In June Astana, Kazakhstan hosted the UNWTO’s World Conference on Tourism and Future Energy: Unlocking Low-Carbon Growth Opportunities. We sent Holly Tuppen from BoutEco  to learn more.
As part of the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development , the Future Energy conference brought together 700 leaders in the tourism industry from 150 different countries - proving how important the green agenda now is.
The conference coincided with Astana’s EXPO-2017 exploring Future Energy; demonstrating Kazakhstan’s impressive commitment to green energy, despite having an abundance of their own fossil fuels. During the conference, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture and Sports pointed out that, “the future of tourism depends on its ability to integrate energy technologies and promote sustainable development”. Kazakhstan is keen to develop tourism and with a vast territory and four seasons to contend with, eco-tourism is a constructive way to attract visitors to rural areas.
At the opening ceremony, Dr Taleb Rifai, General Secretary of the UNWTO, stated that the positive impact of global tourism needs to be felt both economically and socially around the world and the sector needs to continue to act as a force for good. The tourism sector spends US$3.2 billion every day and by 2030, UNWTO forecasts that 1.8 billion tourists will travel the world. With this growth comes responsibility. Tourism accounts for 5% of global CO2 emissions, of which 20% comes from hotels and other types of accommodation.
During the conference, Rifai emphasised the need to embrace “opportunities for inclusive growth” and identified five important actions:
- Move towards a green economy
- Increase engagement with local communities
- Ensure economic prosperity for local people
- Promote travel and make travel available to everyone
- Acknowledge that there are challenges and work to overcome them
Future energy in the hospitality sector
In a session on ‘Future energy in the hospitality and accommodation industry’, moderator Nigel Claridge from Sustainable Innovation, remarked that “after hospitals, hotels are the greatest consumers of energy and therefore the sector has to look to reduce the energy consumption in existing buildings” - it is not enough to rely on new builds being more energy efficient.
Much of this discussion revolved around finding solutions for Small and Medium Enterprises, which make up 90% of hotels in Europe. Guest engagement and behavioural change are key for this sector since the investment needed to adopt low-carbon solutions has more of an impact on their bottom line.
Nada Roudies, Secretary General of the Ministry of Tourism in Morocco agreed that “sustainability needs to be the responsibility of all stakeholders but also needs to reach the consumer - they are an important part of the exchange.”
Hiran Cooray spoke about his experience running Jetwing Hotels in Sri Lanka, arguing that community engagement is fundamental to successful sustainable strategies. Cooray’s hotels – one of which was a winner in this year’s Green Hotelier Awards  - rely heavily on biomass, which is fuelled by the waste products of local crops, including cinnamon and rice. Jetwing has committed to being off grid by 2020, but Cooray recognises that this is something that “has to be decided from the heart, not your head”, since it requires paying for energy 25 years up front.
In a later session exploring the success of the Nearly Zero Energy Hotels (neZEH) pilot, which has been trialling in 16 hotels throughout Europe, the importance of total management buy-in to sustainability was raised once more. The neZEH initiative is at the forefront of EU and national policies to reduce the impact of existing buildings, by providing training, demonstrating past successes and providing technical advice to hoteliers.
One of the pilot properties, Stora Brannbo hotel  in Sweden, has committed to independence from fossil fuels by 2025, but having been built in the 1950s, the task to get there is huge. That said, streamlining the heating system did save them money within three months: the owner observed that successes like this were key to gaining staff buy-in.
Year of Sustainable Tourism — what’s next?
Curbing emissions , energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy and sustainable practices were underlined throughout the conference as key to ensure tourism’s contribution to the Paris Agreement.
What was most striking, was the breadth of tourism professionals taking sustainability seriously, and demonstrating a genuine commitment towards change. Astana witnessed government officials, UN members, tourist boards, PR companies, tech innovators and hoteliers, agreeing that change needs to happen now and fast. Building on this impetus will be vital to the success of the 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
More specifically the conference recognised the need to:
Secure the commitment of all actors at national and local level (public and private sectors)
- Develop policies and strategies at local level (cities and destinations)
- Strengthen knowledge of how to change energy use patterns to generate investment opportunities
- Move towards a green economy where growth is decoupled from the use of natural resources and creates green jobs
- Fight climate change along the entire tourism value chain (transport to and within destinations, hospitality industries and activities)
- Improve measurement for better management at global and local level
- Adapt and act fast knowing there is no “one-fits-all” solution
- Engage all stakeholders including local communities, staff and tourists and ensure the benefits of low-carbon growth are distributed to all
- Build links with other sectors
- Develop tourism products with low-carbon impact that can create jobs, especially for women and youth
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