Tag: climate change

Picture related to tourism can aid destinations in addressing climate change

According to forecasts from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the global tourism sector is anticipated to witness a substantial increase, with projections indicating a surge to 1.8 billion tourists annually by 2030. This growth underscores the pivotal role of tourism destinations in driving economic progress. However, the sector’s expansion is poised to be significantly impacted by the effects of climate change, both directly and indirectly.

This is the sunset view from the badaban ecocottage
Sunset view from Badaban EcoCottage (Photo Credit: Greater Sundarbans Ecotourism Society)

Tourism can exert a substantial influence on the environment, contributing to pollution, waste generation, and harm to local ecosystems and biodiversity. Meanwhile, climate change introduces additional challenges such as flooding, land degradation, loss of natural habitats, saltwater intrusion, diminished food resources, and heightened storm intensity. Tourism businesses can be catalysts in either exacerbating climate change-induced challenges or champions in helping communities and destinations address these threats head-on.

The pressing issue of climate change in destinations, exacerbated by escalating greenhouse gas emissions and resultant global warming, will be a defining challenge for the tourism industry over the next several decades. Consequently, the tourism sector bears a significant responsibility to champion environmental preservation and adopt sustainable practices to effectively address the challenges posed by climate change in the realm of travel and tourism.

In this blog post, we will discuss the significance of tourism in helping destinations address climate change. Specifically, we will explore tourism for climate change adaptation and mitigation, its role in decreasing carbon emissions, its impact on local economies, and its potential for promoting environmental education and awareness.

Tourism Destinations for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation

Climate change presents escalating challenges to our planet. To effectively tackle this urgent issue, it is essential to implement two critical strategies: Climate Change Mitigation and Climate Change Adaptation.

Climate change mitigation endeavors to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, where the travel and tourism sectors play a pivotal role. The most important approach involves reducing energy consumption through enhanced energy efficiency measures and the adoption of renewable energy sources. Offsetting carbon emissions via carbon offset programs can also be an important strategy and one that has grown substantially in interest and scale over the past decade. However, it is important to note the significant criticism that carbon offset programs have received, and thus such programs must also come alongside significant and meaningful reductions in emissions from the source.

Numerous tourism enterprises are actively engaging in these initiatives. In regions like the Maldives, distant travel destinations, air travel significantly contributes to the tourism industry’s carbon footprint. Attaining Net Zero emissions poses a formidable challenge due to the complexity of eliminating carbon emissions. Nevertheless, some establishments in the Maldives, like Soneva Resorts, have implemented a successful mitigation strategy that targets both direct and indirect carbon emissions. Consequently, certain resorts strive for carbon neutrality by leveraging sustainable energy resources and participating in carbon offset programs.

Climate change adaptation, on the other hand, aims to fortify the resilience of societies, economies, and ecosystems against the existing impacts of climate change. Within the travel and tourism industries, efforts are directed towards safeguarding vulnerable ecosystems and enhancing adaptability. These efforts encompass activities such as coral reef restoration, ecosystem conservation, and sustainable tourism practices.

Many tourism establishments are embracing these adaptation strategies. As an illustration, they delve into pioneering coral restoration methods, such as the initiatives undertaken by Reefscapers. This organization collaborates with resorts to execute management and restoration strategies aimed at rejuvenating marine ecosystems and enhancing the appeal of tourist destinations. Additionally, these companies are actively involved in educating and supporting local communities to raise awareness and bolster resilience against climate change effects.

It is important to note that climate change adaptation and mitigation are two sides of the same climate coin: strategies must be advanced in both in order to secure a viable and just future for humanity. The travel and tourism sector actively contributes to addressing and alleviating climate change by employing diverse strategies. These include enhancing energy efficiency, implementing nature-based solutions initiatives to both absorb carbon and address societal challenges and promoting ecosystem conservation. Collaboration among tourism enterprises, local communities, and governmental bodies is deemed crucial in fostering effective climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

* (Check Climate Change and Tourism: How Destinations Are Responding to the Climate Crisis (Part 1 & Part 2) other Solimar pages as well)

Contributing to the Reduction of Carbon Footprints while Preserving Nature

Climate change exerts a diverse range of impacts on various destinations, spanning from heightened occurrences of extreme weather events to shifts in natural landscapes. Prominent tourist sites are contending with unprecedented challenges, with coastal tourism proving especially susceptible to the repercussions of climate change. The imminent menace of rising sea levels poses a direct threat to coastal regions. Essentially, escalating temperatures, adverse weather patterns, and increasing sea levels are gradually eroding the essence of historical landmarks and cultural assets. Nonetheless, tourist areas can undertake diverse initiatives to curb carbon emissions while conserving the environment.

What are the various efforts being made to save nature and reduce carbon footprints?

1. Nature-based Solutions

Nature-based Solutions which is based on climate change
Nature-based Solutions (Credit: IUCN)

One first is Nature-based Solutions. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global entity dedicated to nature conservation and sustainable natural resource management, has championed the concept of nature-based solutions. These solutions encompass actions that safeguard, sustainably manage, and restore nature while simultaneously addressing societal challenges. Nature-based solutions yield a plethora of benefits. They aid in climate change adaptation, mitigate disaster risks by offering protection against storm surges, combat coastal erosion, and even reduce insurance costs.  

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) play a key role in both mitigation and adaptation. When considering mitigation strategies, NbS offers significant potential for carbon capture and storage. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that by 2030, NbS could contribute 30-37% of the cost-effective mitigation required to limit warming to below 2°C. NbS can effectively combat the effects of climate change by sequestering and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through ecosystem preservation and restoration efforts.

When considering adaptation strategies, Natural-based Solutions (NbS) provide crucial support for enhancing resilience against climate-related risks. For instance, coastal ecosystems such as blue-green algae and coral reefs in the Maldives play a vital role in safeguarding communities against storm surges and coastal erosion, thereby mitigating the impacts of severe weather conditions. These ecosystems offer essential services that can aid in climate change adaptation.

