Top Countries for Sustainable Tourism: A Shift to Value Driven Travel Tourism Model

Like with every aspect of our life, travel is being redefined as well. We summarise a recent Euromonitor report which breaks down Sustainable Travel into multiple planks and gives some inspiring examples of countries that are doing it right

By: Tripti Jangpangi

Posted on: April 21, 2021

Amidst all the negative consequences, one positive outcome of Covid 19 is the increased focus on sustainability - something that is becoming a core value in a lot of industries, surprisingly, even for the travel industry. 

Sweden remote forest path

A magical, hidden forest path in Sweden

Tourism has been hit the hardest by the pandemic due to travel bans, restrictions and new health protocols, therefore affecting the volume-driven tourism model. As domestic tourism gains momentum, protecting local communities and preserving livelihoods are the emerging positive trends as consumers are prioritising people and planet over profits.

Travel and tourism business are collaborating with United Nations, to work on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a blueprint for sustainable transformation. Euromonitor International, therefore, developed a Sustainable Travel Index to help tourism industry shift towards a more sustainable and purpose-driven tourism model. The countries are analysed based on Environmental Sustainability, Social Sustainability, Economic Stability, Risk, Sustainable Demand, Sustainable Transport and Sustainable Lodging.

According to a recently released Travel Index Report by Euromonitor, titled ‘Top Countries for Sustainable Tourism: Embracing a Green Transformation for Travel Recovery’, Scandinavia has been a clear winner, as 65% of travel business in the area have already adopted a sustainable strategy. The European Union has clearly emerged as a leader in adopting sustainability agenda through its European Green Deal with the objective to become carbon neutral by 2050 and achieve Paris Agreement objectives by 2030. 

Finland unique road

A unique winding road in Asikkala, Finland

Unsurprisingly, Sweden was ranked first. This country is often recognised as the birthplace of ‘Flygskam’, i.e. the flight shaming movement, and is home to climate strike activist, Greta Thunberg. The country has proved that travel can be enhanced by adopting sustainability, by focusing on climate action, biodiversity conservation and investing in a carbon free circular economy. Sweden is followed by Finland, Austria, Estonia and Norway.

Consumer attitudes, behaviours, values and beliefs have changed. In Western Europe, 22% executives do not expect consumers to return to their pre-COVID travel habits. The top four expected permanent changes are – increase in online shopping, work from home, greater attention paid to people, and buying health & wellness products/services.

Despite sustainability not being a new concept, only 55% of travel businesses have adopted some form of sustainable strategy and only 50% travel enterprises adhere to UN 17 sustainability goals.

Environmental Stability

Jaipur Rajasthan India

The colorful paraphernalia of Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

A successful and sustainable tourism policy needs a thriving natural environment, which is assessed through five major categories: climate, natural assets, pollution, energy and water. Over here, Mozambique holds the top rank, with its many national parks and community run conservancies giving local communities exclusive rights to manage. While Costa Rica has pledged to become Carbon Neutral by 2050, many European countries have improved ranking after The European Green Deal. Climate emergency has become a priority. United States rejoined Paris Agreement while China announced to be carbon neutral by 2060. And, interestingly, Palau in Micronesia declared that it would be the world’s first carbon neutral destination.

India, too, is working towards transitioning to renewable energy to help curb emissions, reducing energy intensity by 20% from 2005 as the world’s fourth-largest renewable energy producer.

Social Sustainability 

The Social Sustainability Index involves access to resources, food security, poverty, happiness freedom, equality and education. Austria, Iceland and Czech Republic were at the top of the list because of their performance in the area of education, equality, peace and freedom. The Covid 19 crisis highlighted inequalities faced by ethnic minorities and vulnerability of low income workers. 

Iceland Northern lights

The sky lights up with the wondrous Northern lights in Iceland

United Kingdom focused on self-sufficiency in local food production due to confinement and Brexit. On the other hand, tour operator Hidden Iceland is offering sustainability themed small group tours in Iceland. They not only follows a policy of 100% carbon neutrality but also contribute to the non profit organisations such Climate Care. In fact, such holistic and sustainable offerings are attracting a growing number of visitors who want to travel in sustainable manner.

