The tourism industry has been on a path of self-destruction for decades, valuing profits at the expense of people, planet, and purpose. The result is clear: in 2018, tourism accounted for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That includes transport, shopping, food, and other tourism-supported industries. 

Climate change also has real consequences for destination communities around the world, from lack of access to clean water supplies, increased natural disasters, erratic agricultural production, increased threat of poverty, political instability, damage to their natural environment, and even changes in traveler preferences.

However, 2020 proved that even stopping tourism is not enough to meet the demands of the climate crisis. The pandemic has highlighted the immense need and value of tourism to global and local supply chains, conservation, and cultural exchange.

Sustainable tourism provides an economic incentive for destinations to avoid extraction-based economies, providing employment while decreasing carbon-intensive practices such as mining, deforestation, and slash-and-burn agriculture.

As travel resumes post-COVID, we must focus on quality over quantity in tourism. In other words, value over volume. It is the quality of visitation, not the number of visitors that countries and destinations need to seek and measure, with an individual and societal commitment to a responsible recovery.

We advocate for a profound shift in the travel and tourism sector, with preparation and effective risk management, adaptation, and resilience, and decarbonization being fundamental to the industry’s future.

Why It Matters

Tourism is both a contributor to climate change and a victim of its impacts. Climate change mitigation and adaptation are not just about protecting the environment. It is also about protecting the communities in the destinations we all love and the tourism industry itself. Because tourism touches multiple industries, including transport, food production, retail, construction, a positive shift in the sector would have a major impact on economies around the globe.

What CREST is Doing About It

In 2021, we launched an advocacy campaign to call attention to and create urgent action around the immediate climate crisis. As part of this campaign, CREST and other Future of Tourism Coalition founding members declared a climate emergency. We acknowledge that the tourism sector requires an urgent and wholesale transformation of its operations and supply chains. Mitigating climate impacts is also one of the Future of Tourism Coalition’s 13 Guiding Principles.

We will be sharing thoughtful content throughout the year through our events, social media, and other channels to build a knowledge base around this critical issue and seek solutions. 

Food waste is responsible for 8 percent of global carbon emissions. Since 2018, we have partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to better understand the landscape around food waste in the Caribbean tourism industry. Playing an important role in the circular economy, better management of food along the supply chain is a key component of climate change mitigation and responsible recovery.

In 2020, we partnered with Jamaican non-profit CaribShare to organize a conference for Jamaican hoteliers to share lessons learned about food waste management in the private sector. 

The Greater Caribbean region, a dispersal of nations bound together by one interior sea, provides researchers with an optimal microcosm to study the relationship between the tourism industry and climate change. And in Cuba, where the tourism industry is highly volatile due to foreign dependence, external shocks, and little market diversification, the COVID-19 and climate crises pose a great threat.

With support from the Ford Foundation and Christopher Reynolds Foundation, we are preparing a report that will explore the impacts of and linkages among COVID-19, climate change, and the Cuban tourism sector. We will also forecast and pose points of consideration for the recovery of specific subsectors of the industry, such as cruise tourism, agritourism, and accommodations.

The report will draw conclusions for combatting these dual crises and provoke thoughtful dialogue for the travel industry, policymakers, and civil society – in Cuba and the Greater Caribbean – to engage in urgent mobilization towards responsible, sustainable tourism recovery.