Tourism enterprises can advance Nature-based Solutions by investing in them to reap economic benefits, enrich tourists’ experiences, address climate change risks, fulfill social obligations, and collaborate with local communities. This strategic approach not only promotes environmental preservation but also bolsters competitiveness.

Moreover, Nature-based Solutions contribute to improving air and water quality, reducing disease transmission associated with habitat loss, and nurturing educational and psychological well-being. Particularly in island locales, the adoption of natural moisture retention methods can amplify soil moisture absorption and decrease marine pathogens. By embracing them, the dual objectives of reducing carbon emissions, conserving nature, and supporting local communities are efficiently met.

In the Maldives under the USAID Climate Adaptation Project, Solimar International recently supported the Ministry of Tourism in creating the first Climate Action Plan for Tourism in the history of the country. This Action Plan outlines concrete steps for tourism businesses to both mitigate and adapt to climate change through strategies like incorporating community priorities, diversifying business revenue, and investing in NbS via innovative climate financing schemes. You can read the full Action Plan here. 

* (Read the 2022 White Paper by Solimar International on effective nature-based solutions in tourism.)

2.  Supporting and Diversifying Local Economies

Tourism plays a pivotal role in bolstering local economies, thereby contributing to greater economic resilience. However, tourism can also cause dependence on the industry and make destinations more vulnerable to shocks like climate change. Thus, the importance of diversifying local economies through tourism initiatives is key.  Encouraging the consumption of locally sourced goods and services can lead to tangible enhancements in local economies. This approach not only generates employment opportunities within communities but also elevates income levels, fostering sustainable development.

The Maldives is one such successful example of climate change adaptation through the integration of community needs and priorities.

This is the Islands of Horsburgh
The Islands of Horsburgh (Credit: The Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance)

Based on the Maldives Tourism Climate Action Plan, the allure of the Maldives, characterized by its pristine beaches and vibrant coral reefs, faces threats from climate change. Presently, many resorts and guesthouses in the Maldives encounter challenges in sourcing local produce, often resorting to external markets for essentials like tuna or seafood. While this may seem financially prudent initially, these supply chains are susceptible to climate change-induced disruptions, leading to escalating costs over time.

However, by emphasizing community experiences and locally procured goods, the Maldives can effectively ensure local destination resilience while revitalizing its local economy. Interdependencies among food security, climate change, and biodiversity are evident in the Maldives. Local resorts in the Maldives have championed locally sourced products through initiatives like local contract farming in regions such as Addu Atoll. Collaborations like the one between Addu Atoll and the Addu Meedhoo Corporate Society have facilitated local food production. The Maldivian government has also pledged support by providing agricultural resources and requisite training to cultivate selected crops on 40 key agricultural islands.

This is the picture of the community and culture in the Maldives
Community and Culture in the Maldives (Credit: The Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance)

Integrating permaculture projects can tangibly sequester carbon, leverage carbon markets, cater to hotel guests, or introduce value-added products for sale in hotel establishments or spas. These endeavors have curtailed food miles and hotel carbon emissions, conserved local culinary heritage, and agricultural customs, and created employment opportunities for marginalized groups.

Moreover, concerning fisheries in the Maldives, numerous companies have collaborated with local communities to supply proteins like fish from neighboring islands. By engaging local fishermen to establish new markets for previously exported marine products, these companies have mitigated carbon emissions, facilitated robust supply chains, and promoted sustainable fishing practices.

The tourism sector plays a pivotal role in rejuvenating local economies by nurturing enterprises and human resources while safeguarding the environment. Tourism enterprises can bolster local economies by offering employment to community members and preserving local culture and natural habitats. This concerted effort not only addresses climate change but also cultivates a sustainable tourism model, fostering the development of local communities.

* (Check the Maldives Tourism Climate Action Plan to find out what is being done under the USAID Climate Adaptation Project in the Maldives.) 

Promoting Environmental Education and Awareness in Tourism Destinations

Environmental education is crucial in enlightening travelers about the significance of environmental conservation and fostering a consciousness for sustainable travel practices. Tourism operators can cultivate awareness among travelers by integrating environmental education programs before or after their journeys and disseminating information on sustainable travel practices.

Fundamentally, tourism is a conduit for advancing environmental education and consciousness-raising efforts. By integrating components that educate travelers on local heritage, ecosystem preservation measures, and sustainable lifestyles, individuals can develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the global environment.

Let’s look at specific regions like the Horsburgh Atoll and the Bangladesh Sundarbans, where we witness exemplary cases of environmental stewardship and sustainable practices.

1. Horsburgh Atoll (Maldives) (Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance)

This picture is about Horsburgh Atoll
Horsburgh Atoll (Credit: The Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance)

The Horsburgh Atoll, nestled in the Maldives, represents a treasure trove combining natural splendor and historical significance. With a unique ecosystem and historical heritage, the atoll is safeguarded and nurtured through environmental education initiatives. Emphasizing sustainable tourism, Horsburgh ensures the conservation of the atoll’s beauty while promoting eco-friendly tourism activities and fostering awareness of sustainable practices within marine protected areas. Furthermore, visitors can engage with local communities, delving into their distinct traditions and craftsmanship, such as intricate woven mats, wood carvings, and traditional Maldivian lacquerworks. These immersive experiences not only enhance cultural understanding but also underscore the interconnectedness and vitality of ecosystems.

Under the USAID Climate Adaptation Project, Solimar has supported the creation of the first Destination Management Organization (DMO) in the Maldives: The Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance (HATA). HATA is a dedicated group of local tourism stakeholders committed to ensuring that tourism in the Horsburgh Atoll contributes positively to community benefits, environmental awareness, and climate adaptation. United by a shared vision, HATA brings together local businesses, conservationists, and community leaders to promote sustainable tourism practices that protect the atoll’s unique ecosystem while enhancing the livelihoods of its inhabitants. By enabling local communities to manage tourism on their terms and ensuring tourism is a force for the environmental education of future visitors, this model ensures that locally relevant solutions can be designed and funded to support climate adaptation efforts. 

