Tourism Should Adopt Alternative Energy Strategies

Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world. In 2010, international tourist arrivals increased by approximately seven percent, to 935 million arrivals (“World Tourism Organization,” n.d.). This figure doesn’t include the millions of arrivals for national tourism. Clearly, this global powerhouse of an industry can significantly impact global change. Included in this ability is the ability to impact the global environment. Global climate change is an increasing social concern. Additionally, the climate can either positively or negatively impact this industry.

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As such, this paper develops an argument supporting why the tourism industry should adopt alternative energy/fuel strategies to combat climate change. To this end, a summary of how climate change and tourism are interrelated is presented. This is followed by a summary of the types of alternative energy/fuel strategies that may be considered for use in the tourism and hospitality industry. This discussion concludes with an overview of the existing obstacles and/or problems the tourism and hospitality industry may encounter as they work to adopt alternative energy/fuel strategies.

Climate Change and Tourism:

Both public and political concern regarding climate change has increased significantly over recent years. Scott and Becken (2010) state, “With tourism’s recognized growing contribution and key regional vulnerabilities to climate change, the Davos Declaration on Climate Change and Tourism declared that climate change ‘must be considered the greatest challenge to the sustainability of tourism in the twenty-first century.'” (p. 284). As such, much research has been conducted, in recent years, regarding climate change and the tourism industry.

As Scott (2011) notes, “scholarship on tourism and climate change now extends over a period of 25 years” (p. 18). Thus, a large body of knowledge has been developed over the years regarding this relationship. Scott further cites Weaver as describing the rapid increase in the quantity of academic publications on tourism and climate change. Between the years 1996 and 2009, 128 papers were found via the CABI Direct database. Of these, the topics that were researched included: the potential impact of climate change on destinations and/or visitation patterns, climate change as it impacts winter-ski tourism, climate change as it impacts coastal areas and small islands, and how tourism contributes to climate change via greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As much of tourist activities center on travelers spending time outdoors, it is not surprising that climate change can significantly impact, not only individual destinations, but also the industry as a whole.

Several studies discuss the importance of climate and destination choices by travelers. Hu and Ritchie (1993) reviewed multiple studies that found that climate and natural beauty were universally important to travelers when they defined a destination’s attractiveness. Shoemaker’s (1994) study found that a pleasant climate and the ability to sunbathe while on vacationing, were attributes travelers sought when selecting a destination. Dwyer (1988) investigated a variety of factors, including: noon temperatures, percent of sunshine, percent of rain, and depth of snow, and how they affected the daily site use for urban forest recreation. Warmer temperatures and increased sunshine were positively correlated to increased visitation of hikers, cyclists, joggers, and dog walkers.

Viner and Agnew (1999) review the impact of climate change on a wide variety of international tourism destinations, noting that many of the ecosystems of these destinations are vulnerable to climate change. The impacts on these destinations from climate change occur in a variety of different ways. Increased stresses on the environmental systems of these areas is one such impact, such as rising sea levels around small island states. The Maldives are one such destination where sea level rise is a significant concern.

The risk of illness due to climate change is another impact of climate change on tourist destinations, reducing tourism to these areas. As Viner and Agnew (1999) note, “More frequent periods of extreme heat will cause discomfort in many resorts of the Eastern Mediterranean, where the number of days above 40C is estimated to increase. Decreasing cloud cover in Australia will increase exposure to the sun’s harmful rays and malaria is likely to re-emerge in Spain” (p. 3). Winter destinations, as well as sunny destinations, are also likely to be affected by climate change. Less snowfall and shorter ski seasons are a significant climate change impact that can affect popular winter destinations from the Alps to the Rockies. Commercial ventures that are already marginal because of their low-lying ski hills, such as ski resorts in the Scottish highlands, are especially impacted.

Types of Alternative Energy/Fuel Strategies Tourism and Hospitality Should Consider:

It becomes clear that climate change can negatively impact the tourism industry. For this reason, the industry must take steps to help counteract this phenomena. One such way is the adoption of alternative fuel and/or energy strategies. When investigating the cruise industry segment of the tourism industry, it was found that there are four primary areas of renewable energy investment that are recommended, which fall into two general categories. The fist category comprises short-term efficiency project requiring modest capital investment. The second includes strategies that are long-term initiatives. The one alternative energy strategy suggested in the report is a long-term initiative. (“Renewable energy,” 2008).

