Sustainability Challenges in Tourism Explained: #4 Making the Business Case for Sustainability

Published 29/08/2017
Making the business case for sustainability - sustainable tourism challenge

Making the business case for sustainability - sustainable tourism challenge

Making the business case for sustainability is the focus of this fourth post of our special series on the key challenges preventing tourism businesses and destinations from becoming more sustainable.

In our interviews with tourism and sustainability professionals we often include a question about which they consider the main challenges regarding tourism sustainability. Among the many (and very diverse) answers so far, we’ve identified 10 themes and areas of concern. Making the business case of sustainability, demonstrating the commercial and financial value of sustainability initiatives, is one of them.

Below a few extracts and answers from our interviews, intended to offer you a snapshot of expert views on the topic. In some cases we have added the questions for better understanding (we usually adapt questions to the specific context of the person we interview). We strongly recommend you to read the full versions of the interviews. Sustainability challenges in tourism are very location-specific, and as such best understood in context.

Sustainable tourism challenge #4: making the business case for sustainability

D’Arcy Dornan, Brazil:


“So one of the key challenges is to make people and organizations in travel and tourism realize that sustainability means sustained income and revenue as much as it means benefits to local communities and the natural environment. After all, respectful, responsible tourism is increasingly sought after as a product, service and solution.”

Jane Ashton, UK:


Which are the main challenges at the moment for TUI in terms of achieving sustainability?

“The dearth of market incentives to stimulate the scaling up of production and distribution of sustainable aviation fuels.”

Stewart Moore, Australia:


As management consultant, which sustainability issues do your clients struggle with most?

“Demonstrating consumer interest and ROI from sustainable practices.”

Michael Stober, Germany:


“When I told people seven years ago that I want to use wood for heating, they laughed at me. Now they are envious because I “earn” 60,000 Euro per year because of my decision. Narrow mindedness is humanity’s worst enemy, but don’t make that stop you finding your way and doing your thing.”

“Also, for many years there was this prejudice about sustainability being a “greenie” thing. That’s now changed with people realizing that in fact it is about earning more but in a socially and ecologically responsible way. In practice this means that you have to question everything taken for granted in hotel business practice, and that you’ll have to keep your eyes and ears wide open, thinking outside the box.”

Inge Huijbrechts, Belgium:


“We are an asset light company. [Our key challenge is to convince] developers and asset owners to build sustainable hotels.” 

Eddie Ramirez, Puerto Rico:


“Caribe Hilton was very challenging. Yes, you have management’s blessing but it’s the investment issue that always generates friction. Accountants always want a ROI on the short term, and sustainability does bring in savings, but it’s on the long term. Just like agriculture, you need to prepare the ground, plant the seed, maintain it and eventually you get to enjoy the crop, it does not come easy.”

Geoffrey Lipman, Belgium:


“The challenge as always is to find supporters and sponsors – and to make the initiatives financially self-sustaining…”

Beatriz Barreal, Mexico:


What are the main challenges Sustainable Riviera Maya faces today?

“To be able to create the financial resources for SRM to be able to pay professionals in Sustainable Tourism for the different programs to be leaded by someone else and not only me.”

Mihee Kang, South Korea:


As Ecotourism consultant, which of your recent projects did you find particularly challenging? Why?

“The biggest challenge is that most ecotourism initiatives are managed by the central government and local stakeholders depend so much on the government’s financial support. I am concerned if they can survive without this financial support. It means there is lack of business approach.”

Nada Roudies, Morocco:


When advising your government colleagues and the private sector on implementing sustainable tourism strategies, what main challenges have you encountered?

“Many challenges of course, among which the additional costs, the belief that it can have a return on investment.”

Christopher Luxon, New Zealand:


Which sustainability aspect at Air New Zealand do you find the most challenging?

“As an airline we obviously face a very real challenge to reduce our carbon footprint.  Like most airlines we’ve got a range of initiatives in place – investing in a more fuel efficient fleet, ongoing operational improvements, carbon offsetting – plus we’re also investing in climate science through the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute.  It would be great if we could transition to a renewable fuel, preferably from a source local to our region, but achieving commercial scale at a competitive price is proving very difficult.”


If you find yourself in a position where you have to convince your accountant, investor or property owner that sustainability initiatives make sense financially, then we recommend you to have them read our interviews with tourism professionals with operational responsibilities and experience.

In fact, many of our practitioners interviewed cite financial savings as one of the main benefits of sustainability improvements, and those can be massive (you’ll find concrete examples in our interviews with Inge Huijbrechts, Eleni Andreadi, Michael Stober, Sylvain Richer de Forges, Jon Kane, Lee Kin Seng and Abdulla Radaideh).

And yet, there are so many other reasons for investing in sustainability which – indirectly – benefit the financial bottom line. Staff satisfaction (increased productivity) and retention (less HR costs), guest satisfaction (higher ratings on TripAdvisor etc, return customers, less marketing costs), reputation and positive media coverage are a few of them.

Articles on sustainable tourism challenges published so far:

Please note that the information and views set out in this article are those of the authors (interviewees) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the organizations they work for.

Enjoyed this snapshot of expert views on why making the business case for sustainability constitutes a key challenge for tourism businesses and destinations? Share and spread the word!