* (Check Maldives’ first DMO, The Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance to discover the enchanting Horsburgh Atoll in the Maldives)

2. Bangladesh Sundarbans (Greater Sundarbans EcoTourism Society)

This picture is discovering the Sundarban forests
Discovering the Sundarbans (Credit: Greater Sundarbans EcoTourism Society)

The Sundarbans region prioritizes alternative income sources to forest resource harvesting and ecosystem restoration endeavors. Exploring the forest, engaging with the local communities, and partaking in guided nature tours like forest hikes and boat trips are more popular among the activities available, all while lodging in environmentally-conscious accommodations. Through active participation in ecosystem revitalization projects, like planting native mangrove saplings, tourists directly contribute to enhancing the local ecosystem and partake in activities with positive impacts. Environmental education and awareness are fostered through immersive nature and cultural expeditions, providing interpretive knowledge on herbal plants, wildlife, and forest traditions during guided forest treks. Cultural walking tours enable visitors to explore local landmarks, temples, and cultural performances, including traditional dances and songs, thereby immersing them in the rich tapestry of Bangladesh’s coastal culture. 

The Munda people, an ethnic community inhabiting the Sundarbans mangrove forest region, maintain a profound bond with their natural surroundings and cultural legacy. Despite such virtues, this community faces obstacles such as restricted access to microfinance, benefits, and jobs, impeding their ability to adapt. In coastal Bangladesh, grappling with the effects of climate change, they encounter difficulties obtaining resources and livelihood opportunities. These challenges are often intensified during disasters such as cyclones, tidal surges, etc., that reduce agricultural and other production. Additionally, initiatives to aid them encounter financial limitations, impacting their capacity to maintain their livelihoods and access government support.

However, by engaging with this community, opportunities exist to introduce educational initiatives, and resource and capacity development projects that can facilitate community advancement. Moreover, endorsing sustainable business practices that capitalize on their distinctive local ecological knowledge, expertise, and traditions, along with partaking in Munda festivals and cultural gatherings, can bolster appreciation for their ethos and heritage. This approach nurtures mutual respect, opens avenues for their seamless integration within the broader local community, and reduces racial gaps. Consequently, visitors will be able to discover a cottage managed by the Munda community and learn about The Greater Sundarbans EcoTourism Society’s contribution to branding these cottages. This initiative aims to provide tourists with a genuine indigenous experience, promoting a better understanding of the interconnected relationship between local communities and their surroundings.

In tackling the challenges posed by climate change, the tourism sector can significantly contribute by empowering marginalized groups who often encounter social marginalization. By involving these communities, they can secure livelihoods and actively participate in climate resilience endeavors, thus improving their living standard. The pivotal role of the Greater Sundarbans region in supporting these endeavors cannot be understated.

* (Check out the Bangladesh Ecotourism and Conservation Alliance website  to discover more about the USAID Ecotourism Activity project in and around the Sundarbans Reserved Forest through the development, management, and marketing of sustainable tourism)

This picuture is the Sundarban Tiger in the forest.
The Sundarban Tiger (Photo Credit: Vignesh, Pexels)

Underscoring the significance of sustainable development through environmental education is imperative to strike a harmonious balance between local economic progress and environmental conservation. These initiatives play a pivotal role in fostering the sustainable growth of local communities and offering travelers a glimpse into the region’s distinctive culture and natural allure. By championing climate change awareness, preserving indigenous ecosystems and cultures, and providing immersive encounters, these endeavors significantly enrich the travel experience. 



This picture is the Badaban EcoCottages
Badaban EcoCottages (Photo Credit: Greater Sundarbans EcoTourism Society)

Another example of how locally relevant solutions can empower climate change mitigation and adaptation is the Sundarbans EcoVillages situated in the Sundarbans region of Bangladesh. The Sundarbans EcoVillages comprise multiple villages or communities rather than a singular location. This initiative revolves around community-based tourism, empowering residents to generate diverse sources of income from tourism activities instead of depending on unsustainable resource extraction from the Sundarbans for their livelihoods. By establishing eco-tourism initiatives rooted in community values, the region has transformed into a destination that encourages community involvement and enables visitors to engage deeply with the Sundarbans’ ecological and cultural marvels for extended durations.

Moreover, the communities serve as a hub for unique encounters, educational interactions, and cultural immersion, fostering a profound bond between the community and the natural environment. This community-based tourism concept actively promotes rural advancement and biodiversity conservation, offering guests various programs to rejuvenate the ecosystem. For instance, visitors can aid in ecosystem conservation by purchasing local artworks or engaging in a tree-planting initiative to cultivate mangroves around the EcoVillages.

These endeavors not only empower travelers to diminish their carbon footprint but also yield a positive impact in combating climate change, including mitigating global warming.

Conclusion: The Crucial Role of Tourism in Combating Climate Change

This picture is the Spotted deer in Sundarbans national park in Bangladesh
Spotted deer in the Sundarbans (Photo Credit: nicolasdecorte, istock)

In conclusion, the tourism sector holds significant potential in the fight against climate change. By emphasizing sustainable travel, reducing carbon footprints, backing local economies, and fostering environmental awareness, tourism enterprises actively contribute to environmental protection and climate change mitigation.

Also, tourism plays a pivotal role in climate change mitigation by bolstering local economies, preserving ecosystems, advocating environmental education, and endorsing sustainable tourism practices. The tourism industry can effectively combat climate change by championing positive environmental impacts while fostering community and environmental well-being.

Nonetheless, the sustainable future of tourism hinges on a collaborative effort between travelers and industry stakeholders. By opting for eco-friendly accommodations, embracing low-impact transportation, and making sustainable travel decisions, individuals can aid in building resilient destinations. Prioritizing community welfare and minimizing carbon emissions are crucial to achieving sustainable development goals.

