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Article | 24 October 2023 | ESG
Welcome to Disneyland, Venice
It is estimated that 80% of the world’s tourists visit only 10% of its destinations. In September 2023 and for the first time, Venice offered more beds for tourists than for residents. Venice’s popularity has pushed up rents beyond the reach of locals and in turn the supporting infrastructure of shops and other services for the residents has fallen. In spring 2024 a fee of €5 will be payable by day trippers to the city on its busiest days of the year. Will this be too late to reverse what campaigners call the ‘Disneyfication’ of the city?
According to the IMF (International Monetary Fund), travel and tourism accounted for 10% of global GDP and 320 million jobs pre-Covid. It was one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic, as annual passenger arrivals globally collapsed by 74% in 2020, compared with the year before. ‘Staycations’ helped supply the need for holidays for a period, but the lure of ‘proper’ holidays abroad soon returned. Mid-2023 data from the global airports association indicates that world-wide passenger traffic (both recreational and business) will recover to over 90% of its 2019 level by the end of 2023. Yet change may be on its way.
Lockdowns during Covid encouraged greater
re-engagement with nature and the environment. A lingering effect of this has been to encourage the growth of sustainable tourism. According to the UN’s World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism helps to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity. It also respects the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities and provides them socio-economic benefits.
From a relatively low base, comprising c. 5% of the total travel and tourism industry, the sustainable tourism market globally in 2022 was valued at $1 trillion – by 2032 it is forecast to be worth more than $8 trillion. Sustainable tourism is still a relatively new concept and holiday-makers and operators will need to make adjustments – from the traditional concerns about price, quality and convenience, to more holistic concerns such as social, cultural and environmental issues. As in other areas, greenwashing can be a problem in the industry. Just because a hotel calls itself an ‘eco-lodge’ does not necessarily mean it is one.
There is a need for action. Alongside travel and tourism’s economic importance, the sector is also a large carbon emitter. Tourism transportation generates 20% of all transport related emissions and 5% of all man-made emissions annually. Other carbon generating tourism-related subsectors include the supply of construction materials to build hotels, the food production, as well as waste management.
Yet sustainable tourism can succeed, even at a country level. Costa Rica has become a model for sustainable tourism. While small, with 2 million overseas arrivals in 2022, compared with just under 4 million international arrivals to Venice, Costa Rica is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity.
What differentiates Costa Rica is that the government has developed a range of certification programmes encouraging the conservation of natural resources and support for local communities. It has also ranked a number of categories, including beaches, sustainable housing and protected natural spaces, with ‘blue flags’ awarded to those who excel. The economic argument for compliance is that tourists are directed towards high scoring certified businesses.
Encouraging more sustainable tourism involves easy choices, such as promoting the attraction of less populated countries and regions. It also includes more difficult ones, such as addressing the tax breaks for the aviation sector, which underpins cheap flights, becoming a major contributor to carbon emissions. The balance between how much ‘carrot’ and how much ‘stick’ to apply, effectively how much the tourism sector needs to be regulated, has yet to be reached. Moves by some cities to control tourism flows will be closely watched, but it is encouraging that growth in tourist numbers can no longer be regarded as the key indicator of success in this industry.