract potential investors in addition to bolstering environmental sustainability.

In many cases, creative solutions can minimize environmental impact while adding to a city’s reputation and attractiveness. During the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, a waste management program was established to recycle or compost 70 percent of all trash generated. One million plates and 3 million utensils were produced out of potato-based starch, allowing them to be recycled into animal feed. In addition, 20,000 signs were recycled into cardboard boxes.

In Kenya, where remote hotels and lodges do not always have access to municipal waste-collection services, green waste is composted for use in vegetable gardens. Constructed wetlands may soon be used for recycling wastewater, and many camps and lodges are beginning to use biodegradable detergents to improve the quality of their gray water.

Israel has transformed a massive garbage dump on the outskirts of Tel Aviv into a 2,000-acre park that will soon feature a recycling plant, hiking and cycling routes, and picnic areas. In addition, Israel has plans for an education center where visitors can watch the recycling process and learn about its importance for the country’s environmental health.

4. Water supply protection. An adequate and healthy water supply is crucial to any destination’s long-term environmental sustainability. Severe water shortages continue to plague many parts of the world, and two major external trends — rising populations and the potential effects of climate change — provide added reasons for concern about this scarce resource.

Countries with water shortages that rely heavily on tourism face a double burden: Their citizens desperately need the water that keeps hotel swimming pools — and, by extension, the national treasury — full. A smart, conservative policy to guarantee water availability is key to keeping both pools and coffers full and both tourists and citizens satisfied.

Moreover, since water supply and desalination systems are typically significant sources of energy usage and emissions, sustainable water policy is important both for its own sake and as a way to contain carbon emissions.

For all these reasons, water consumption must be measured, controlled, and reduced to the minimum level necessary for adequate quality of life. Here too, investment in creative and technological solutions should be a priority. For example, by cleaning and reusing wastewater, a destination can increase its potable water capacity and reduce sewage, pollution, and cleanup fees. In addition, proper wastewater management reduces aquatic pollution and minimizes the risk of disease.

In many of Kenya’s semi-arid environments, lodges have begun to actively promote water conservation awareness and introduce measures such as restricting water pumping to certain times of the day, installing low-pressure showers, promoting the use of recycled water and rainwater, and encouraging guests to reuse towels. Many lodges and camps are also planting trees and woodlots, both as a sustainable source of firewood and as a protective measure for water catchment.

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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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