The four winners announced this month for the World Tourism for Tomorrow awards are a reminder of the breadth of sustainable development issues such tourism operators address, and in many cases of the timeliness of their actions.
In the Philippines, Il Nido was recognised for more than two decades of work in sustainable development and tourism, and for being ahead of the curve by focussing not just on the much vaunted triple bottom line approach, but rather the Quadruple, namely Financial Profitability, Environmental Stewardship, Community Engagement, and Organisational Development.
The Peaks of The Balkans is an elegantly simple idea – a 192km hiking trail uniting the mountain regions of Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania. In a region marked by centuries of struggle and war, the awards noted that Peaks of the Balkans “is playing an important role in preserving the natural, cultural and spiritual heritage of the region, as well as restoring mutual trust, collaboration, and economic opportunities between these three Balkan countries.”
Similarly, luxury safari company &Beyond base their business on ‘Care for the Land, Care for the Wildlife, and Care for the People.’ And while the news for that industry gets ever bleaker, with last week it announced that the rhinoceros was extinct in Mozambique, &Beyond continue to respond with a range of innovative tourism projects – like offering guests the chance to experience ‘rhino notching’. Meanwhile, in January this year its Phinda Resource Reserve undertook the first ever private game reserve donation of rhino to another country, when it translocated six from South Africa to Botswana.
However, even its news relevance is pipped at the post by Air New Zealand, who received the Global Tourism Business Award 2013. This month, at the Mauna Loa Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii, they recorded that the average concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere had exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in about four million years
When Mauna Loa began measuring CO2 in 1958, the figure was 317 ppm. Consensus is that 350ppm is the safe level to avoid catastrophic impacts, and that’s why the leading climate change activist group is called www.350.org. At 400, we are well past that point.
Combatting Climate Change
But while the world’s climate emissions have been creeping inexorably higher, Air New Zealand has reduced its by 15%. It’s a meaningful amount, and not least because 15% of 400 is 60, taking us back – if adopted across the board – to the relative safety of 340ppm. They’ve done this with the purchase of fuel efficient new planes and the use of sustainable biofuel in all of their ground transportation fleet. In addition through their Air New Zealand Trust they support biodiversity conservation projects in their home country as well as providing air transport for the relocation of threatened wildlife species.
That this should be done by a remote island airline is doubly significant. Across the world it is the people of low lying islands, from the Maldives to Tuvalu that will be first and most affected by climate change, and in many cases already are. But these are often the same people whose economies are most heavily reliant on foreign tourists, and tourists who can only reach their remote outposts by aircraft. How to keep flying tourists to these places while minimising the climate impact of aviation is just the sort of complex sustainable development issue that responsible tourism brings people together to address.