Greenbacks galore in green tourism

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Copy of cw Green Tourism_Urban Playground_0430 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS KICKER: The urban playground being built at the V&A Waterfront has a built-in solar panel that powers a light inside the cave play area. Picture: Gareth Smit

The tourism industry in Cape Town is going green… and making some green while they’re at it. Answering the call of tourists who want to enjoy the city’s natural beauty without damaging it, government, NGO and private initiatives that offer environmentally friendly holidays are attracting plenty of business.

Not so new to the idea is the Peninsula Hotel. General manager

Chris Godenir explains that he sees their sustainability initiatives as critical to keeping the business viable. Going green has the dual benefit of saving money and the environment.

“It isn’t a trend; it is a have-to,” he says of green business practices. “If you don’t control energy and water costs, you will go out of business.”

Tourism is big business here, and it’s growing every year. A 2009 report commissioned by the City of Cape Town showed that tourism GDP was R194.5 billion, with foreign tourists spending an average of R1 110 a day. The tourism industry employed 32 278 people in temporary and permanent positions in Cape Town in 2009.

The number of foreign travellers entering and leaving the country has been increasing steadily since 2001, according to a report last year by Statistics SA. Nearly 12.5 million foreign travellers arrived in the country last year – more than twice the number that came in 2000.

Copy of cw Responsible Tourism 5591A RESPONSIBLE RECYCLING: Table Mountain green initiatives include making recycling containers available to visitors. Table Mountain is part of the Responsible Tourism Pilot Project. Picture: Jason Boud INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

The benefits of eco-friendly business practices extend beyond visitors, to employees working in the tourism industry. A big part of the Peninsula’s green efforts is educating employees on ways to conserve energy and water, at work and at home.

“Ninety percent of it is changing people’s mindsets,” Godenir says. “Then the staff take what they learn back to their communities, and it helps them financially and improves their health.”

The Vineyard Hotel and Spa in Newlands is also getting in on the act with energy-efficient minibars, biofuel-run fireplaces, key cards that turn off the appliances when guests leave the room, and biodegradable takeaway packaging at the restaurant. They recycle 85 percent of their waste, with the non-protein food waste going to a pig farmer in Philippi.

The upfront costs of going green can be high, but the long-term savings make it worth it, says Chris van Zyl, the hotel’s environmental manager.

The city council encourages socially and environmentally conscious practices through its Responsible Tourism programmes. Last year a Responsible Tourism pilot project enrolled 21 companies, including the Peninsula, with the aim of testing and tracking the implementation of practices outlined in the city’s Responsible Tourism Charter.

The pilot project involves businesses from various sectors of the industry, including hotels, tour services, transportation, conference and event companies, and attractions. The companies confer with one another and with the sponsor organisations to identify specific actions each sector can take. They are then tested on the ground, and the most effective and financially viable practices noted. The best practices will be a part of a responsible tourism management system rolled out to the rest of the industry.

The tourism industry is protecting a valuable asset by conducting business in an environmentally friendly way. It is the city’s natural beauty – including Table Mountain, one of the the New 7 Wonders of Nature – that is a primary attraction for travellers.

Although it is difficult to predict what will happen to specific cities based on world climate change models, Cape Town’s geography and climate put it at higher risk for certain consequences if the Earth continues to warm.

The Western and Northern Cape have warmed at roughly twice the global rate, says Dr Guy Midgley, chief director of the climate change and bioadaptation division at the SA National Biodiversity Institute. Increased temperatures alone could make summer, the high tourist season, progressively more uncomfortable. The destruction of coastal cities around the world by natural disasters is never long out of the news, and the intensity of storm surges are a concern in the Western Cape.

Long-term climate models show that rainfall patterns could move south over the ocean, decreasing winter rainfall in the province, Midgley says.

“We’ve had a very stable climate with predictable rainfall for millions of years,” he says. “We could get a climate that we haven’t seem for millions of years.” But he admits that’s a long-term prospect.

Changes in rainfall patterns could affect the biodiversity of the region, too. Big wildfires could increase due to hotter, drier days. Rising sea levels are a concern, and it is unclear how the currents will respond and how the marine systems off the coast will be affected, he adds.

With increasing public concern over the effects of climate change, going green can be a powerful marketing tool.

“Everyone has nice views and everyone has beds, so what’s going to make you different?” Godenir asks.

“Responsible tourism is a hot topic. People are realising that the seas may rise and flood the Cape Flats, so what are we going to do about it?” - Weekend Argus

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