The disruption of the hospitality and tourism industry by COVID-19 has led to a drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. While the decline in greenhouse gas emissions benefits the environment, lockdowns and social distancing are not viable long-term strategies to combat global warming. Effective long-term strategies involve tourism businesses assessing and reducing carbon emissions generated by their operations.
Understandably, the current focus of every tourism business is to reopen and start generating revenue again. We argue that right now, as the industry starts to reopen, it is the perfect time to assess the carbon emissions of business operations and determine which operations can be modified to reduce emissions and, at the same time, operating costs into the future.
Dr. Ya-Yen Sun from The University of Queensland and colleagues published a study in the prestigious journal Nature Climate Change in 2018 showing that tourism contributes eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The study indicated that to reduce tourism’s carbon footprint, efforts are required to address both direct and indirect emissions.
Direct emissions are caused by a tourism business, for example from the fuel used to run a boat. Indirect emissions are emissions produced by suppliers of tourism businesses, such as the energy used by local restaurants to make food and drinks that are consumed on-board, during a tour.
Calculating carbon emissions caused directly by tourism businesses, therefore, only reveals a portion of the complete impact, given that supply chain emissions are typically greater than direct emissions. Yet, no user-friendly tool is currently available to tourism operators that would allow them to calculate the indirect, life-cycle related greenhouse gas emissions their processes cause.
Our research project addresses these challenges, and the resulting insights will enable tourism operators to evaluate the indirect carbon emissions of their services – a process that to date is complex and cost prohibitive for most businesses.
With a slow reopening of tourism and continued forced downtime for some operators, the tourism industry can use this time to evaluate the sustainability of its tourism practices. Just like Ecotourism Australia members do through their certification, these are the times operators and tourism businesses can ask themselves questions like: How can we conserve resources? Are we using local suppliers? Are we purchasing organic and environmentally responsible products? Are we doing our best to minimise waste? Do we have a process for monitoring and auditing compliance with best practice? Are there any local conservation projects that our business might get involved with?
Putting sustainability into practice during COVID-19 will enable tourism operators to return to business as usual with a more sustainable operating model. Sustainable business models and practices lead not just to lower operational costs but also create value by contributing to the advancement of society environmentally and socially.
[Cover photo: Ocean Safari Cape Tribulation is Advanced Ecotourism certified, and reducing emissions from their adventure tours is essential given their location between two World Heritage sites – the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics of Queensland]