Is Going Green Good for Tourism?

Our anonymous global nomad reflects on whether greater environmentalism attracts more tourists

We are all in some ways affected by or engaged with the sustainability agenda. But do a country’s green credentials influence our desire to travel to it? This was a question I asked myself while travelling through Finland, which ranks at the top of the World Economic Forum’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI), and New Zealand, where 85 percent of electricity comes from renewable sources.

The answer isn’t totally straightforward. On some levels, sustainability seems to not be a deciding factor in travellers’ choices. Sweden and Denmark, which rank in the EPI top five, experienced lower than average growth in tourism in 2017. Yale University did a terrific study on the topic and couldn’t find any direct causality between the environmental strength of a country and its tourism revenue.

But there is also plenty of evidence in the other direction. The same Yale study shows that the more pristine the natural environment of a country, the more tourists are inclined to travel there, and the more they are willing to pay to access well-preserved areas. Finland, Iceland and Slovenia, also in the EPI top 5, experienced higher than average tourism growth in 2017. And at a more micro level, 58 percent of respondents in a recent Conde Nast Traveller survey said they chose their hotel based on whether it gives back to local people and the planet. More than 70 percent of those surveyed (not just the more conscious Millennial segment) said they were happy with less frequent toiletry and towel replacement, with 64 percent glad to accept higher costs for food if it’s locally sourced.

Assuming, from the above, that there is enough evidence that caring about the planet drives our travel choices positively, the next question is whether this is actually a good thing or not. It seems like a no-brainer: if green drives revenue and profit, then countries and companies are more likely to drive green.

But then my company’s head of sustainability explained to me that such a virtuous circle doesn’t exist: eco-tourism can in fact lead to overtourism and environmental degradation, a boom-and-bust cycle. So countries with wonderful intentions of environmental protection and revenue generation end up doing all the right things and still ruining their environment due to too many pesky tourists, causing natural and cultural resources to deteriorate, which then leads to tourism declining again.

What does this all mean, then? One takeaway is that countries and companies should engage in green policies because they’re simply good for the planet – not just to drive revenue. Another is that such policies ought to be accompanied by volume control; Rwanda’s recent doubling of the price of a permit to visit gorillas to US$1,500 per person is one rather cool example of a country’s move towards long-term sustainable tourism that avoids boom-and-bust.

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By the Anonymous Global Nomad

In the past month‭:

Flights taken‭: 13

Miles travelled‭: ‮ 426,724

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