The dynamic tourism landscape necessitates a transition towards responsible and environmentally conscious travel practices. Embracing sustainability, fortifying destination resilience, and enriching traveler education are key elements in safeguarding the future of the tourism sector. Today’s decisions will shape tomorrow’s travel experiences as we confront the challenges of climate change.

By comprehending the intricate interplay between climate change and tourism, we envision a future where exploration and conservation coexist, fostering widespread appreciation for the Earth’s natural wonders. 

We must all work together to protect the future of our planet.

polar ice caps climate change

In part one of this series, we discussed how tourism and climate change are inextricably linked. Nature-based tourism is becoming increasingly vulnerable to changing weather patterns, while the nature of tourism itself contributes 8% of global emissions. The landmark Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism – launched at COP26 – urged destinations and the tourism industry to reduce carbon emissions by 50% before 2030, and reach Net Zero as soon as possible by 2050. Solimar Internationa’s recent white paper publication echoed this commitment, designing Five Principles for tourism businesses to invest in Nature-based Solutions to respond to the causes and consequences of climate change (see photo). In addition to a mitigation pathway of measuring and reducing emissions, it is imperative for governments and businesses to simultaneously invest in climate change adaptation – using tourism as a means to build, finance and sustain climate resilient destinations.

Five Principles for Effective Nature-based Solutions in Tourism from Solimar International’s report

Five Principles for Effective Nature-based Solutions in Tourism from Solimar International’s report Climate Action through Regeneration: Unlocking the Power of Communities and Nature through Tourism

The World Economic Forum (2020) estimated that over half of global GDP, US $44 trillion, is potentially threatened by loss of nature and biodiversity, while the transition to a nature-positive economy could create 395 million jobs by 2030, or around one fifth of the total projected increase in global labor force (World Economic Forum, 2020). Global investments in NbS already surpassed US $133 billion in 2020—only 14% of which came from private finance (UNEP, 2021a; UNEP and IUCN, 2021). The UN State of Finance for Nature report 2021 argues this investment must triple by 2030 if we are to meet global climate and biodiversity goals.

The second in this article series showcases how we can increase investment in nature in destinations around the world–including those that we support through our international development projects–to respond to the consequences of climate change by investing in actions that will protect and restore nature and communities.

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest – Bangladesh 

The Sundarbans Reserved Forest in Bangladesh is the largest mangrove forest on Earth, home to the Bengali tiger and hundreds of bird, fish, mammal, and reptile species. Spanning three wildlife sanctuaries across 317,950 hectares, including Ramsar and World Heritage Sites, the Sundarbans provides sustainable livelihoods for millions of people and act as a shelter belt to protect communities from storms, cyclones, tidal surges, and seawater intrusion.

Sunderbands reserve forest in Bangladesh

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest in Bangladesh. Photo by Chloe King

A total of 7.79 million people live in the Sundarbans Impact Zone, with about 28 percent of people from this zone directly dependent on the Sundarbans for their livelihoods, including as woodcutters, fishermen, and gatherers of honey, leaves, and grass. However, according to a recent study, Bangladesh lost 73 percent of mangrove forest cover since the 1960s, with only 11 percent of the country remaining forested (Bangladesh Forest Inventory). Nearly 2.5 million people depend upon the SRF for their livelihoods (Gopal and Chauhan, 2018), and the mangrove forest naturally shields millions from increasingly erratic weather events, such as Cyclone Amphan that hit the coast in 2020, the most powerful to strike Bangladesh in 20 years (AlJazeera, 2020). Unsustainable development, such as the Ramsar Coal Fired Power Plant, under construction only 4km away from the buffer zone of the SRF may provide jobs, but ultimately risk undermining the natural climate protection the SRF offers (Chowdhury, 2017). 

USAID/Bangladesh, in partnership with the Bangladesh Ecotourism and Conservation Alliance (BECA) implemented by Solimar International and the Government of Bangladesh, is currently focusing on interventions in and this iconic tourism destination and arguably most important protected area. By ensuring that tourism develops sustainably and is better distributed to local communities, this project hopes to reduce pressure on natural resource extraction, while also deterring environmentally destructive industries from developing around the periphery of the reserve. The communities living around the periphery of the last great mangrove forest cannot afford to lose the living lungs of the Earth. Without nature and wildlife, humanity can neither address the climate crisis as a whole, nor save those who are most vulnerable to its consequences. 

map of the sundarbands reserve forest

Climate Change Adaptation in the Maldives and Sri Lanka

Climate risks in the Maldives and Sri Lanka are growing in frequency and intensity. Sea level rise, coastal storm surges, and flooding pose a significant threat to the Maldives, where more than 80% of the land area is less than one meter above sea level. Flooding and drought in Sri Lanka are among many of the consequences of climate change that negatively impact the most important elements of Sri Lanka’s economy. For these reasons, both countries have policy frameworks in place that identify climate change risks and prioritize adaptation strategies.

The USAID Climate Adaptation Project (CAP) is a five-year project in the Maldives and Sri Lanka where its purpose is to enhance the adaptive capacities of the public and private sectors and local communities to respond to the impact of climate change. The first year of the activity (2022) is focused on the Maldives, and Solimar International is leading the private sector engagement for the project. CAP will help identify and scale up solutions to climate-related challenges, strengthen governance to address climate-related risks, and improve access to high-quality information for decision-making to reduce vulnerability to climate change. Solimar will support this work by identifying innovative solutions to adaptively manage climate-related risk through market-driven private sector and community engagement.

Tourism operators in the Maldives have the unique ability to take advantage of increased interest in and funding for Nature-based Solutions for climate mitigation, while simultaneously utilizing these same solutions to respond to societal challenges and help their respective destinations adapt to the realities of climate change. Tourism can play an important role in helping communities adapt to this new reality and build resilience to future risks. For example, many of the resorts and tourism businesses in the Maldives are already investing in coral reef restoration through organizations such as Reefscapers. However, interviews with businesses revealed that this restoration work is not being done in a consistent or effective manner, with lack of national policy guidelines for tourism operators.

coral reefs threatened by climate change

Coral reef ecosystems in the Maldives are threatened by climate change and coastal tourism development. A more sustainable industry can help to mitigate both of these threats. Photo by Chloe King

An example of nature based solutions include mangrove tourism projects. On the Maldives’ Huvadhoo Atoll, mangroves were covered with sand to reduce mosquito populations; however, flooding also increased as a result. Local communities pushed for restoration and the construction of eco-huts which linked tourism and mangrove restoration. Solimar is exploring opportunities for destination management at other mangrove sites in the Maldives, linking mangrove ecotourism to support conservation. These models of nature based solutions can be further explored to link tourism and climate change adaptation.

