Each year, thousands of stakeholders in consumer-and-business facing travel sectors from over 180 countries gather to attend the ITB Travel Trade Show. Over the past week, leaders from this industry converged upon Berlin for ITB, and among them was Ronald Sanabria, the Rainforest Alliance’s Vice President of Sustainable Tourism. During ITB, Ronald gave a presentation entitled, ‘Safeguarding Waterways Through Sustainable Tourism: Field Lessons Learned from the Rainforest Alliance.’
The tourism industry generates over 9 percent of global GDP and employs over 235 million people worldwide. Therefore, it presents viable opportunities to impart sustainable, large-scale impacts on the well-being of individuals, livelihoods, communities, and the environment. And according to Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of UNWTO, over the past year, the tourism industry experienced an average growth of 4.4% – with 50 million new travelers! At ITB, Taleb said, ‘tourism is an industry of hope and optimism.’
Ronald highlighted how our commitment to sustainable tourism is designed and executed around local needs, so that positive impacts made by Rainforest Alliance Certified™ tourism businesses are felt by nearby communities whose livelihoods, lands and waterways are protected. Sustainable tourism practices help to conserve fragile, biodiverse ecosystems, which can include rivers, coasts, wetlands, and other types of aquatic environments. However, if business leaders in more sectors do not take action to reduce their organizations’ environmental footprints, humans and ecosystems alike may face disastrous circumstances in the near future.
Here are some of the key highlights from Ronald’s speech:
- In 2015, the World Economic Forum called water scarcity a ‘Global Risk of Top Concern’; it is the #1 risk in terms of impact, and #8 in terms of likelihood.
- 10 years from now, almost 2 billion people will be living in areas with absolute water scarcity. (Source: UN Water)
- 4.5 billion people already live within 50 km of an impaired water source, i.e. one that is running dry or polluted. (Source: UN Water)
- Nitrate is the most common pollutant in groundwater. (Source: UN Water)
- Water scarcity threatens famers’ yields, crop quality, and products’ profitability.
- Tourism not only uses a large volume of water, it creates waste water that can contain chlorine and other chemicals. Most of this is dumped into oceans; 48% of large coastal cities have no sewage system. (Source: UNEP/MAP/PAP and Kuss)
Tourism businesses who wish to be Rainforest Alliance Certified must adhere to rigorous standards, such as:
- Its business will plan, implement, monitor, and ensure the rational use of water.
- Its operations do not pollute bodies of water.
- Wastewater and solid waste are properly disposed of; any residual impacts on the environment must be mitigated.
As a result of implementing our standards:
- There are currently 1.1 million hectares of land owned by participating tourism businesses, and this supports 2.2 million hectares of protected land.
- In a survey of Latin American hotels, 71% had decreased their water consumption and 31% were spending less on water after implementing the Rainforest Alliance’s best practices.
- There are Rainforest Alliance Certified tourism operations in 12 countries, with 11,000 practitioners trained on-site.
Ronald’s recommendations for future developments in the sustainable tourism sector:
- Formulate and implement national and local policy planning guidelines and evaluation frameworks for sustainable tourism development that include water conservation.
- Help governments and NGOs develop shared sustainability standards that include water conservation and improve infrastructure and public services.
- Ensure that investments in the tourism sector contribute towards conserving water and community development.
- Help businesses implement sustainable practices, and make technical and financial assistance accessible to businesses of all sizes.
- Support public-private partnerships for water conservation in sustainable tourism.
- Support voluntary, accountability mechanisms such as third-party, independent certification that include water conservation criteria.
- Increase consumers’ access to information to foster responsible decision-making.