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Saudi Arabia launches sustainable tourism research centre

Tourists visiting Saudi Arabia's Aseer region, which contains the kingdom's tallest peak Reuters/Ahmed Yosri
Tourists visiting Saudi Arabia's Aseer region, which contains the kingdom's tallest peak
  • Industry ‘not moving fast enough’
  • Help for businesses a priority
  • Climate report ready for Cop28

Saudi Arabia has launched a research centre aimed at making tourism more sustainable and giving the travel and tourism industry the knowledge, tools and resources required to hit net zero. 

The Global Solutions Hub will be overseen by the Sustainable Tourism Global Centre (STGC) and has partnered with academic institutions including Harvard University, Stanford University, Les Roches and IE Madrid.

“The travel industry has been asking for years how it can accelerate and move the sustainability agenda forward,” Gloria Guevara, chief special adviser to Saudi Arabia’s minister of tourism and head of the STGC, told AGBI on the sidelines of Mena Climate Week.

“If a restaurant owner Googles how to measure their footprint, they are going to be presented with 20 different answers. Businesses have been telling us they need clear solutions and asking us for toolkits. So that’s what we’re trying to do – make these things easily available.”

As part of its launch, the Global Solutions Hub released three studies focusing on emissions reductions, sustainable food choices and cost savings through solar panels and solar thermal water heaters. 

Three toolkits were also released at the launch, and the Hub plans to publish 25 toolkits over the next three years.

“There is an urgent need for sustainability in travel and tourism,” said Guevara. “Collectively speaking, the industry is simply not moving fast enough to implement this.”  

The travel industry accounted for just over 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 according to Oxford Economics. Without concerted, collaborative action, it estimates that its contribution will rise to 20 percent by 2030. 

Gloria Guevara at the launch of the Global Research Hub
Gloria Guevara at the launch of the Global Research Hub

Research published by the Urban Land Institute in August 2022 showed that hotels have some of the highest consumption of energy and water per square foot and are some of the largest producers of waste among commercial real estate.

The STGC is also working with Stanford University on a tool to measure food waste. 

Launched at the Saudi Green Initiative in October 2021, the STGC is the world’s first global coalition that seeks to ensure the tourism industry plays its role in achieving the climate goals laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement, most notably limiting the global rise in temperatures to 1.5C. 

In April last year, it launched the Tourism Panel on Climate Change, an assessment and measurement initiative to advance climate resilient tourism.

The panel is modelled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and will give its first report at the Cop28 summit being held in Dubai next month.  

“For us, this particular Cop is going to be very important,” said Guevara. 

“Not only because it’s happening in our part of the world, but also because the launch of our report there will mark the first time that the tourism industry has published research using the IPCC methodology and with direct input from their experts.

“The reality is that if we don’t measure and report data, how do we track performance? And if we don’t track performance, then how do we know that we’re making progress?”

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