Adelaida Suarez

Sustainable tourism: why is it so necessary?

Adelaida Suarez

Sustainable tourism: why is it so necessary?

The holidays are upon us and with them, the desire to travel. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in 2022 more than 900 million people travelled internationally. This large movement of tourists brings with it a series of advantages such as job creation, an increase in foreign currency, the development of infrastructures, the exchange of cultures, the preservation of heritage, among others. 

However, it is also true that tourism can have negative consequences for the environment. Tourism generates a large amount of waste and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, largely due to the energy consumption of tourist facilities and means of transport. 

Environmental impact of tourism

Tourist accommodation

In the same way that private households generate CO2 emissions from energy use on a daily basis, tourist accommodation also depends on electricity and energy consumption in kWh to maintain the facilities in optimal conditions. Specifically, hotels produce about 274 Mt (megatonnes) of CO2 emissions every night.

 Translated to the individual level, it is estimated that each tourist emits 10-102 kilograms of CO2 per night of stay. As a result, more and more hotels are joining the plan for sustainable tourism, implementing measures to reduce their carbon footprint and seeking to save electricity and water in order to preserve the ecosystem and their own resources.

Means of transport

Cars, motorbikes, planes, trains or buses; all commonly used means of transport for travelling. Thanks to these vehicles, tourism is kept alive year after year. However, they are the main sources of GHG emissions from tourism activity. 

Several studies have shown that around 8% of global GHG emissions come from these transports and predict that the figure will continue to rise between now and 2030. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), air traffic alone is responsible for 2% of all these global emissions.

It is therefore important to find ways to travel more sustainably and to find new measures and technologies to help reduce pollution. Electric cars, boats or trains can be an effective alternative for short journeys.

 In descending order, the vehicles that emit the most greenhouse gases are:

Measuring sustainable tourism

The UNWTO defines a set of benchmarks for all companies in the tourism sector that want to measure sustainable tourism. The organisation considers this to be essential in order to improve policy measures for sustainable development.

The three key points in order to be able to carry out this measurement are:

For tourists, there is also a way to find out how much CO2 is emitted per trip: the carbon footprint calculator. 

Depending on the means of transport used for the itinerary, the calculator asks for a series of data and automatically, after filling them in, indicates the amount of tonnes of carbon dioxide generated on the trip.

Sustainable tourism objectives


The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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