I studied sustainable tourism modules at Aberystwyth University 25 years ago, alongside other geography modules looking at global temperature changes. That was when it was still a genuine question whether global warming was being driven by human activity and sustainable tourism was primarily about engaging – often reluctant – indigenous people in creating international tourism offers.
One of my first jobs was for the Aberystwyth Centre for Protected Landscapes researching tourists’ interactions with climate and biodiversity in the Sagarmatha (Everest) region of Nepal. In that instance, cutting wood to heat tourists’ showers was driving widespread deforestation, leading to increasing landslides without the tree roots holding the soil in place. Four people had died in such a landslide the month I was doing field research – a landslide I had to cross just days later. Sustainable tourism has long been a life-and-death scenario, and the stakes have never been higher.
Now, in my role as Agri-Food and Tourism Programme Manager for Ambition North Wales, I’m assessing tourism project opportunities and risks at a time when some countries are planning for a 4-degree world by 2100. It’s painful to think about in a sunny June with tourism booming across Wales but the prolonged droughts, widespread flooding and increased conflict expected above 1.5 degrees warming will rapidly make the sustainability of tourism a moot point.
So for “sustainable tourism” to escape its growing reputation as an irrelevant oxymoron, urgent and immediate business priorities must be about minimising damage. The good news is we can – and must – all do our part: insulate our hospitality premises, invest in renewable energy, collaborate to develop low-carbon travel experiences, prioritise supply chains working to reduce their environmental impacts, and train our teams to be green – we can’t manage this without them.
Ambition North Wales is among other regional and national initiatives delivering packages of support to help the sector transition, here’s how:
- Low carbon energy options for businesses, including our Smart Local Energy project and our Hydrogen Hub
- Critical training opportunities to up-skill staff teams in low-impact ways of working through the Tourism Talent Network.
- Increased digital capacity to increase the efficiency of businesses through smart technology.
- Additional capacity for local food production through the Glynllifon Rural Economy Hub.
- Regional transport plans to support future low-impact travel to and around our region.
These may seem like little things, given the scale of the climate and ecological crises. Still, they are critical to avoid the worst-case scenario and maintain tourism as a viable option for Wales. Taking action for your business, for your family, and yourself will make a difference, and your actions will inspire others. The costs now are significant, but are essential to avoid much greater costs of fixing damage later.
If we can bring emissions to a liveable limit, tourism will continue – people have travelled throughout history: through the world wars, and during Roman and Tudor times before flights were a thing. While future tourism will look very different, I take strength that our economy is underpinned by our precious and wide-ranging natural resources, our strong cultural identity and an ethos of inclusivity and hard work. We are making difficult decisions but we have the resources we need. Wales is well-positioned to act on these challenges and to deliver unique food and hospitality experiences to future generations of sustainable tourists.
Ambition North Wales