HOW GREEN ARE URBAN HOTELS AND RESORTS?
by Dr Rachel Dodds
Tourism is big business internationally. In 2011, there were 983 million international tourist arrivals and this number is expected to grow to 1.8 billion by 2030. With this growth, however, comes negative impact and threats. In addition to tourism being consumptive of natural resources such as water and energy, climate also has an important influence on operating costs such as heating or cooling, irrigation, food and water. Tourism also has an impact on society. More than two-thirds of the revenue from international tourism never reaches the local economy because of the high foreign exchange leakages. Combine these with global changes such as increased urbanisation (around 50 percent of the world's population currently live in cities1 and by 2030, 2 billion people will have moved to cities), stress on natural resources, and increased population, there is no question for the need for more sustainable tourism.
ECO? GREEN? SUSTAINABLE? WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
Eco as a term, however, can be confusing in terms of size as well as location. An eco-lodge tends to focus on a small-scale building or buildings; however, eco can mean many different things, ranging from ecologically friendly practices to environmental design. Eco-resorts can be located anywhere; however an urban resort tends to be found within an urban environment and is classified as "full-service lodging facilities that provides access to or offers a range of amenities and recreation facilities to emphasise a leisure experience"2. They are also usually located in vacation areas or near vacation settings and have a minimum of 25 rooms. The Hilton once claimed to be building an eco-hotel in the Amazon with 350 rooms with a conference facility for 2,000 people but quickly changed the term to eco-friendly hotel.
Another element of confusion is whether the accommodation is eco in its design or just in resource conservation. The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, which includes brands like Radisson, Country Inns & Suites By Carlson, Park Plaza and Hotel Missoni, is focusing on issues such as reducing, recycling and reusing solid waste; reducing the use of harmful chemicals; conserving energy and water, and improving indoor air quality—all of which have an immediate impact on the environment and the communities where the hotels operate. The hotel chain also carries out many social activities such as raising money for local charities and the community. These initiatives, however, are executed post build and therefore these same properties may be hotels with hundreds of rooms that are energy and water intensive.
But what about urban tourism? Just because tourists do not tend to be as noticeable in cities as they often are in most smaller communities or rural areas, it does not mean that they do not have a significant impact on a city's infrastructure, natural resources, as well as social and cultural environment3. For instance, Singapore receives three visitors a year for every permanent resident (about 17 million tourists per year compared to 5 million residents), a ratio that would strain the social and environmental carrying capacity of many destinations.
So what is urban ecotourism? Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people"4. The term ecotourism is usually associated with exotic, undisturbed, remote (or at least rural) areas as well as with developing countries. Yet by definition, it includes parks and green spaces, culture and heritage, and since tourism does not just take place in the countryside, resorts and urban areas should not be ignored—hence urban ecotourism or Green or sustainable tourism.
1 Millennium Development Goals Report, 2007 http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/mdg2007.pdf
2 Caribbean Hotel Association, 2009: 1 http://caribbeanhotelassociation.com/source/Members/DataCenter/Research-UofMemphis.pdf
3 Dodds, R and Joppe, M., (2003) The application of ecotourism to urban environments, Tourism: An Interdisciplinary Journal Vol. 51(2) pp.157-164
4 The International Ecotourism Society, 1990 http://www.ecotourism.org/what-is-ecotourism
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Dr Rachel Dodds is an established expert in the field of sustainable tourism and passionate about change. Dr Dodds is the Owner and Director of Sustaining Tourism, a boutique consultancy, as well as an Associate Professor at Ryerson University in the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, she has provided consulting and business advice and research to government bodies, charities, NGOs and private sector organisations worldwide. Dr Dodds has lived and worked on four continents and has travelled to over 70 countries.