The decarbonization of tourism in action: the case of Valencia

The decarbonization of tourism in action: the case of Valencia

Transforming Vision into Action - Policy and Governance

22 February 2021

Visit Valencia

The changes that have taken place in recent years have been transforming the global tourism paradigm,  especially as a consequence of the challenges posed by climate change and the reaction of resident communities. This has been embodied in new national and international policies (such as the UN Agenda 2030, the New Urban Agenda (Habitat  III), the European Green Deal or the Climate Emergency declaration in Spain, which paves the way for a new climate change law with important social, labour and economic and financial impacts, including, most likely, a new taxation regime for all kinds of organizations).

This progressive change has been intensely accentuated in the last year by the dramatic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited mobility at all levels thus undermining the basis of this activity. Under these conditions, the industry and destinations must rethink their competitiveness in terms of three parameters: ensuring a safe, healthy and sustainable environment.

To achieve this, Valencia is implementing a strategy based on “a sustainable tourism development model that can expand profitability to the social and environmental levels, effectively contributing to the protection and enhancement of cultural and natural heritage, with special emphasis on those resources that provide greater authenticity and uniqueness to the destination. The model should minimize negative impacts, promoting at all times the improvement of the quality of life of residents and a positive perception of tourism activity among the public.”

To turn these goals into reality, Valencia is being guided by  the  SDGs.  A dashboard of indicators based on a broad international reference framework has been designed. This dashboard connects each SDG with the tourism-specific indicators that have been selected (GSTC criteria, European ETIS indicators, indicators included in the Spanish UNE 178502 standard, STD criteria). In this way, the improvement of the indicators will guide the achievement of the respective objectives, and make it possible to  identify  areas of improvement for SDG achievement.

Within the strategy is an overarching vision: to be a leading example of a carbon-neutral tourism destination, offering real solutions to the public and private sectors to become more competitive in the new paradigm. To achieve this, the roadmap for tourism decarbonization comprises 3 phases: initial calculation of the footprint of the destination and its actors, implementation of a digital management system (evolution of the footprint and its reduction), and development  of compensation projects in the territory.

Applying the public-private collaboration model, Visit Valencia (a foundation under the auspices of the City Council) collaborates with the Global Omnium  group (a Valencia-based international group which has divisions specializing in sustainable water management and tourism). As the first result of this  collaboration, Valencia has become the first global destination to verify the calculation of the carbon footprint of its tourism activity, in addition to calculating and soon certifying its water footprint.

Using a powerful big data tool, the carbon footprint has been calculated in its three scopes:

  • Scope 1: the transport footprint of travellers to and from the destination, as well as internal transport.
  • Scope 2: Indirect GHG emissions from energy consumption in tourism activities.
  • Scope 3: Other indirect emissions: accommodation, tourist consumption, waste management, water management, and related to cultural activities, festivals, sports and cultural events, tourism supply infrastructures.

Furthermore, the study has broken down the calculation into ten headings, and so the footprint corresponding to each of the segments involved has been identified, ranging from transport to food service, and including infrastructure, public services or leisure activities, among others.

In the second phase, a digital carbon footprint management system is being implemented, using smart tags that will record the emissions of each organization (with the possibility of calculating the carbon footprint in real time), which will provide input to the digital platform that verifies and manages the information—this, using blockchain technology, which recently received the Wakalua-UNWTO  Innovation  Award. This certified process will make it possible to verify—individually and in aggregate—the progress in the carbon footprint reduction, which can be communicated to users at any time.

In conclusion, Valencia has taken action towards the decarbonization of tourism by using the SDG compass to orient itself in the new paradigm, and with a clear vision of becoming a safe, sustainable and healthy destination, and by applying the knowledge, experience and resources of all actors involved in this common challenge of fighting climate change.

This article for Transforming One Planet Vision into Action has been brought to you by Visit Valencia. Visit Valencia is a non-profit Foundation with the participation of the Valencia City Council in association with the majority of the local tourism industry. Its goal is the strategic management and promotion of the city of Valencia as a tourist destination, with a professional focus which combines public and private interest. Since its creation in 1991, the Foundation has contributed to the evolution of tourism in the city, favouring employment, tourism development and increase in its economic impact; factors which have directly influenced the wellbeing of Valencian society.