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Green Hospitality: How Sustainable Tourism is Reshaping the Travel Industry

by Madaline Dunn

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts’ Philip Halanen explores how growing levels of demand for sustainable tourism options are helping to create a greener future for the global travel industry.

We live in the most connected era of human history. Journeys that once required weeks or even months to complete can now be undertaken in the space of a single day. As such, exploring new destinations has come to represent a crucial component of many people’s lives, offering opportunities for leisure, commerce, education, cultural enrichment and more. Put simply, many of us simply cannot imagine life without international travel.

However, our sector has also contributed to the global climate emergency. According to Sustainable Travel International, tourism-related activities such as aviation, maritime, hospitality and merchandising account for approximately 8% of global carbon emissions.

The question is, how do we continue to make travel accessible to people from all backgrounds while ensuring tourism doesn’t cost the earth?

Market demand

There is an increasing financial imperative for tourism brands to deliver sustainable travel offerings. Almost three-quarters (74%) of individuals surveyed as part of’s Sustainable Travel Report 2023 want providers to offer more sustainable travel choices, while more than half (51%) believe there are not enough environmentally responsible options at present.

These results are certainly promising in terms of the travel industry’s ongoing shift towards sustainability, but there remain a series of challenges to overcome. For instance, 44% of respondents said that, despite good intentions, they didn’t know where to find more sustainable options, and almost half (49%) believe environmentally responsible travel offerings are too expensive at present.

In my opinion, this illustrates two important trends. Firstly, there is tangible and growing demand from consumers for more sustainable travel options. Secondly, our industry needs to work harder to increase the affordability of, and accessibility to, eco-conscious tourism offerings.

A receptive region

Policymakers and travel professionals in the Middle East are acutely aware of both the environmental and financial benefits offered by sustainable tourism. In the UAE, for instance, travel and tourism accounted for more than $45 billion in 2022, or approximately 9% of its gross domestic product (GDP), and this figure is only likely to grow as the nation continues to diversify its economy away from oil.

The Emirates is blessed with rich and thriving ecosystems that are ideally suited to sustainable tourism activities, such as responsible wildlife tours and conservation projects. The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, the Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve, the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hatta Dam project are just a handful of examples of the sustainable tourism attractions that now populate the UAE.

Thanks in no small part to such efforts, the nation’s sustainable tourism segment is expected to surpass $164 million within the next decade, representing an impressive compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.1% during the period 2023-33, according to Future Market Insights. And given the ever-increasing levels of demand we are witnessing for sustainable travel offerings among consumers, I wouldn’t be surprised if these projections turn out to be conservative.

Making sustainability mainstream

Of course, if the travel industry is to succeed in minimising its environmental impact and facilitating sustainable behaviour among consumers, it must invest in similar in-house initiatives. Private-sector aviation and hospitality brands need to embrace environmentally conscious technologies and operations, unlocking their transformative power to reshape the global tourism landscape.

As the world’s largest hotel franchising company, with approximately 9,100 premises across 95 countries on six continents, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has the potential to help drive long-term sustainability within the hospitality sector. We are committed to pioneering innovative, sustainable operations that not only benefit the environment but also simultaneously support the delivery of unparalleled guest experiences that are aligned with our customers’ sustainable values.

As one of the most forward-thinking hospitality brands operating in the Middle East, our team is proactively contributing to the region’s sustainable tourism agenda through initiatives such as the Wyndham Green Program, which prioritises energy efficiency, emissions reductions and waste minimisation to ensure environmentally responsible operations across our hotels and resorts.

We will continue to adapt and adopt eco-conscious hospitality practices to protect the ecosystems in which we operate while exceeding our customers’ expectations. Nevertheless, we understand that we cannot achieve widespread positive change unilaterally. We must also demonstrate our willingness to collaborate with stakeholders – including competitors – from across the tourism sector to help secure a sustainable future for the global travel industry.

Ultimately, there are tangible commercial advantages to fostering intra-industry collaboration and embedding eco-friendly practices within our operations.

But more importantly, we believe this is the right thing to do.

Philip Halanen, Head of Sourcing & Sustainability, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, EMEA

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