Tourism’s environmental challenge
The elephant (or rather kiwi) in the room
Surging from 2.4 million international tourists a year in 2009 to over 3.8 million in 2018, it’s undeniable that New Zealand has undergone a massive tourism boom. International tourism delivers nearly $11.2 billion per year to the country’s coffers, and is the result of decades of hard work by the tourism industry and successive governments.
However there is a flip side, and rising public concern about climate change and sustainable practices means that the environmental costs of tourism are a hot topic for policymakers, operators and the government. There is an urgent need to do something, but no clear roadmap of action.
So what is the cost?
Well, tourism accounts for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while air travel makes up around 2% of global carbon emissions despite modern advances in aircraft efficiency.
For us here in New Zealand, firstly there is the unavoidable problem that we are an island nation at the bottom of the Pacific, and those that visit here do so by emitting tonnes of greenhouse gases. At this stage, our tourism sector can do little about the greenhouse gas emissions from international visitors on their way to and from New Zealand, although passengers can voluntarily offset the emissions from their flights.
The second challenge is that international tourists come here to experience New Zealand’s natural beauty – which puts pressure on sensitive natural ecosystems, and strains the resources of local communities and authorities.
So what can we do?
Some exciting initiatives are underway to significantly reduce the environmental footprint of tourists while they are ‘in-country’ as a first step to reshaping the sustainability of tourism in the long-term.
- The first is our partnership with Tourism Industry Aotearoa! We are helping TIA members to measure, manage and reduce their carbon emissions, so that when tourists see our certifications on businesses, they can be assured that those providers are tackling emissions in a credible way. We are also supporting TIA’s TRENZ event, New Zealand’s biggest annual international tourism showcase, achieve carboNZero certification to let the world know the New Zealand tourism industry is committed to taking real action.
- Our partnership is aligned with another initiative, the New Zealand Tourism Sustainability Commitment. This aims to see every Kiwi tourism business on the path to sustainability by 2025. Over 1000 tourist-related businesses have already signed up, which includes goals to reduce carbon emissions and champion ecological regeneration.
- The last initiative, the Tiaki Promise, is focussed at tourists themselves. Tiaki means to care for people and place, and the Promise is intended to encourage visitors to look after New Zealand as they travel around. When visitors sign up to the Promise, they make a commitment to care for land, sea and nature, travel safely with consideration, respect culture, and travel with an open heart and mind. The idea is that tourists can contribute to the protection and care for our land. It was developed through an alliance of seven private and public sector organisations, including TIA.
carboNZero certified organisation, and a Tourism Sustainability Commitment supporter, Bush & Beach Safaris
are a great example of organisations taking action to address their environmental impacts.
The tourism industry is deeply committed to our environment given its dependence on our natural resources. The take home lesson? It’s complex, but if we work together we can decarbonise the industry.