World Tourism Day 2023 to Highlight Sustainability—But Are Companies Ready?

This World Tourism Day (September 27), the global sector is set to come together around the theme of “Tourism and Green Investments.” In what the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is calling “the biggest celebration to date,” the official event will be held this Wednesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

To that effect, on Wednesday and beyond, the UNWTO will be focusing on:

  • Investment for people (by investing in education and skills)
  • The planet (by investing in sustainable infrastructure and accelerating green transformation)
  • Prosperity (by investing in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship)

In Riyadh, the UNWTO will also present its “Global Tourism Investment Framework” and hold a series of high-level panels focusing on the challenges and opportunities surrounding investment in tourism. Participants will comprise representatives from more than 100 Member States, including more than 50 ministers of tourism and high-level global representatives from tourism's private sector.

Speaking ahead of the event, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said, "Tourism has never been more important for our economies or for our societies. Its potential is enormous. And, so, on this World Tourism Day, we celebrate tourism's ability to drive growth while also highlighting the vital need for investments to ensure such growth is inclusive and sustainable."

That said, as companies are required to further invest and report on sustainable measures, some could face challenges. After surveying sector, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and Oliver Wyman have concluded there is still considerable work to be done before the sector will be up to the task. According to WTTC’s new research, the travel and tourism sector is currently responsible for 8.1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. While many of the industry’s biggest companies have set 2050 emission-reduction targets, just as many have only just started to consider how to address climate change in their business. Thus, there is a wide range of understanding and readiness when it comes to the upcoming reporting requirements.

Navigating the compliance landscape will be no easy task—especially for a sector with operations spanning multiple countries and enterprises that run from a few employees to thousands. Even within a single jurisdiction, the complexities of managing multiple subsidiaries, suppliers and partnerships will be daunting. These hurdles become even higher, the WTTC said, considering that 80 percent of sector members are small and midsize companies with limited resources to invest in new personnel and technology.

It's no surprise, then, that one concern raised by most participants in the WTTC survey was the sector’s lack of resources, capabilities and expertise to tackle the demands of the new regulations. In the past at many travel and tourism companies, sustainability personnel were more likely to deal with branding and marketing or operational issues than with accounting or data collection. But compliance with these rigorous sustainability disclosures rises above a mere accounting exercise to become more of an organization-wide shift in culture, and sustainability teams will not be able to tackle the upcoming challenge alone.

Another challenge is data collection. The broad and fragmented value chains of many companies in the sector make it not only difficult to ensure that data is assembled in a timely manner, but also that the information on emissions is accurate. Additionally, companies are struggling to reconcile the investment needed in new data collection capabilities with investment already being made in initiatives to reduce emissions and meet other environmental, social and governance goals.

But, as the WTTC said, few sectors will be challenged more by the rise in severe weather and environmental crises, as well as the disappearance of Earth’s biodiversity more than travel and tourism]. This should provide adequate incentive for companies to go beyond mere compliance. “Ready or not, the regulations have arrived, and especially for the biggest companies and networks, the time to act is now,” the WTTC said.

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