Episode 33: Sustainable Tourism with Daniella Foster (Hilton)


When you think of travel and tourism, what comes to mind? Maybe it's a pristine beach, an exciting new city, or all those airline miles you're dying to use. Odds are, the environmental impacts of your travel are more of an afterthought, but that's no reason to believe they don't exist. In this episode we dive into why a sustainable tourism industry is so important. We're joined by Daniella Foster, Hilton Hotels' Senior Director of Global Corporate Responsibility, to discuss everything from ecotourism to job opportunities for young people around the world. Recorded live from the Sustainable Brands '18 conference in Vancouver.

Learn more about environmental awareness here!

Episode Intro Notes


What We'll Cover:

  • Overview of the travel/tourism industry

  • Why is sustainable tourism important?

  • Trends in sustainable tourism

  • How listeners can travel sustainably

  • Background on Daniella Foster


Overview of the Travel/Tourism Industry

Let’s start big-picture. In 2017, there were a total of 2.2 billion one-person trips. A one person-trip represents one person on a trip away from home that includes some sort of overnight accommodation (be it in a hotel, an Airbnb, or on Scott’s couch). This 2.2 billion number is a 1.9% increase from 2016.

Let’s chat about where all these travelers are actually headed. Can you guess the most frequently visited countries? Here they are:

  • France

  • United States

  • Spain

  • China

  • Italy

Travelers have a range of accommodation choices while on the road. Airbnb is certainly popular right now. That Airbnb...so hot right now. In 2016, Airbnb had 80 million guest arrivals, and it now has 4 million listings worldwide, more than the top five hotel chains have in rooms combined. 

Airbnb is also working with its hosts to make the accommodations more environmentally friendly. In North America, it has partnered with Vivint Smart Home to give hosts access to smart thermostats that determine when guests leave the listing, then automatically adjust the temperature to conserve energy while guests are out exploring. It makes sense Airbnb would work with hosts to do this since according to its own survey, a majority of Airbnb guests around the world (72 percent) say the environmental benefits of home sharing were of at least some importance in their choice of Airbnb.


Why is Sustainable Tourism Important?

Unsurprisingly, the travel and tourism industry has a pretty big carbon footprint for a single industry. Back in 2008, the United Nations World Tourism Organization said that the industry is responsible for a total of 5% of global carbon emissions. A more recent study using an alternative methodology found that the global tourism industry is responsible for 8% of carbon emissions. This new research includes things like emissions from producing the food and beverage purchased at travel destinations.

So what makes up most of the emissions? The transportation sector. According to the WTO study, it accounts for 75% of all (tourism) emissions. Side note: if you want to calculate the carbon footprint of your next flight, head over to calculator.carbonfootprint.com to have a look.

The WTO study found that the actual accommodation portion of the travel and tourism industry accounts for 20% of total emissions from the travel industry. This involves heating, air-conditioning and the maintenance of bars, restaurants, pools. Clearly, this varies according to the location and size of the accommodation, as well as the type of establishments – hotels having greater energy consumption than camping sites… and maybe even glamping sites?

So it’s a lot of emissions from hotels and they need to do their part to fight climate change. Research commissioned by International Tourism Partnership highlights that the hotel industry must reduce its carbon emissions by 66% by 2030 and 90% by 2050 to stay within the 2˚C threshold agreed at COP21.

Additionally, activities such as museums, theme parks, events or shopping also contribute to certain amounts of emissions, estimated at approximately 3.5% of industry emissions.

From these figures, we can see that it’s pretty important to transition into a sustainable tourism industry. One of the most popular trends under this concept is the idea of “ecotourism,” which itself is not free from scrutiny. Ecotourism is defined as “the practice of touring natural habitats in a manner meant to minimize ecological impact.” 

So is this idea valid? Nature.org does a good job of summarizing both sides. On the one hand, increased tourism to sensitive natural areas can threaten the integrity of ecosystems and too many visitors to indigenous cultures can threaten their way of life. Further, a major influx of tourists can create an over-dependence on tourism, which can be a risky business. On the other hand, this same growth creates significant opportunities for both conservation and local communities. Ecotourism can provide much-needed revenues for the protection of national parks and other natural areas -- revenues that might not be available from other sources.”