Another opportunity for tourism to be involved in climate adaptation includes creating structures that protect and nourish sand and shorelines in ways that are nature-based and nature-positive. For example, living sea walls can be created as a blend of hard engineering seawall solutions that foster growth in coral and other marine life. This could offer an opportunity to resorts in the Maldives that are looking to invest in sea walls to create more environmentally-friendly and adaptive solutions.

Are you a tourism business or destination with innovative ideas for climate adaptation? Are you financing nature restoration or protection in new or exciting ways? Take our survey here for a chance to be a featured business in an upcoming white paper publication: https://tinyurl.com/enterprise-nbs-survey

By Shivya Nath, Alexandria Kleinschmidt, Annie Combs, and Chloe King

climate change action posters

Climate change is slowly becoming the subject of dinner table conversations in tourism destinations around the world – both for those who live in these destinations, and for those who visit them. Rising global temperatures and increasingly erratic weather patterns are making tourism offerings, especially those that involve the outdoors, highly unpredictable. From increased coral bleaching events in island nations to reduced snow in ski resorts, the tourism industry – and the livelihoods it supports – faces grave threats from the impact of climate change. On the other hand, tourism itself accounted for 8% of global carbon emissions in 2013, confirming that the industry contributes significantly to anthropogenic climate change, primarily through transport, shopping and food. In a climate-ravaged world that is economically-dependent on tourism, building resilient destinations is imperative.  

Solimar Internationa’s recent white paper publication, “Climate Action through Regeneration: Unlocking the Power of Communities and Nature through Tourism”, showcased how tourism businesses are responding to the climate and biodiversity crises by regenerating destinations through investments in nature, catalyzing local solutions for both climate change mitigation and adaptation. After working in over 300 destinations globally to support sustainable development through tourism, we have witnessed the power that the tourism industry has to respond to climate change and help their communities adapt to its inevitable consequences. Read on to learn more about what destinations are doing to respond to the climate crisis.

the earth is in flux with climate change

What is the difference between climate change adaptation and mitigation? Can tourism respond to both? 

Sustainable tourism should approach climate change from two perspectives: mitigation and adaptation. Put another way, this means responding to both the causes and the consequences of climate change. Mitigation includes initiatives that prevent and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which are a major contributor to climate change. Generally, tourism businesses approach mitigation by reducing energy use or increasing energy efficiency. They may also purchase carbon offsets (which essentially pay another company to remove carbon to compensate for their own emissions) or use renewable energy sources. Solimar International’s current USAID Climate Adaptation Project in the Maldives is assisting businesses identify innovative investment opportunities for responding to climate change–from enhancing resilience of energy and water sources to regenerating hyper-resilient coral reefs.

The tourism industry continues to contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Particularly in far away destinations like the Maldives, air travel is a significant contributor to carbon emissions in the tourism industry. Due to the difficult nature of removing carbon emissions, achieving Net Zero is an extremely difficult task. However, in the Maldives, businesses like Soneva Resorts employ a particularly successful mitigation strategy that focuses on both direct and indirect carbon emissions. Direct emissions, such as energy usage and indirect emissions, including guest air travel, are reduced using rigorously vetted carbon offset programs

impacts of climate change

Despite mitigation attempts, the effects of climate change will require adaptation measures for the tourism industry, especially in SIDS (Small Island Developing States). These measures include actions which anticipate and respond to the consequences of climate change. Adaptation measures can include:  limiting non-climate related stressors on fragile ecosystems through management plans, construction of hard engineering solutions such as sea walls to protect coastal infrastructure, and regeneration or conservation of degraded ecosystems. The Maldives again provides a great example, possessing a large amount of fragile mangrove forests and seagrass meadow ecosystems that provide a variety of benefits including shoreline protection, preventing coastal erosion, and are, of course, a valuable attraction for tourism businesses.

Instituting management plans and encouraging tourism businesses to protect these ecosystems can also be part of an adaptation strategy. Tourism enterprises in SIDS  have used coral reef management and restoration to adapt to climate change, because coral is an incredibly valuable tourist attraction–and crucial for coastal defense.   There have been a variety of projects and companies working on innovative coral restoration approaches, including a company called Reefscapers that partners with resorts to implement management and restoration plans. In Grand Bahama, Coral Vita, applies assisted evolution to grow corals with improved resilience to higher water temperatures and acidity. Despite adaptation measures, tourism in SIDS faces an existential crisis related to sea level rise. 

The importance of Nature-based Solutions in responding to climate change

As highlighted in Solimar’s recent white paper, tourism businesses cannot respond to the climate and biodiversity crisis without protecting and restoring nature. Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are defined as actions that protect, sustainably manage, and restore nature while simultaneously addressing societal challenges— such as unemployment, hunger, drought, poverty, or affordable housing. The concept of NbS is rooted in climate change mitigation and adaptation and has grown in recognition over the past decade, embraced as an essential framework by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which created the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions to guide practical implementation. 

nature based solutions climate change

NbS play a vital role in both greenhouse gas emissions reduction and climate change adaptation. Recent research suggests that by 2030, NbS could contribute 30-37% of the cost-effective mitigation required to limit warming to below 2°C. Global investments in NbS surpassed US $133 billion in 2020–and the United Nations Environment Program predicts that this number must triple over the next two decades. Ideally, NbS are used to protect, manage, and restore ecosystems that already exist and, if well-designed and implemented, can deliver multiple synergistic climate benefits.  Although 66% of country signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement mention NbS as part of their strategy, just seventeen have recognized the combined mitigation and adaptative power of NbS. We are just beginning to realize how focused management of NbS could result in powerful multiplier effects related to climate resilience.

