ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN | Bouteco attended the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s conference taking place during the International Year of Sustainable Tourism. What were the key learnings from this Tourism and Future Energy conference? (Besides from how much the Minister of Culture loves to sing Frank Sinatra…)

The one-day event was designed to raise sustainable standards within the global tourism industry, having lured more than 700 industry leaders to the Kazakh capital. Home also to the 2017 EXPO on Green Energy, Astana has seen everyone from Putin to the Pope showcase what their jurisdictions are doing to kerb carbon emissions.

Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary-General, kicked off the conference urging the tourism industry to reduce its carbon footprint to zero while encouraging all to think about how we will survive the detrimental effects of climate change.

Tourism contributes five per cent of the world’s carbon footprint. Of this, 3.2 per cent comes from the transportation sector and the rest from the hotel industry. We have to be an example of how to mitigate the carbon footprint, lowering it to zero if possible.


Both contributor to and a victim of global warming — Rifai mooted that ski resorts are becoming obsolete and the effects of rising sea levels on tourist destinations such as Venice and the Maldives is staggering. The organisation recognises that for tourism to continue as a force for good, the industry must commit to acting responsibly and when it comes to energy, needs to innovate.

We need to make sure that people understand that fighting climate change doesn’t mean that we need people to travel less. Our message is that growth in travel, or in any industry, and sustainability are not in conflict with each other. We can still grow, but grow in a responsible and ethical and sustainable way.
— Taleb Rifai

During the conference, Rifai emphasised the need to embrace 'opportunities for inclusive growth' and identified five important actions, most of which resonate with Bouteco's own ethos when it comes to helping hotels embark on a sustainable journey…

1.     Move towards a green economy

2.     Increase engagement with local communities

3.     Ensure economic prosperity for local people

4.     Promote travel and make travel available to everyone

5.     Acknowledge that there are challenges and work to overcome them

We really enjoyed hearing from Hiran Cooray of Jetwing Hotels. The owner of this Sri Lankan collection of hotels talked the audience through his journey towards sustainability — he is adamant that community engagement is the key to successful sustainable strategies. Jetwing Hotels — a winner in this year’s Green Hotelier Awards — relies heavily on biomass. The means beach hotels to mountain retreats are fuelled by electricity created from the waste products of local crops, including cinnamon and rice. Using these byproducts, rather than purpose-made pellets, provides extra income to Sri Lanka's farmers. The company has also committed to being off-grid by 2020, and Cooray recognised that this is something that 'has to be decided from the heart, not your head' since it requires paying for energy 25 years up front.

Sessions that also got us thinking included hearing about the Nearly Zero Energy Hotel scheme which has helped several SME hotels around Europe slash their emissions, understanding how Blockchain might lead to green tourism growth, hearing about the potential for Kazakhstan’s own tourism potential and Montenegro’s staggering three million Euro commitment to becoming Europe’s next big eco destination.  

Read more: see my Green Hotelier article and tune into Bouteco for other inspiring messages coming through from the UNWTO's International Year of Sustainable Tourism.