Written By: Jesús Parrilla, Principal, Luxury Frontiers
Tourism can offer myriad benefits — boosting the economy, generating employment opportunities, enriching small businesses. But as the number of tourists rises each year and as previously untouched destinations become spoiled by mass tourism, the adverse side effects of travel are becoming frighteningly apparent.
In a new analysis of data from 160 countries, published in Nature Climate Change, it was found that tourism accounts for approximately 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions — a staggering statistic, and one that should motivate all tourists to educate themselves on environmental best practices, from carpooling to opting for bus and train transportation.
But it is also incumbent upon the industry’s top players to tackle climate change. Not doing so would be an abdication of corporate responsibility and a grave business error, as these corporations’ profitability ultimately depends on the vitality and availability of the earth’s natural resources.
There is no such thing as a quick climate fix, and it can take up to 40 years of growth for the technologies to reach their full potential. But there is a low-tech, sustainable, and straightforward solution, and it comes in the form of planting trees. Planting a tree absorbs carbon dioxide and potentially harmful gasses like sulfur dioxide; provides a habit for birds and other animals; reduces stormwater runoff, which in turn reduces erosion and pollution in our waterways; and gives off the precious oxygen that we need to breathe.
The many benefits of planting trees has led Tom Crowther, a climate change ecologist at Swiss university ETH Zurich, to pronounce that the single most effective way to tackle climate change is by planting trees — one trillion of ‘em.
Said Crowther to CNN: “The amount of carbon that we can restore if we plant 1.2 trillion trees, or at least allow those trees to grow, would be way higher than the next best climate change solution.”
One trillion sounds like an intimidatingly high number — but there are already plenty of companies leading the charge. Ecosia, for example, is a Berlin-based Internet search engine that donates 80% or more of its surplus income to non-profit organizations that focus on reforestation and conservation. If Ecosia has managed to plant over 58 million trees since its inception in 2009, just imagine what Booking.com, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Kayak, Trivago, Despegar, Hotels.com, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, Marriott, Choice Hotels, OYO, Accor, and Best Western could collectively do?
I propose that these big players partner with reputable institutions like The Nature Conservancy and One Tree Planted to set up a global fund for the reforestation of native species and land preservation as well as donate a small percentage of their profits to that fund. It’s a quick, easy measure with a big impact.
I believe in a better world, where future generations are not paying the consequences of this unbridled collective irresponsibility. And I’m hopeful that the travel industry will ultimately step up to the plate. Because if we don’t act quickly and decisively, we might end up extinguishing the one thing that brings travelers from all walks of life together: our planet.