Tourism is one of the biggest global sources of CO2 (greenhouse gases, measured by CO2 equivalent) emissions, accounting for almost 10% of all the emissions. Most of these come from transportation and infrastructure such as hotels and attractions. In what way are destinations responsible for greenhouse gas emissions in tourism?
Destinations are key players in tourism. People travel to destinations. Many destinations are marketed and managed by different kinds of organisations that we call DMOs (Destination Marketing or Management Organizations). Often the goal of the DMO is to bring economic prosperity to the region they are managing or marketing. This economic prosperity often needs tourists to travel and consume, meaning that it is causing greenhouse gas emissions. What can destinations do regarding greenhouse gas emissions? Let’s look at some of the major sources of greenhouse gases and what can destinations do about those.
Most of the greenhouse gases in tourism come from transportation, both to the destination and within the destination.
Let’s imagine a scenario: Whole Finland shuts down as a tourism destination. No more international tourism, maybe a bit of domestic tourism. What kind of effect would that have on global emissions? None at all, or very close to that. Why? Because the tourists that come to Finland would just travel to other destinations. There are very few tourists that travel just because Finland exists. People want to travel and as long as they do, Finland is just one of the destinations they can choose to travel to. If they cannot travel to Finland, it is easy to choose another destination.
So shutting down a destination is not a solution to cut global emissions. What can a DMO then do? It is a good idea to identify market’s that have small CO2 footprint. If a destination can attract tourists that have low CO2 footprint travelling to the destination, then they are less likely to travel to destinations where their CO2 footprint would be larger. This is by no mean an easy task, but definitely, something DMOs could do. Focusing on overseas markets in marketing encourages tourists to travel overseas instead of local destinations, increasing co2 emissions. Calculating transportation emissions from different markets with different transportation options is a valuable tool for destinations to manage this.
Accessibility within a destination is also something that DMOs can develop. However, knowledge about the tourists and their behavior is needed. How do tourists move around the destination (and between other destinations)? What kind of transportation options they have to do so, and how much emissions those options create? Development of public transportation options is crucial, as well as educating and enabling tourists to use them.
Destinations and especially municipalities can have their say on what kind of buildings are constructed in the region. In Finland, for example, the municipalities have zoning power and can decide what kind of buildings can be constructed and where. This is critical for CO2 emissions as concrete and steel are major sources of CO2 emissions.
What tourists eat in the destination is also a source of CO2 emissions. However, when calculating this it has to be kept in mind that people need also to eat in other destinations and at home. It might even be, that in some destinations tourists eat food that is more environmentally friendly than the food they would eat at home.
Marketing communication to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in tourism
How destinations communicate with tourists also plays a big part in making the destination more sustainable. Marketing communications can be used to educate tourists about their CO2 impact and ways to reduce it. Tourists are inclined to do things that are being promoted to them, meaning that focus on low CO2 attractions and activities in marketing could reduce emissions. Also, compensation methods can be promoted for tourists interested in reducing their CO2 footprint.
I study how changes in technology and consumer behaviour affect tourism marketing. Programme director of International Master’s Degree Programme at University of Eastern Finland Business School.