The Hospitality Industry's Impact on Global Warming

We all love to get away for a vacation from time to time, and why not? You work hard during the week and have only the weekends to yourself and your family. Thankfully, the hospitality industry exists to help you enjoy a much-needed escape from the often hectic routine of daily life.

Unfortunately, your travel has a major impact on global warming because it is very energy-intensive (read: it burns a lot of fossil fuel). Thankfully, you can help make a change.

The Hospitality Industry:
What You Need To Know

With the recent renewed interest in global warming and heightened concern for environmental degradation and social justice, many people have started to pay attention to the impact of the hospitality industry on the environment and on local peoples. As a result there has emerged a new sector of the hospitality industry known as “eco tourism” or “green travel”. The Global Development Research Center [1] defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and sustains the livelihood of local people”.

While ecotourism may look positive, what this approach fails to address is what many scientists consider the biggest challenge modern humanity will face: global warming. The scientific community has reached almost unanimous consent that the current warming of the earth is being worsened by us humans whose main contribution is the burning of fossil fuels which began around the time of the industrial revolution.

Eco-tourism fails to face the big issue of global warming because it focuses on changing the hospitality industry, without addressing the more significant issue of the fossil fuel based travel which the hospitality industry depends upon.

The Big Problem:
Your Travel Emissions

Most people have, at some level, an innate desire for adventure. By creating an allure of locations that are often far-off, the hospitality industry capitalizes on that feature of your psyche. Indeed, the hotel industry in the US alone posted a profit of $16.7 billion in 2004 according to Smith Travel Research.

This influence has a hidden face– getting to these enticing locales in the speed and comfort expected by most Americans requires the burning of fossil fuels on a tremendous scale.

The Best Alternative

The earth’s atmosphere is a complex entity that influences a great number of other systems on this planet. And since its gases are mostly invisible, it is unlikely that you would make a direct connection between boarding a plane and villages being flooded in Tanzania. But, unfortunately, there is a connection through the carbon dioxide emitted from the jet’s engine.

Devastating consequences from carbon emissions are expected as a result of the global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Just a few of these effects include: more extreme hurricanes, greater flooding (which may cause desertification), landslides, loss of habitat and species extinction, water scarcity, and the spread of disease. Furthermore, some of the effects of global warming will contribute to further climate change, in what is known as a positive feedback cycle.

Unless you change your fossil fuel use, you will still be pumping carbon emissions into the atmosphere and exascerbating climate change. Don’t despair though! It is possible to have a pleasurable vacation while still helping to stop global warming. How you ask? Simple– the next time you are planning a vacation focus your attention on reducing the total number of miles that you travel.

Even if you reduce the distance you travel, going on a vacation will most likely involve traveling some distance away from your home. To address this you can travel using methods that contribute less to global warming. For example, you can take a train instead of a plane since train travel uses far less fossil fuel to transport you the same distance. If you choose to drive, read up on improving your fuel economy by changing your driving behavior and see if you can exceed the vehicle manufacturer’s fuel economy rating. Be sure to use your gas purchasing power when at the pump. You can also go a step further and pick locations to which you can bike so that you burn no fossil fuels getting to your vacation destination.

You really can make a difference. You may feel intimidated by the climate crisis that we are facing, but you can create a positive feedback loop yourself by making choices that reflect your desire to help stop global warming, even while you vacation. This is important because in so doing, you can inspire others to follow your example.


[1] Global Development Research Center

Author: Brown, Nathan. A Cooler Climate, 2008.

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