Travel industry steps up sustainability game

Tourism expert: Mona James, instructor at SAIT, in the Hotel SAIT classroom in Calgary on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. James has been an instructor in the hospitality and tourism management program at SAIT for 17 years. In this particular classroom, she teaches students how to operate hotel booking systems. (Photo by Emily Meyer/The Press)

Sustainability has been a growing concern in recent years, with pressure directed at tourism companies to focus on sustainable initiatives.

We have a real social responsibility for making sure that we’re respecting our environment,” said Mona James, an instructor in SAIT’s hospitality and tourism management program.

James has been an instructor at SAIT for 17 years and spent her whole career in hotel tourism.  She noted that there has always been a consideration for sustainability in the industry.

However, whereas before there were green committees focused on sustainability, now it has become part of an organization’s culture.

“Our consumers and our guests are really just demanding sustainability more,” James said.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the number of international tourists has increased to 1.5 billion people a year from 25 million in 1950.

The constant increase in global tourism also brings an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and other transport-related emissions, with the tourism industry accounting for 20 per cent of all transport-related emissions.

After continuing a steady rise, C02 levels fell more than six per cent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The recuperation of the environment in the early days of 2020 forced the tourism industry to shift focus to becoming more sustainable.

In 2021, the UNWTO published guidelines for a responsible and sustainable recovery of the tourism sector post-COVID-19.

When announcing the new guidelines, Zurab Pololikashvili, the secretary-general of the UNWTO, emphasized that “sustainability must no longer be a niche part of tourism but must be the new norm for every part of our sector.”

One company on the leading edge of sustainable tourism is Palace Resorts.

Palace Resorts began its environmental ventures in the 1990s with a sea turtle conservation initiative. By 2004, the directors of Palace Resorts started the Palace Foundation, which focused on community, social and environmental support.

Today, there are six main committees focused on various aspects of sustainability, both in terms of environmental and social responsibilities to the community.

“The fact that it’s a very socially responsible organization does make me feel quite proud to be able to represent them,” said Sharon Wilson, business development manager at Palace Resorts.

“They really wanted to go further down that road of helping their communities and getting into more sustainability.”

Palace Resorts has implemented sustainable practices to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and their sustainable efforts are proving to be financially viable too.

“I think it’s genius,” Wilson said. “With all of the recycling we do on our properties, we use that to be able to help fund the Palace Foundation.”

Through recycling programs, on-site repair shops, commercial kitchens, and other sustainable initiatives, Palace Resorts funds its community projects such as educational scholarships and foster homes.

While the tourism industry rebounds, so will the pressure from travellers for sustainable initiatives. With glowing examples of sustainability represented in companies like Palace Resorts, all eyes will be on other travel companies to see how they implement sustainable practices moving forward.

Sustainability-focused: Mona James, instructor at SAIT, surfs the computer in the Hotel SAIT classroom in Calgary on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. James has been an instructor in the hospitality and tourism management program for 17 years and teaches students about sustainability practices in the hotel and tourism industry. (Photo by Emily Meyer/The Press)


About Emily Meyer 3 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Emily Meyer is working as a writer for The Press during the 2021-22 academic year.