September 27 is the United Nations’ World Tourism Day, an occasion that celebrates the importance of tourism in driving cultural progress and the global economy. However, in recent years, the UN has urged this day to mark the importance of transforming tourism toward a sustainable one. During the early days of the pandemic, when travel restrictions significantly impacted the travel industry, an unintended positive consequence emerged: environmental recovery. With reduced human activities, numerous natural areas rejuvenated and reemerged due to a respite from the pressure of mass tourism. Today, with the number of global tourists surging back to the pre-pandemic level, it is essential for every stakeholder in this industry to make the change necessary to transform tourism for good.
NEGATIVE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
While providing numerous benefits, tourism also poses significant environmental challenges in terms of over-consumption and increased pollution. According to a projection from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), by 2030, there will be an alarming 25% increase in CO2 emissions from tourism compared to the level observed in 2016. The prediction raises serious concerns about the environmental impact of this industry. Tourism growth has led to increased transportation activities, including air travel, contributing to a substantial portion of the sector’s carbon footprint. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) even states that if this trend continues without mitigation, there will be a 154% increase in energy consumption and a staggering 251% increase in solid waste disposal.
SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL INDUSTRY
Agoda, an online travel platform, is among the firms that recognize sustainable tourism's importance and actively promote initiatives and practices that contribute to environmental conservation. The company strives to foster sustainability by supporting organizations and initiatives focused on sustainable tourism—partnering with local communities, NGOs, and government agencies to develop and promote eco-friendly tourism. In another example, Local Alike, a Thai boutique travel agency, also serves as a medium that distributes income to underrepresented communities via tourism, enabling them to become self-sufficient. On the transportation side of tourism, many airlines and energy companies are working on enlarging the usage of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) to eventually replace regular oil. Organizations and firms such as London Heathrow Airport and Air Canada have invested in SAF research and let passengers donate toward the portion of SAF used on the very plane with which they fly.
Humanity needs to embrace environmental consciousness and prioritize sustainable practices. Everyone must recognize the urgency of environmental challenges and know that they have a shared responsibility to act in ways that minimize the impact on the planet. As for the bigger scale companies, striking the right balance between touristic revenue and sustainability creation can ensure the creation of a sustainable future for all.
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