Ecotourism – sneered at by some and lauded by others, it’s one of those terms that people find it hard to define. By booking into an eco-hotel, are we really doing our bit for the environment, or are we just falling victim to clever marketing? In an age where we drive hybrid cars, recycle our waste, compost our leftovers and read by the light of energy-saving light bulbs, it’s logical that we would want our travel habits to follow suit.
Defined by the International Ecotourism Society as about “uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel”, ecotourism has perhaps been most obvious in developing countries as they expand their tourism industries.
In Sri Lanka, the Greening Sri Lanka Hotels project aims to help 350 hotels reduce their water, waste and energy usage and promote the reputation of Sri Lankan hotels as low carbon hotels. Numbers of tourists to the country have continued to rise since the end of the civil war in 2009 and are expected to reach a million in the next year.
But it’s vital to set the parameters that will protect the country as this industry grows, says chief executive of the Travel Foundation, Sue Hurdle: “As with any fast-growing destination, a careful balance must be struck to preserve what makes Sri Lanka so special for the people who live there and for future generations of visitors."
Last week, Greening Sri Lanka Hotels reached the half-way mark – 139 hotels have signed up since its inception two years ago and more than 70 audits are already completed. One of the main objectives is to reduce waste generation, water and energy consumption by 20%. Currently the energy costs in the sector make up 18% of the total operations cost in the hospitality industry. Air conditioning accounts for 50% of a hotel’s total energy consumption.
One hotel in particular, the Heritance Tea Factory found that installing transparent roofing sheets and removing bathroom heaters has massively reduced its energy costs and usage.
Project director, Srilal Miththapala, believes such measures will help hotels meet demands for sustainability from international tour operators: “Like many sectors, the travel industry is recognising the value of offering a sustainable product. The Greening Sri Lanka project is a real win-win, helping hotels not only to save money, but to protect the environment in which they operate and demonstrate to contractors their long-term commitment to sustainable tourism."
Other properties around the world have made similar strides, as shown by the 179 properties listed on Eco Hotels of the World, which are awarded eco stars for their environmental measures. A new hotel certification regime has also recently been launched by technology company Sabre Holdings and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, with 4700 global properties listed that have been certified.
Harald Eisenaecher, EMEA senior vice president of Sabre Travel Network, believes it is an important step for the tourism industry: “This trend of eco-friendly hotels and green travel is here to stay.”
What do you think? Is sustainability something you think about when travelling and choosing your hotel? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org specifying “Ecotourism” in the subject field.