Published on February 5th, 2020 | by Sunit Nandi0
What Is the Future of Sustainable Tourism & Eco-Tech
We have reached the point where we have to accept the fact that we face ecological disaster. Without decisive action we face irreversible damage as a result of climate change. This means that we have to focus on how we can make adjustments to all areas of our lives — not simply our day-to-day activities.
Our vacation behavior is proving particularly problematic. Tourism is responsible for more than 5% of greenhouse gas emissions. But pollution from transportation is just the start — our vacations as a whole can also put pressure on finite natural resources and even contribute to the loss of natural habitats. Finding solutions to this issue is not simple, but some organizations have taken to the challenge with commitment and creativity.
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We’ll take a look at some of the approaches being taken to develop a more sustainable tourism industry. What technologies are being employed now and in the near future? What key areas should we all be focusing on?
Much of the current focus for the hospitality industry has been a centralization of smart systems. The ability for all energy-consuming assets in a room to be monitored, and adjusted from a single control point. Even though a recent report suggested that 87% of those surveyed wish to travel sustainably, it remains the case that guests will occasionally leave their televisions on or neglect to personally adjust temperatures in a room. As devices on the Internet of Things (IoT) and other smart technologies have become more affordable, hotels are able to take an automated approach to energy efficiency. By investing in smart sensors that connect to HVAC and lighting systems, hotels can bridge the gap between maintaining guest comfort and preserving our finite resources.
From the perspective of travelers, no matter how distant our destination, we want our vacation accommodation to be our ideal home away from home. This includes exemplifying the smart, sustainable features that we consider to be important. This means hotels should make more effort to include sustainability into the design of hotels and rental properties. Take an ethical approach to construction that is mindful of polluting methods and opt for electronic and solar-powered equipment. Integrate grid hybrid systems that ensure the accommodation pulls from renewable resources as well as traditional energy storage. Even structural 3D printing has the potential to produce accommodation in a way that is environmentally friendly. It may be the case that by displaying the sustainable possibilities to guests, hotels may even spark ideas for solutions in their own homes.
In some cases, tourism isn’t as simple as people traveling to their destination, checking into a hotel, and spending a few days exploring the local area. Resorts remain a popular luxury option, providing visitors with everything they need in a single location — accommodation, pools, shopping, entertainment. But these vacation bubbles can be a great drain on resources. And that’s without factoring in the environmental impact of their construction. As a result, there has been a rise in the trend of sustainable resorts.
The Red Sea project in Saudi Arabia is a prime example of developers responding not just to eco trends, but also demonstrating a deep understanding of how resorts need to work more cooperatively with the environments that host them. The project, the first phase of which is expected to be completed in 2022, seeks to attract tourists to Saudi Arabia’s west coast but has also committed to ensuring that there are no discharges into the sea, and no plastics used during construction — addressing some of the key environmental issues prevalent in many ocean-facing resorts. The project also has plans to be entirely carbon neutral in the long term.
Resorts that pull in enormous numbers of tourists, like those that capitalize on large parties brought by the wedding industry, have to adopt methods that balance their luxury appeal with responsible use of resources. Some, like the Soneva Fushi resort in the Maldives, have adopted sustainability as an integral aspect of their business practice. Soneva Fushi is using leftover food as compost to grow the ingredients it needs to make future meals and is building a solar-powered water distillation plant and fuel-efficient cooking stoves. Still, as climate change becomes more of a threat, such luxury options may be eschewed in favor of less impactful vacations.
While it is important that people are able to visit other countries and connect with new cultures, it is equally vital to be mindful of how damaging this can be. When a destination rises in popularity, the simple fact that more people visit means that the local eco-system suffers significantly. Thailand’s Maya Bay was visited by so many tourists in the decades following its being featured on the movie The Beach that authorities have been forced to close it until 2021 in order to allow the area to recover from the impact of daytrippers.
Unfortunately, damage caused by an influx of tourists to the environment also has the potential to affect the health and wellbeing of locals. There is a responsibility to ensure that we place a focus on minimizing global health threats as a result of our actions. Traveling internationally can result in the possibility that we may take infectious diseases and viruses across borders into unprepared communities, thus turning global health issues into public health issues and vice versa. Though healthcare providers have begun trialing IoT technology that collates data on flu symptoms and utilizes an application to track the potential spread. Further development of similar technology may help reduce the potential for illnesses spread by tourists in the future.
Our additional emissions and pressures on the environment could also have health consequences for locals. Therefore, the future of sustainable tourism must have a mind toward damage control. Many destinations today are beginning to adapt to be smart cities. This means that planners can utilize trash and waste monitoring systems, intelligently applying resources when under pressure from additional tourists. Tourist destinations can invest in electric and renewable resource-powered public transportation solutions in order to reduce the additional emissions caused by visitors. Economic development officers can access wildlife research, to make certain that habitats aren’t negatively affected by tourism-led expansion. It may not always be practical or desirable to prevent tourists from entering the area, but a responsible approach to damage limitation is both wise and necessary.
Having an environmentally-conscious attitude to travel isn’t necessarily about abstinence — after all, there is immense cultural and economic value for everybody involved. However, we must face the reality that tourism certainly has a negative effect on our eco-system. We must, therefore, encourage more sustainable methods of tourism — from utilizing renewable resources in travel options to designing accommodation with energy efficiency in mind and being mindful of our we can limit the damage of our wandering footsteps.