Examples of Nature-based Solutions
Solutions that Protect Ecosystems Solutions that Manage Ecosystems Solutions that Restore Ecosystems
Avoided Forest Conversion Natural Forest Management Reforestation
Avoided Peatland Impacts Agroforestry Coastal Wetland Restoration
Avoided Degradation of Coastal Wetlands Regenerative Agriculture Peatland Restoration

COP26 outcomes and their relevance to tourism

COP26 outcomes will impact the tourism industry, especially in relation to climate change. At COP26, there was a push to remain on track for 1.5 C of global warming. All countries were requested to update their NDCs (nationally determined contributions), or plans for emission reduction, in order to stay on track to meet this goal.  Mitigation actions such as these are vital to the prevention of catastrophic effects of climate change and sea level rise that affect tourism infrastructure

COP26 also opened the door for blue carbon projects. Blue carbon is carbon that is stored in marine ecosystems such as mangroves and seagrass beds. These ecosystems are being lost at unprecedented rates globally,  so conserving and restoring them prevents and offsets carbon emissions while providing important adaptation services. These ecosystems provide services and attractions that are valuable resources for the tourism industry. They act as a nursery for reef fish, maintain water quality, contribute to shoreline stability, buffer ocean acidification, and protect coastal infrastructure from storms and floods. Businesses like Iberostar, through their Wave of Change Campaign, have committed to protecting and restoring these ecosystems in the destinations where they operate, enabling guests to even offset their emissions through local restoration projects. 

Blue carbon initiatives provide an opportunity for conservation, mitigation and tourism to work together. Blue carbon conservation and restoration strategies offer tourism businesses the opportunity to preserve and replenish natural resources that attract tourists. In the Maldives, a campaign pioneered by Six Senses Laamu is working to protect seagrass meadows in the Maldives and increase commitments from other resorts to protect and restore their seagrass ecosystems. Mangrove tourism is also on the rise globally; increased visitation to mangrove forests can help demonstrate their importance to local communities and industries, ensuring their long-term preservation.

COP26 also saw an increase in finance for climate adaptation. Countries recommitted to a pledge of $100 billion per year for mitigation and adaptation costs.  Most funding was previously for mitigation, but now $40 billion of it will be used to support adaptation costs – especially in island nations, developing countries, and countries whose economies benefit greatly from tourism. This is an enormous opportunity for increasing critical investment in Nature-based Solutions in tourism destinations. 

Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism

COP26 also introduced the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, a one page document that has over 300 signatories from the tourism industry including businesses, countries, tourism stakeholders, and destinations. Signatories acknowledged the role of the tourism sector in increasing carbon emissions and agreed to develop plans to halve their carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and to transition to net zero by 2050. 

COP26 includes five pathways to promote climate action. Currently, work is focused on measuring and decarbonizing. A working group in November will focus on regeneration, which offers opportunities for the involvement of regenerative tourism practices. A future that remains safe from the harmful effects of climate change depends on the introduction of innovative practices like blue carbon and regenerative tourism programs. COP26’s negotiations offer hope that the world’s leaders are committed to solving the world’s environmental problems together to make the planet a greener place, one step at a time.

Check out Part 2 in this blog series, which highlights specific approaches that destinations and businesses are taking to mitigate climate change and adapt to a changing world. If you are a business driving innovation in this sector, be sure to take our survey here for a chance to be a featured business in an upcoming white paper publication: https://tinyurl.com/enterprise-nbs-survey


climate change is not a hoax

Blog by Shivya Nath, Alexandria Kleinschmidt, Chloe King, and Annie Combs

Tourist in sunglasses sits on a boat in Thailand surrounded by trees and nature

How Can Tourism Be Regenerative?

Last year, Solimar International’s Director of Conservation & Community Development, Chloe King, conducted a first-of-its-kind study of 30 tourism operators around the world. These tourism businesses—ranging from Destination Management Organizations to community-based homestay networks to high-end eco-lodges—were assessed via in-depth interviews and surveys to understand how centering nature within their business models enabled them to shift from “sustainable” to “regenerative” tourism practices. Led alongside researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, this study did not seek to define what regenerative tourism is, but rather how tourism can be more regenerative by embracing nature as the solution. While “regenerative tourism” seems to be the latest buzzword in the industry, this study sought to ground our aspirations as an industry with practical examples from around the world.

Realigning Our Values with People and Nature

In 2022, our society—and the tourism industry embedded within it—is at a crossroads. The COVID-19 pandemic, once expected to bring about a sweeping “green” transformation of our economy, has failed to catalyze this transition, while further deepening inequality across the globe. As vaccine access remains unevenly distributed across the world, travelers from the Global North feel secure in their ability to travel to the Global South for a vacation, assured in the fact that their visits bring economic opportunities to those who may otherwise lack them. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide emissions worldwide—following a temporary steep drop in 2020—have rebounded, alongside the tourism industry that contributes an estimated 8% of global emissions each year.

Tourism is both a place-based and global industry: it has hyper-local impacts (providing job opportunities to local people) with global ramifications (contributing to climate breakdown that limits the ability of the same communities to adapt and secure a just future). In a stark illustration of this juxtaposition, a recent study found that each Antarctic tourist effectively responsible for melting 83 tonnes of snow. For too long, we have justified these impacts through the economic benefits that the tourism industry brings, once responsible for employing 1 in 10 people globally.

Two elephants crossing a road in a safari park
Less than .5% of the total annual tourism turnover is needed to fund a global network of protected areas. However, emissions from tourism significantly contribute to climate change impacts in the same destinations.

