The Case for Green Tourism

Recently I participated in a green business conference focused on pollution prevention for the manufacturing and hospitality industries in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This was a joint effort between EPA, the Puerto Rico Solid Waste Management Authority, the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, the Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association, the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, and the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.

Puerto Rico attracts 2.5 million tourists every year. While Puerto Rico is known for its balmy weather, diverse eco-systems, and a rich cultural history, it has another unique characteristic: it also uses the most electricity per person of anywhere in the world. Greenhouse gas emissions in Puerto Rico are 230% more than the world average and water consumption is 1,089,000,00 gallons per year. Tourism operations in Puerto Rico contribute to high electricity and water consumption and waste generation patterns.

While there are more than 450 “green” certifications for hotels, all programs are strictly voluntary. So, how do you develop a truly sustainable facility in the midst of an economic crisis to attract green tourists? In this conference, several hotel owners shared best practices. I found one of the inns located in the southeastern part of the Island to have many noteworthy green features. The inn has a recycling program, solar water heater for the pool and rooms, composting area and water recycling just to name a few of the efforts. Guests are invited to bring their own beach towels since the hotel provides none in an effort to save water. The inn has received the highest green award by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company for the past two years in a row. Larger hotels like the Caribe Hilton, where the two day seminar was held, have also incorporated energy and water conservation efforts into their daily operations. Furthermore, they have gradually been incorporating more energy efficient appliances and air conditioning systems. These changes have yielded savings to the landmark San Juan hotel and contributed to a reduction of the hotel’s carbon footprint.

There are many shades of green travel. As tourists make greener demands of the hospitality industry, hoteliers will learn to reinvent themselves in order to comply.

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.