I had an opportunity to attend the first day of the Ecotourism and Sustainable Conference North America last week. The event was held in Tampa, Fla. at the Patel Center for Global Solutions at the University of South Florida. It was the first North America conference for the International Ecotourism Society. Approximately 100 attended the first day of the event. About 30 or so could not make it because of weather-caused flight cancellations. The conference featured speakers who provided a global perspective on the environmental challenges we all face while also featuring case studies on specific properties or projects. Dr. David Randle, Program Director, Sustainable Tourism Concentration, USF Patel College of Global Sustainability, was one of the first presenters on day one. He addressed global environmental challenges as well as those local to Florida, a state that was expected to draw 100 million tourists in 2015. The fastest growing industry in the world is tourism, Randle said, and sustainable tourism is the fastest growing sector.
Randle added that world population is now at 7.2 billion, with 2.5 billion in India and China. Florida is now the third largest state by population. “This is resulting in wildlife destruction and wildlife impacts,” Randle said. “Seventy-five percent of earth’s surface is now managed by humans. Over 50 percent of the wetlands in Florida have been destroyed.” He added that 50 percent of coral reefs are now gone and extinction rates are 100 to 1,000 times more than nature intended. Just 10 percent of the world’s land area has been protected. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in our oceans.
Randle highlighted the successes of the Walt Disney Co., a company that has a goal of producing net zero carbon and that self imposes a carbon tax. Disney’s climate program has resulted in a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions in five years—all while revenues have increased. Thirty percent of Walt Disney World resorts’ water needs and 80 percent of Disney property in Florida’s water needs are met by reclaimed water.
Randle cited the Sheraton San Diego for its zero waste to landfill program, Anna Maria Island in Florida for its Historic Green Village, and Tiamo Resort in Bahamas for getting 100 percent of its energy through solar systems. Randle also mentioned Villages Nature Paris, a Disney development slated to open this year that, according to Disney, will apply the principles of sustainable development in both its concept and its operations. At Villages Nature Paris, cars will not be allowed and 90 percent of the land will be green, undeveloped space.
Chaa Creek in Belize was the focus of a case study presented by Dr. Carolin Lusby. Cited a couple of times in the past in Green Lodging News, Chaa Creek is Green Globe certified and incorporates numerous green practices and technologies into its operations. For example, there is an organic farm on property and guests are offered the option of participating in a Pack-a-Pound Program—an opportunity to donate a pound of clothes to those in need.
Day two of the conference featured local tour opportunities and day three offered additional educational sessions.