Solar and wind-powered ships can reduce fossil fuel consumption by cruise liner ships, as well as electricity consumption, which often is generated from coal-burning power plants, when ships are plugged in at the docks. Cruise ships are traditionally in areas with consistent and reliable sunlight, as well as ocean breezes. This makes these two alternative fuel strategies very well-suited for the cruise industry (“Renewable energy,” 2008).

The hotel segment of the tourism industry, according to Reckoska, Reckoski and Vasilesk (2008) can use alternative energy sources for a variety of activities. Around the world, alternative fuels can be used for heating, lighting, kitchen functions, transport vehicle movement, and hotel pools. However, some areas are not as lucky as those frequented by the cruise industry, with consistent and reliable sunlight available. Blazevic and Rijeka (2009) note that in Croatia, the area is not conducive to the use of solar power as an alternative fuel source, for widespread usage. However, other resources, such as biomass fuels, wind power, geothermal power, and small water courses offer more feasible and commercially viable alternative fuel sources, for the tourism industry. In fact, small water plants in Croatia produce 108.3 GWh.

As mentioned, there are a variety of types of alternative energy sources available. Biomass fuels include: wood, renewable crops and animal waste burned to generate energy. Geothermal energy harnesses the high temperatures under the Earth’s surface. Hydroelectric power involves the use of water and has been used throughout recorded history. Solar energy can be harnessed through solar panels or utilize photovoltaic technology. Finally, another alternative energy that has been used for more than two millenia is wind energy (Reckoska, Reckoski and Vasilesk, 2008). By utilizing these renewable resources as energy sources, the tourism industry can positively impact global climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gases their facilities emit.

Challenges the Tourism and Hospitality Industry May Encounter When Adopting Alternative Energy/Fuel Strategies:

In addition to the location challenges some tourism facilities may have, with certain alternative energy sources not available, such as a consistent amount of sunshine or wind, the primary challenge the tourism and hospitality industry may encounter when adopting alternative energy and/or fuel strategies is the financial outlay needed to make significant changes that will truly impact global climate change. The return on investment on alternative energy projects are typically only seen after many years. These are long-term investments that add little value to the visitor’s experience.

In today’s difficult worldwide economy, travelers are demanding the most out of their dwindling vacation dollars. An investment to implement alternative energy sources, and the systems this implementation affects, can be significant. Although the tourism organization will likely recoup a small percentage of the cost in reduced traditional energy usage, this reduced energy cost as the only source of the return on investment often is not acceptable. For this reason, this cost recovery must often be coupled with increased prices to tourists. With the hyper-competitive nature of the industry, along with tightening traveler budgets, this often means the decision to make these types of improvements find opposition with tourism facility owners and investors.

However, the facility may be able to use these improvements in their marketing campaign. As travelers become more environmentally conscious, they may choose to place a premium value on these facilities. This could be a means of differentiating their facilities from their competitors. Corporate social responsibility is an increasing concern for consumers in general, around the world.


Given the immense size of the global tourism industry, it’s not surprising that this industry can affect significant global change, such as helping curb climate change. Not only is global climate change a growing social concern, but it also can significantly impact the tourism industry. For this reason, the industry, as a whole, should adopt alternative energy and/or fuel strategies to help counter these negative effects. As an example, increasing temperatures in areas, such as the Mediterranean, can make some days too hot for visitors to truly enjoy. On the other side of the tourism coin, ski resorts can see less snowfall and shorter ski seasons, negatively impacting these areas as well. Even increased rain can negatively impact whether visitors come to visit a location. There are a variety of types of alternative energy sources the tourism industry may consider adopting. The cruise industry is well-suited for wind and solar energy. Other types include: biomass fuels, hydro power, and geothermal power. These can be used for electricity generation, heating, swimming pool maintenance, and fuel in facility vehicles. However there are challenges that many tourism organizations may encounter. Obviously, not all alternative fuel sources will be available at each location. In addition, the significant financial investment will often require increased costs passed on to consumers who already have restricted travel budgets, due to the current economic challenges.


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Hu, Y. And Ritchie, J. (1993). Measuring destination attractiveness: a contextual approach. Journal of Travel Research. 32 (2). p25-34.

Reckoska, G., Reckoski, R. & Vasileska, A. (Dec 2008). Energy consumption in hotel industry: Case study in Ohrid. Tourism & Hospitality Management. 14 (2). p291-300.

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Scott, D. & Becken, S. (Apr 2010). Adapting to climate change and climate policy: Progress, problems and potentials. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. 18 (3), p283-295.

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