Economic Sustainability 

Asia Pacific has acquired the top spots for economic sustainability, which involves grading countries based on country’s relative economic performance based on its tourism dependency, debt levels, hospitality and business readiness. Hong Kong has been the leader of economic sustainability fuelled by proximity to a dynamic Chinese economy, recognition as a global financial hub, and presence of strong services and hospitality. Under Hello Hong Kong campaign, Hong Kong Tourism Board created a digital platform that allows residents to discover city treasures and encourage domestic tourism. Japan, Israel and Italy saw the steepest uptick in terms of improving rankings.

Hong Kong

A powerful view from Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong


External risks such as geopolitical, natural disasters, man-made catastrophes and diseases has intense influence over travel and tourism sector, which has led to emergence of three main pillars of risk – safety, healthcare, and endangered cultural sites and species – as these elements are critical for income, employment and future generations. 

Saudi Arabia ranked first for risk in the sustainable travel index. Traditionally reliant on its oil industry, Saudi Arabia has accelerated its investment on tourism to diversify its portfolio, the latest example being investing in At Turaif District as an important historical, political and cultural site. 

Diriyah Gate at At Turaif Saudi Arabia

The magnificent restored Diriyah Gate at At Turaif District, Saudi Arabia

There has been a 68% decline in wildlife over the past 50 years. Hence, governments must take responsibility to protect the planet and its species. According to Campaign for Nature’s 2020 research, ROI for nature conservation was 5 times, i.e. $5 earned for each dollar spent. Peru created alternative trails, sustainable adventure drive and gastronomy to revive its travel economy.

Sustainable Tourism Demand

Managing sustainable tourism demand is a complex activity as the goal is not to overwhelm local communities or damage the environment. Many countries are using Artificial Intelligence  and Internet of Things to understand consumer sentiments towards tourism. Even Iceland faces the challenge of over-tourism, which is being managed by Route 1. It connects major towns, which further helps in dispersing the visitors throughout the country, and hence dispersing the wealth. 

Cyprus overhead view

A gorgeous bird's-eye view of Cyprus

Countries are finally moving away from a volume-driven to a value-driven model. For example, Cyprus has seen an increase in daily spend per visitor and length of stays since the inception of The Cyprus Sustainable Tourism campaign. Australia’s Working Holiday Maker Programme allowed to create more value through tourism and attract ‘high yield’ visitors, where regional areas gained 26% in tourism spending from the group as compared to 15% for the average visitor.

Sustainable Transport 

According to World Resource Institute, transports contribute to 25% of global carbon emissions; therefore sustainable transport is an important index, which accounts for a country’s dependence on air travel compared to rail and other modes. Austria has been ranked first because of its decade old smart cities initiatives which promoted energy efficient mobility. 

There is an increase in investment in the Electric Vehicle segment. Easy Jet is collaborating with Airbus to develop hydrogen and electric aviation. Germany launched the Mervando Carbon Offsetting App which allows consumers to book climate neutral cruises. Once the trip has been booked, the company calculates the carbon footprint, converts it into the cost of potential climate impact and donates the cost to Myclimate for its sustainable development projects.

Sustainable Lodging

This index assesses how diverse and balanced a hotel’s supply chain is, in terms of energy, water and carbon footprint. The resilience of the sector is directly proportional to diversification of lodging formats. EU announced the new Taxonomy Regulations which aligns with Paris 1.5 & UN 2030 agendas, in late 2020. 

According to travel businesses, 51% of consumers preferred to stay at eco-friendly accommodations in 2020. Full services hotels in Iceland emitted 17 kg CO2 as compared to hotels in Hong Kong which contributed 270 Kg C02. Canada offers a diverse range of lodging such as short term rentals, cabins and eco-lodges. In the country’s Thompson Okanagan region, 32,000 tourism stakeholders are working with the public sector to implement 17 SDGs.

Inketerra Amazonia lodge peru

The magical, relaxing Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica in Peru

The change in travel and tourism industry is sure and certain. Consumers, travel companies, destination marketing organisations and governments are joining forces to tackle climate emergency. There is new wave of trust in the post-pandemic era, where sustainability will contribute to elevate the consumer experience, giving competitive advantage to countries. Just like how Inkaterra Réserva Amazonica in Peru is a luxury eco-lodge offering in the Amazon forest, providing an immersive experience, embracing the region’s natural environment and attracting customers who are looking for more responsible travel options.

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