One cool company operating in this ecotourism space is Responsible Travel, which connects travelers with tourism and experience packages. All programs offered on their site meet their  policies on various issues – from the welfare of animals to the treatment of people – and encourage their travelers to think about these when they travel. They do a great job of publishing their stances on all of these issues on their website. For example, Responsible travel does not support the keeping of dolphins and whales in captivity to allow travelers to swim with them.

Overall, travel is too important to not do it because of environmental reasons. The key is being mindful of the impact and speaking with your purchasing decisions so that companies make their operations more sustainable.


Trends in Sustainable Tourism

Let’s start with people’s attitudes towards sustainable tourism generally. According to a survey of 72,000 Hilton guests, social, environmental and ethical considerations are central to their buying preferences. They found that 33% of guests actively seek this information before booking – of those, 60% conduct research even if the information is not easily accessible. Here is an interesting factoid from their research: Female travelers (39%) are more likely to actively seek this information before booking than male travelers (29%), showing yet again that women rule and men drool.

By the way, we saw a lot of stats showing millennials care about sustainable tourism, but according to World Travel Monitor® data, they actually display quite similar travel patterns as older travellers.” Leave it to the millennials to talk a big game and not follow through!

We have some international organizations that are starting to tap into this sustainable tourism trend. For example, the World Travel & Tourism Council and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have joined forces to publish a Common Agenda towards a carbon neutral world. The goal is to initiate a sector-wide dialogue on climate action in the travel and tourism sector, bringing together industry leaders, climate experts and others to ‘look over the horizon’ to identify how the sector can contribute to the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

You also have some of the big hotel names jumping into the mix here, with new pledges from groups like Hilton that embed sustainability into its company-wide operations. For example, Hilton’s goal is to halve its environmental footprint by 2030 while doubling its social impact investments.

With hotels, we’re talking travel on land. Let’s not forget travel and tourism by sea! Cruises have a major footprint. This could be a show in of itself and there are some mind-blowing stats here. For example, one German environmental organization found that a mid-size cruise ship burns through as much as 150 tons of fuel a day, emitting as much particulate matter as one million cars. Cruise lines are starting to step up their game a bit though. Royal Caribbean has recently partnered with World Wildlife Fund to advance Ocean conservation. It is implementing scrubbers that will remove “nearly all of the environmentally harmful sulfur dioxide from a ship’s exhaust system.” It has also pledged to use only fish from sustainable farms and fisheries by 2020.


How Listeners can Travel Sustainably

On top of no-brainers like taking shorter showers and bringing a reusable water bottle on the road with you, you can find out what percentage of the hotel’s resources is local. Do they hire local staff? Do they get most of their foods locally? Do they use locally sourced materials in the décor? Companies that utilize indigenous resources tend to be more sustainable, as they’re investing in the local economy.

Here are the names of a few resources to help you out:

When traveling you can also look for seals of approval from other certification programs, such as EarthCheck(Australia), Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance (Latin America, Caribbean), and Green Tourism Business Scheme (UK).

Further, Because flight emissions take up the majority of your carbon footprint when traveling, you can also choose not to take an airplane when possible. You can take action to minimize fuel use for your trip such as traveling non-stop and packing less so that the plane has less weight and uses less fuel. You can also opt for e-tickets to reduce paper use. If you are flying, choose a responsible airline that is aiming to reduce their footprint. You should be considering the following:

  • Does the airline have a carbon offsetting program? As in, a program that allows fliers to invest in an environmental program that plants trees to offset carbon emissions, for example

  • Are they attempting to increase their fuel efficiency?

  • Are they investing in biofuels?

  • Do they have a functioning recycling program?

On top of all that, you can also donate to those in need while you travel! Pack for a Purpose is a website that for specific locations lists out what is needed based on feedback from local community-based projects.

Plus, our friends at Bookmundi have spotlighted 10 Awesome Ways You Can Travel Eco-Friendly. Check it out!


About Daniella Foster

Daniella is the Senior Director of Global Corporate Responsibility at Hilton. She’s also the CEO and cofounder of the Emergent Leaders Network, which provides community college students with micro-scholarships and mentoring.

She has worked in business, government, and the non-profit sectors leading partnerships and initiatives that grow small/medium enterprises, connect entrepreneurs from around the world, and develop youth job skills (source).