Travel – one of best ways to learn and understand the world around us. And the number of people traveling abroad is increasing year after year: in 2000 there were 674 million international travellers, whereas in 2015 this number increased to 1.2 billion tourists traveling abroad – the size of India’s population.¹
The ever growing number of tourists embodies the pressing need for sustainable tourism. This is why the United Nations has proclaimed 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (IY2017). The goal of this year is to use tourism as a force for positive change with regards to environmental protection, social inclusion and economic equality.²
How can tour operators contribute to sustainable tourism and travel?
The most environmentally harmful component of international tourism is air travel. To put this in perspective: one person’s economy-class return flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi causes as many CO2 emissions as a whole year in the life of an average Costa Rican.³
Recognising the adverse environmental impacts of air travel, the Dutch tour operator and social enterprise Better Places decided to take action. Better Places helps their travellers to reduce emissions from travel by giving advice on most efficient flight choices and slow local transportation. Better Places has already taken action on all fronts to make their own offering more sustainable. Their responsible travel services have been officially certified by Travelife, an international management and certification program for travel organisations and accommodations that want sustainable business. All Better Places partners work according to Travelife ‘s criteria, including their local travel experts.
Furthermore, since 2016, the tour operator was the first to report on and compensate for all travel undertaken by not only its travellers but also its staff. Originally a Dutch platform, Better Places now operates internationally as Better Places Travel and in Germany as Fairaway. It provides detailed emission calculations per destination and compensates for both in-destination travel booked through their services as well as the emissions of the international flights booked independently. Better Places is the first tour operator in the Netherlands, and one of the few leading travel organisations in the world, that compensates for all of the emissions produced by its travellers.
Compensation, or carbon offsetting, the CO2 emissions from Better Places’ tours is made possible through an investment in a high quality emission reduction project certified by Gold Standard By investing in this project, Better Places facilitates sustainable practices that avoid carbon emissions and at the same time, move the needle on the global sustainable development agenda.
Better Places’ supports a project in Ghana that enables the production and distribution of modern, fuel-efficient cooking stoves at subsidised prices to private households. The stoves cook food more quickly, use less fuel, and are less smoky. This does not only result in time and money saved, but also leads to improved health conditions for families. Robustly designed and audited projects such as this one, developed by South Pole Group and certified by the Gold Standard, deliver far more than carbon emission reductions: their impact encompasses improved human health, livelihoods, ecosystem services as well as food and economic security of communities, directly contributing to the fulfilment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This means that it is no longer necessary to choose between climate and other environment and development outcomes.
Why act now?
“We’ve done our homework. We know that climate action is one of our biggest responsibilities – but also one of our biggest opportunities to inspire positive change,” says Saskia Griep, founder of Better Places. “Sustainable tourism can be a driving force in achieving a future we want. The IY2017 is also a unique opportunity for us to show our and the tourism industry’s contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Indeed, those in the business of tourism can no longer take the environment for granted. For most in the travel & tourism industry, the environment is their business – or at least a big part of it. In spite of this, the tourism industry in both the Netherlands and as a whole⁴ is responsible for a growing amount of CO2 emissions.
With the UN system focusing on tourism until year-end, leaders in the industry now have the chance to step up climate action to make every day count. Trailblazers have realised that by mitigating the climate footprint associated with their operations and by investing in projects that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, they can help protect their commerce, communities and the climate.⁵
“The bottom line is that you can only claim sustainability leadership by addressing your climate footprint in a comprehensive, substantiated manner,“ Saskia continues. “With World Tourism Day around the corner, we hope to inspire other tour operators to compensate for travel-related emissions – not as opt-in but as part of being a responsible tour operator and contributing to sustainable tourism.”
In the words of the UN’s sustainable travel campaign,⁶ ‘each journey changes us and the world around us, a world for which we are all responsible.’
As societies transition towards a low-carbon, climate-resilient future, becoming an (tour) agent of positive change is the right thing, but also the smart thing, to do.