A recent environmental impact assessment of the tourism sector conducted by WTCC highlights substantial advancements made by Saudi Arabia over the past decade. This promising development bodes well for the Kingdom’s substantial $800 billion investment in the travel industry.
Saudi Arabia looks to attract travelers and diversify its oil-dependent economy with new projects and experiences, “we’re in a better position to say, how can we do this well and we want to do this sustainably,”. World Travel and Tourism Council CEO Julia Simpson told Al Arabiya English during a talk with reporters in Riyadh.
Launched on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) under the auspices of Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed al-Khateeb and in partnership with the WTTC, the report presents precise statistical data for the first time in over three decades.
Gloria Guevara, a senior advisor to the minister, underscored the Kingdom’s commitment to continue keeping sustainability a “Priority”.
Notably, Saudi Arabia, as the guardian of Islam’s most sacred sites, has historically thrived as a hub for religious tourism. Guevara highlighted that over the past half-decade, Saudi Arabia has achieved significant milestones in sectoral development, a fact corroborated by the most recent report, which meticulously tracks nine years preceding the disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. She said, “Now, for the first time, we not only have enough data to quantify our global emissions but a framework to monitor them every year.”
The Middle East predominantly relies on fossil fuels to meet its energy demands, constituting the highest proportion of fossil fuel usage in this context. Additionally, it ranks closely behind Africa as the second most energy-intensive region per unit of activity, as per the WTCC’s report’s findings.
Notably, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey exhibit significant declines in emission intensity attributable to travel and tourism, while Estonia, China, and Tanzania claim the top three positions in this regard.
This comprehensive report, painstakingly compiled over three years, offers keen insights that are expected to serve as a guiding framework for the Saudi Kingdom’s tourism initiatives. It also facilitates more established tourist destinations in assessing their global environmental footprint.
In collaboration with Oxford Economics, this report will be released annually, to monitor worldwide emissions stemming from tourism. This endeavor is designed to stimulate the development of solutions and foster collective recognition within a shared framework.
“For years, the travel and tourism sector has struggled to measure its carbon footprint. For the first time, we not only have enough data to quantify our global emissions, but a framework to monitor them every year,” the report said.
Air travel was identified as a key contributor to emissions and the report called for a cohesive partnership between the two sectors to mitigate its negative effects.
The WTTC urged governments to incentivize the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and set ambitious targets to produce adequate quantities to allow the sector to reach its net-zero goal by 2050.
The report elaborated, Travel and tourism account for 10 percent of the global GDP and one in 11 jobs as of 2019. It also accounts for 8 percent of carbon emissions worldwide. Between 2010 and 2019, absolute greenhouse gas emissions from the sector had risen at an average rate of 2.5 percent a year.
Tourism Minister, Al-Khateeb said “Our research highlights the consistent decline of emissions intensity of travel and tourism over the last decade. Whilst the sector’s GDP growth averaged 4.3 percent annually, emissions only grew by 2.5 percent annually between 2010-2019. Still, the continued commitment to achieve net zero emissions for the travel and tourism sector has never been more important,”
“We firmly believe travel and tourism are part of the solution and that is why Saudi Arabia has taken a leading role to accelerate and track this change to promote sustainability across the sector, protect nature, and support communities,” he said.
As Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry grows and people flock to the Gulf nation for its culture and landscape, al-Khateeb said the Kingdom was committed to taking a sustainable path, “not only for the next 20 years but for the next century and beyond.”
Saudi Arabia’s Sustainable Tourism Global Center (STGC) team is engaging with young travelers, between the ages of 18 and 25 years old, to survey their views on sustainable means of travel and to provide a platform to engage with their thoughts.
The announcement regarding STGC was made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the Saudi Green Initiative in October 2021, which is currently overseen by al-Khateeb. The organization launched the Global Solutions Hub (GSH) on October 10 at the MENA Climate Week to invest in research and help quantify the impact that tourism has on the Kingdom and other parts of the world.