The tourism industry is responsible for approximately 8% of global carbon emissions. For every event that commits to more sustainable practices, the VR sector does its part in helping the tourism industry as a whole become more resilient in the face of climate change.
If a bed-and-breakfast accommodation changes to a low-energy provider or swaps plastic water bottles for communal pitchers of tap water at meal times, the environmental benefit is significant for this single property. But the benefits don’t stop there: When guests witness climate action in progress, they, too, might be inspired to carry action into their own lives.
Carrying this logic further, what would the impact be if every vacation rental (VR) property — from large-scale condominiums to single-room cabins — integrated environmentally conscious elements into their guest offerings? That’s the question that led to the establishment of Green VR Events — an initiative offering support and advice for VR-specific events about sustainability messaging and programming.
Green VR Events founder Bob Garner is also the owner of Casal Dei Fichi, a sustainably run Italian VR property; and he has seen firsthand the impact that even passive integration of environmentally conscious choices can have on travelers.
“We have sustainability throughout our entire organization at every touchpoint,” Garner said. “One of the great opportunities is talking to guests in a gentle and supportive way about why we’re sustainable, why that’s important to us, and what’s going on in the world.”
Many VR owners and property managers work in isolation and are focused on making money, so sustainability has been lower priority. “They don’t connect success with sustainability,” Garner said.
Damian Sheridan, founder of the Book Direct Show, agrees: “It’s not something that’s going to instantly give people profit. General apathy is the biggest obstacle; and I think we need to overcome that with simple education in layman’s terms to let people know not only the importance of this but how it’s actually quite actionable.”
As a concerned global citizen and outreach volunteer for the Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency initiative, Garner has spent the last several years educating rental managers and hosts about the environmental benefits of sustainability. Yet, he points out, there is a business case to be made for sustainability and climate action as more people become conscious consumers and travelers.
Talking one-on-one to individual property owners and managers is a time-intensive activity, however; and Garner realized he needed to target B2B service providers to activate climate action in the VR sector on a wider scale.
“They have a lot more clout, a bigger audience, and a lot of people to listen to what they have to say,” he said. “They’re passionate people and they don’t have a great deal of time; but using them as an angle to get to other people is really helpful from my perspective.”
In addition to encouraging many of these VR thought leaders to commit to climate action through Tourism Declares, Garner formalized his outreach and support by establishing Green VR Events in February of this year. Its core offering is a 25-page playbook specifically for organizers of the 45-50 VR events held every year, which he sees as a gateway to reach VR managers and hosts at scale. The playbook includes both sustainable actions event managers can implement (such as serving meat-free meals and eliminating swag), as well as educational programming suggestions (such as having a stand where delegates can learn about sustainability and reserving a speaking slot for a sustainability-focused expert).
This double-pronged approach tackles the climate emergency in two key ways: According to a 2016 Convene article, the average three-day, 1,000-person national conference generates about 584 tons of carbon emissions, while a 2018 study notes the tourism industry is responsible for approximately 8 percent of global carbon emissions. If tourism-related conferences can cut their carbon footprint while encouraging attendees to extend that climate action into their travel products and services, the knock-on effect is significant.
“If I can get the conferences involved, they can take climate action and they can start to market themselves as more sustainable events,” Garner said. “And if they can do it, they — the conferences — set the agenda for what’s going on in the industry.” Several key VR events are already on board, including Book Direct Show and Vacation Rental World Summit.
Sheridan said his company has always adopted practices such as minimizing plastics. However, this year’s event will be even more intentional in its environmental action — starting with its venue choice, sustainable super-block community Miami IRONSIDE, instead of a traditional hotel or conference ballroom. Sustainability is also embedded in strategic accommodation and ticketing partnerships, catering choices, virtual access, and paper and plastic reduction.
While Book Direct Show will have some sustainability-focused programming, Sheridan said, it’s the show experience itself he is hoping will impact attendees. “It’s all well and good with us having these beliefs; but we very much want all of our attendees, who are property managers who host thousands of guests per year, to move forward together collaboratively with this way of thinking,” Sheridan said. “If we can open people’s mindsets a little bit, our own environmental strategy will be a success.”
For every event like the Book Direct Show that tightens its sustainability messaging and commits to more environmentally conscious practices, the VR sector does its part in helping the tourism industry as a whole become more resilient in the face of climate change.
“If we as the tourism industry are actually going to respond to the climate emergency, then we need to get everyone participating — and not just the big, huge players. That means the small businesses, as well,” Garner said. “And we need to act now because it is a global emergency.”
Published Mar 18, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
JoAnna Haugen is a writer, speaker and solutions advocate who has worked in the travel and tourism industry for her entire career. She is also the founder of Rooted — a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, social impact and storytelling. A returned US Peace Corps volunteer, international election observer and intrepid traveler, JoAnna helps tourism professionals decolonize travel and support sustainability using strategic communication skills.