Tourism must begin to fundamentally realign itself with the people and nature it claims to serve, to both rectify the impact it has on our global climate while driving more than just economic gains in the destinations in which it operates. Tourism is more than just money: it can be an opportunity to protect nature and demonstrate its intrinsic value; it can bring people together towards a common vision, such as through the establishment of a DMO;  it can build social bonds, bridge cultures, and raise awareness; and it can bring greater agency to local communities, to bring the life they aspire for into existence.

Regenerative tourism has the potential to transform how we value the act of tourism in itself, beginning a shift from a “visitor economy” to a “resident economy”, where the needs and values of local people are placed above that of temporary visitors. Regenerative tourism seeks to place greater value on nature and human well-being than growth and profit through a whole-of-the-system, place-based, community-led, and environment-centered approach. These regenerative practices can also help to reconcile tourism’s impact on climate with its positive impact on place, by both increasing industry responsibility for reducing emissions while helping communities adapt to climate change impacts that are already underway.

The research we conducted, through in-depth interviews with 30 tourism operators around the globe, shows how this shift is possible.

Embracing Nature in the Regenerative Shift

A regenerative shift across all sectors of our modern economy—from construction to agriculture to transport—will be essential to addressing both climate breakdown and the destruction of wildlife across the globe. This past decade saw the hottest temperatures on record as more species of plants and animals were threatened with extinction than any other time in human history. The research is clear that from ocean to alpine forest—our global ecosystems that collectively absorb 56% of all human emissions each year—we cannot address climate change without protecting and restoring nature.

Nature-based solutions—defined as actions that protect, sustainably manage, or restore ecosystems to provide both biodiversity and human well-being benefits—will contribute a significant portion of total emission mitigation needed over the coming years (estimated at 5 to 11.7 GtCO2e per year by 2030). This must happen alongside deep and far-reaching decarbonization of industries like tourism. But the nature-based solutions utilized by the tourism industry do so much more than just absorb emissions from the atmosphere: they can help communities adapt to climate change, like mangrove forests protecting against storm surges; they can diversify business revenue and enhance destination resilience against crises like COVID-19; and they can protect the intrinsic or cultural values of nature that go beyond attempts at economic valuation, such as the traditional significance of a forest or the beauty of whale song.

humpback whale jumping with a nature reserve in the background
When we value both nature and tourism only in economic terms, we bury things that money cannot measure, such as intrinsic or cultural values that destinations carry.

By embracing nature in the regenerative shift, tourism can begin to center local communities and ecosystems in its response to global challenges like climate change. This will require deep and far-ranging discussions with local stakeholders to engage in conversation around what to protect, restore, and let go of as they strive towards a common and just future. Whether using tourism revenue to restore 200,000 hectares of once pristine wilderness or using tourists themselves as citizen scientists to monitor a small path of coral reef near a resort, centering nature will be key to the regenerative shift in actively improving destinations, rather than just sustaining them.

As the economist and Harvard University professor David Korten wrote:

“The only valid purpose of an economy is to serve life. To align the human economy with this purpose, we must learn to live as nature lives, organize as nature organizes, and learn as nature learns guided by reality-based, life-centered, intellectually-sound economics.”

Regenerative Tourism: Seeking Net Positive Impact on Destinations

By quantifying tourism only through its economic impact, we obscure other aspects that money cannot measure, from vibrant intercultural exchanges and friendships to the nature of collaborative partnerships capable of protecting vast ecosystems. The Regenerative Tourism Framework born from this research process seeks to provide a guide for tourism destinations that wish to measure the impact we must begin to achieve, as the planet warms and wildlife is lost at an alarming rate. Each of the Five Principles, which will be expanded upon in an upcoming white paper publication, are inspired by nature-based solutions and seek to guide tourism practitioners in the regenerative shift. The principles echo other research in this space, underscoring that tourism can no longer be “done” to local communities; it must be done “with and for” them.

Regenerative tourism framework with five principles for tourism practitioners, surrounded by the UN Sustainable Development Goal symbols
The Regenerative Tourism Framework, born from an academic study conducted by Chloe King at Solimar International, aims to guide tourism practitioners in their regenerative journey.

In asking how tourism can be regenerative, we are not arguing that tourism practitioners forgo all attempts at sustainability; efforts that reduce negative impacts, such as transitioning to renewable energy, reducing food waste, or recycling products will be essential in achieving the transition we need. Instead, a regenerative mindset requires simply asking the question: When I travel, or when I receive travelers, what can I do to make sure I have a net positive impact on nature and people in the destination?

Simply sustaining our current system will not be enough to address the scale of all that could be lost if we fail to act quickly. Tourism is capable of doing so much more than just providing economic benefits to a destination, and in fact measuring the other ways it positively contributes to place will be essential in building a more resilient and diversified industry. Regenerative tourism asks us to take a step back and see the bigger picture, and the ways in which the health of communities, nature, business, and visitors intertwine.

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that many facets of the modern economy—interconnected borders, international travel, the office workspace—are not permanent features. With crisis comes an opportunity to reimagine tourism as what it can—and must—become.

If you are interested in reading our upcoming publication with the results from this research, including guidelines and examples of the Five Principles within the Regenerative Tourism Framework for tourism practitioners and destinations, please add your email to an announcement list here. A second blog will also later be published summarizing this report.

How Tourism can make Communities More Climate Resilient icebergs are at risk of melting

Climate change is not a future projection anymore. It belongs to the present, and tourism can be part of the solution. Learn about how tourism can make communities more climate resilient.

How Tourism can make Communities More Climate Resilient icebergs are at risk of melting

Rising sea levels, floods, biodiversity loss, tropical storms, and droughts are extreme weather events the world is experiencing nearly every day. Earth’s climate is undeniably changing and putting communities around the world at high risk. The past decade set a tragic record of being the warmest measured, and the average temperature increased by 1.2 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. The effects of this change are becoming more visible as glaciers are melting causing sea levels to increase and natural catastrophes to take place more frequently. Although more efforts and investments are being done to decarbonize, global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase over the past few years, requiring more drastic and urgent actions for nations to become climate resilient. However, tourism can make communities more climate resilient

The effects of the changing climate can be observed worldwide, including in many popular tourism destinations. Some examples are Caribbean islands are increasingly in danger because of higher sea levels and tropical storms, horrible droughts in Africa are intensifying, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is losing its precious coral reefs thus risking its status as a UNESCO World Heritage SIte. 

