How climate change poses challenges to sustainable tourism: Opinion


By Gaurav Pokhariyal, Executive VP, Human Resource, IHCL

With extreme weather events, like heatwaves, cyclones, floods and so on, happening with great frequency of late, a fundamental transformation of all key sectors is needed. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) State Of Global Climate Report 2021 states that four climate crisis indicators broke records in 2021 – these are greenhouse gas concentrations, sea-level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification.
Another WMO report points out that India suffered an average annual loss of around $87 billion in 2020 due to climate events. Needless to say, these indicators and events impact tourism too. 

With the number of travellers increasing, there is greater pressure on the environment, more facilities like power, water and goods are needed, and there is also more wastage created such as food, furniture, equipment, appliances, and so on. All this goes against conservation. Moreover, volatility of climate events discourage tourism.

So the Hospitality and Tourism industry also need to work towards creating positive impact. Like with all other industries, sustainability is an effort towards self-preservation, and not an altruistic move, as clean air, floods, cyclones, economic losses involve us all. 

Covid-19 has brought focus on the fissures and failings in the way we live, and the carbon footprint of the choices we make. Travellers and hotels both have become aware of the fact that our activitieshave an impact on the environment.

The UN’s apex climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its latest report has warned of the consequences of inaction. As per the report, in order to keep global heating to below 1.5°C above the baseline levels of 1850, fresh global emissions have to start declining by 2025, nearly halved in 2030 and get close to zero by 2050. All human effort needs energy.

If the energy we use generates Carbon gases, it harms the environment. As per the Energy Information Administration (EIA), there will be nearly 50% increase in global energy use by 2050. Thus, we need to drive huge leaps in our sustainability plans ahead, for the good of people, planet, and profits.

The sustainability challenge in hospitality is three-fold. First, we need reliable and green sources of energy; second, followed by the need to reduce waste and shun plastics; third, our growth must embrace local communities where we are located so as to move ahead in a sustainable way.

India has pledged that by 2030, 50% of the energy required will be generated from non-fossil sources. According to reports, tourism contributes around 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions — a figure which is expected to grow by 130% by 2035.

Various ratings like the Energy Star Portfolio Manager and ARC measure the performance of hotels in comparison to other hotels. Energy scores have maximum points in green rating tools.

Apart from solar tops for energy use and encouraging waste-to-energy projects, Hotels can be designed keeping eco-friendly principles in mind to reduce the energy required.
Energy savings can be applied in hotels as the occupancy varies and there is scope for adjustments using controls. Hotels that make green choices will also provide appropriate amounts of fresh air for the benefit of all. But the key to energy saving is in Operations.
Operating the hotel and systems efficiently is a daily task, as energy use and limiting waste generation needs to be assessed daily.

Since over 80% Hotels today are MSEs, they have a huge opportunity to build in energy efficiency. Comprising the largest and fastest growing section of the hotel industry, these small hotels need better technical expertise and financial support in order to build, design, operate, and upgrade their systems and processes. Construction of new buildings and architecture needs to be planned “with” nature and not in isolation.

India has banned single-use plastic items which have low utility and high littering potential, all across the country from July 1, 2022. Hotels will need to abide with the new law on plastics. For instance, through Paathya, IHCL’s roadmap for affirmative climate action, IHCL has pledged it will completely eliminate single-use plastic across all its hotels by 2030.

Lastly, taking care of local communities where Hotels are located, and involving them with arts and crafts, empowering them with skilling activities and offering employment opportunities ensures sustainable practices.

For example, in IHCL’s “Walk with the Pardhis” initiative in Panna National Park, IHCL supported the training of the local Pardhis tribe. For many rural communities, tourism is their lifeline, and Hotel activities can involve visitors having a close interaction with the local cultures, promoting sustainable tourism alongside. 

While in the past, people have planned a trip through website searches, review sites and comparison of rates, now people are getting more environmentally conscious, and they will be looking at greener approaches to tourism.

Travel is increasingly becoming niche, curated, and minimally damaging to the environment. Hospitality will do well to take heed to this trend.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here