WASHINGTON, March 14, 2014 — Tourism is a powerful force for bad, and for good. Nearly everyone has experienced a life changing moment from a travel experience. Many have learned cultural tolerance by replacing their myths with knowledge due to travel. And, sometimes tourism can help protect cultural heritage, social ecological balance.
Today tourism and travel is becoming more focused on what customers and companies can give back to the areas they are visiting. Where does the responsibility of sustainable tourism lie and what does it entail? Should it be the governments, the resorts, the communities, the tourists, etc.? As coastal areas are often the first environments to experience the detrimental impacts of tourism more people are beginning to think about sustainability and travel.
No matter what your stance, the tides of coastal tourism are changing and hotels, guests, conservation organizations and communities are all playing a part. A recent book by Elizabeth Becker called Overbooked makes the case that globally tourism is the largest business, the largest employer and has a dramatic effect on cultural heritage, social balance and ecological balance.
For example, customers may book flights based on which airlines release the least amount of CO2, may rest easier on their vacation if they know the hotel is helping the environment and supporting the local economy; hotels are becoming LEED certified and asking customers to consider not changing the sheets or reusing towels; airlines are recycling and looking at more sustainable supply chains.
Recently, The Ocean Foundation partnered with JetBlue through a Clinton Global Initiative to research trash in the Caribbean. This innovative take on environmentalism within the tourism, airline and nonprofit sectors seeks to assign a measured dollar value to a healthy ocean eco-system. This will be the first time that an airline has looked beyond on-board recycling and sustainable supply chains to take a deeper look at the destinations they fly to and how on the ground conservation practices can help their revenue.
It makes sense in theory. No one wants to travel to a dirty beach or swim in marine debris. Studies have proven that people value the natural world and want it to be preserved and taken care of. Together with JetBlue, The Ocean Foundation will develop a plan to strengthen ocean conservation in the Caribbean by making it easier for businesses that operate there to calculate their profit margin from a clean, healthy natural resource.
After the research is complete, JetBlue will seek out local partners to work directly on the issue of cleaning up marine debris in these areas and how to prevent it from getting into the ocean in the first place. Businesses will be able to see the profitability in solving the solid waste management, and indirectly the marine debris problem if they see how it helps grows their business. By translating conservation into financial language, we can put a universal business concept, Return on Investment (ROI), on sustainability and break down a major barrier between corporations and ecosystems.
Much more needs to be done after the research and the partnerships have been formed. The community that cares about the coasts and oceans needs to grow beyond its current market. Media coverage and financial market coverage of these opportunities that restore and support the health and sustainability of the world’s coasts and ocean need to increase. By leveraging these strong, well-connected communities we will be able to more effectively respond to the urgent issue of marine debris in our ocean.