The tourism industry depends on the quality of clear beaches, cities and nature to attract visitors. The tourism industry is at high risk from climate change. Unfortunately, the countries that are most dependent on tourism as a means for economic development are facing the greatest threats and challenges, with Small Island Development States (SIDS) being one of the most endangered regions.  

Nevertheless, the relationship between tourism and climate change is complex. Research shows tourism is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, mostly due to transportation. With the massive growth in tourism arrivals, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and increasing long-distance trips, this development has persisted and is expected to increase even further. Thus, tourism is at risk due to the changing climate, but also contributes to the negative impacts on the environment, natural habitats and biodiversity. 

The communities dependent on tourism incomes conversely need the money for their survival while living with the negative impacts caused by the tourism industry. Thus, with climate change worsening, the need to become more climate resilient must be the ultimate goal for destinations to secure their precious environment and communities’ livelihood for the future. 

How tourism can make communities more climate resilient

The tourism sector has immense potential to be a role model in carrying out climate resilient initiatives. Fortunately, tourism is more than a mere industry – it is a dense network of interrelated stakeholders always open to collaborating to solve complex issues, such as climate change. By joining together and working side-by-side, tourism actors can mitigate their environmental footprints and help local communities and their respective natural areas. Ultimately, performing sustainable practices and spreading responsible knowledge will not only safeguard biodiversity, regulate the climate, and ensure life on Earth, but will also help communities – shaping them to be more climate resilient.

At Solimar International, we have always acknowledged that, when done properly, tourism can be a force for good. Sustainable tourism contributes to economically sustainable growth, while also sharing knowledge to empower communities and preserve their natural resources. After all, by striving to improve the destination and bringing it closer to its pure and untouched state, our conception of tourism goes beyond “sustainability” i.e. merely keeping the status quo. At Solimar, we are moving towards the regenerative tourism movement, recognizing that tourism should adopt an active role in making destinations better than they were found. Undeniably, climate change must be tackled now if we wish to guarantee the continuance of the tourism sector, attain the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030, and replenish the Earth.

How can tourism stakeholders increase climate change resilience? 

Integrating climate resilient initiatives into development strategies is necessary to prepare destinations and communities to brace for future disasters and climate change. There are plenty of ways to regenerate destinations, from investments for innovation and research, to design and planning. The World Bank Resilient Tourism Framework is a great guiding method to do so, illustrating five steps to build effective industry resilience.


Source: World Bank. 2020. Resilient Tourism: Competitiveness in the Face of Disasters. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Source: World Bank. 2020. Resilient Tourism: Competitiveness in the Face of Disasters. Washington, DC: World Bank.

More specifically, there are numerous industry-led and destination management examples of measures that prove that many in our sector have already been doing great work. Here are examples of regenerative tourism actions, which any tourism stakeholder can take inspiration:

1. Coral reconstruction and mangrove restoration efforts to regenerative destinations

These actions, as well as beach and oceans clean-up actions, are perfect examples of how the lodging sector, tour operators, DMOs, and local businesses can increase the protection of natural resources through conservation initiatives. Coral reefs and mangroves form part of our biodiversity, attract tourists, and most importantly, protect us against waves and storm surges. Check out how the Hilton Hotel is working towards environmental sustainability in Seychelles here.

How can tourism make communities more climate resilient? Source: Coral Restoration Foundation. Coral Reconstruction initiatives.
Source- Coral Restoration Foundation. Coral Reconstruction initiatives.

2. Investing in more resistant materials or shifting to more inland construction

Recent hurricanes in the Caribbean have demonstrated how higher sea levels and storms are increasingly threatening these delicate island ecosystems. Instead of building and designing the usual seaside infrastructures, it is time to rethink the business models and take into consideration damaging hazards and sea-level rise.

Source: Johnny Milano, The New York Times. The ‘Sand Palace’ in Mexico Beach, FL.
Source: Johnny Milano, The New York Times. The ‘Sand Palace’ in Mexico Beach, FL.

3. Decarbonize to level zero

Tourism must decarbonize to level zero to meet pledges made in the Paris Agreement, and reducing carbon emissions needs to become a strategic priority in the whole sector. With increasing technological advances and social innovation, alternative energy-efficient systems have become a reality and integrated into ecotourism and reduce ecological footprint.  The Future of Tourism Coalition has recently held an interesting webinar about preparing a climate action plan and measuring your carbon footprints.

4. Local sourcing, local sourcing, local sourcing.

Thinking local is key to increasing climate resilience. Not only tourists will find more authenticity in their experiences, but communities will also be brought to the forefront through the supply chain of any business (food, workers, products, traditions, and heritage). Moreover, this inevitably reduces carbon footprint and gives more opportunities to embrace the sustainable circle economy, provide support, training, and education.

5. Eliminate seasonality dependence

As tourism jobs are usually low-paid, efforts to get rid of seasonality dependence is one example to sustain the economy and empower the communities by providing long-lasting jobs instead of the usual limited seasonal contracts.

Do not forget that tourism would not exist without the extremely rich biodiversity we live in and depend upon. Climate change is everyone’s problem – and tourism can also be part of the solution. 

Solimar International has led several similar projects that are designed to help tourism businesses and institutions lower their environmental footprints and meet sustainability standards. In the project of the Sustainable Island Platform our goal is supporting innovative development for island territories with a focus on the blue economy and circular economy. Making those threatened communities less vulnerable to climate change is the aim that we follow while increasing the visibility of innovative business strategies that can help communities secure their livelihoods. If you think your business or destination also needs such support, contact us to find out how our expert team can help you.

The Sustainable Island Platform project
The Sustainable Island Platform project

Written by Lena Eckert and Amélie Keller

“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.”
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