Integrating Circular Economy Principles in Tourism

Circular Economy

Circular Economy

Circularity represents a strategic approach for the tourism sector, notably from the point of view of minimizing its environmental impacts, including waste and pollution as well as CO2 emissions, given the potential of a circular economy to decouple economic growth from resource use.

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Integrating circularity and further advancing resource efficiency in the tourism value chain represent an opportunity for the tourism sector to embrace a sustainable and resilient pathway.

The COVID-19 crisis raised awareness of the importance of local supply chains and the need to rethink how goods and services are produced and consumed, both key elements of a circular economy.

For tourism businesses, the circular economy can bring competitiveness, not only in connection with opportunities for innovation, differentiation and the diversification of income streams, but also as government and investors are increasingly looking at environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies.

For tourism destinations, the circular economy offers the opportunity to enhance the sustainable development impacts of tourism, generating wellbeing for the local population through the creation of new jobs and more inclusive local value chains, thus creating a virtuous circle between businesses and territories.

For tourists, the circular economy brings an opportunity to leave a positive footprint, to travel with purpose, and can lead to multiplier effects when it comes to the transformation of the whole tourism ecosystem through behaviour change.

The extensive and transversal value chain of tourism offers numerous opportunities to think how can we make longer, better, more circular use of the materials and products that we utilize to deliver our service, creating value and partnerships, and bringing landfill waste as close to zero as possible. Successfully transitioning to a more sustainable and resilient tourism model through the application of circular economy principles will depend on active public private collaboration and partnerships, inter-governmental cooperation, effective policies and policy instruments and financing.

UN Tourism is supporting the shift towards a circular economy in tourism value chains through plastics within the framework of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, and through food within the framework of the Global Roadmap for Food Waste Reduction in the Tourism Sector:

  • Building a circular economy of plastics in tourism  
    Logo Global Plastics Initiative
    The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative unites the tourism sector behind a common vision to address the root causes of plastic pollution.  The initiative supports the readiness of tourism vis à vis the upcoming international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. The initiative operates as a voluntary commitment where signatories commit to eliminate problematic and unnecessary plastics, to introduce reuse models or reusable alternatives; to foster collaboration with suppliers and waste managers; and to report on progress on an annual basis, with the aim to shift to a circular economy of plastics in tourism.
  • Transforming food value chains in tourism
    The Global Roadmap for Food Waste Reduction in Tourism is a new framework that aims at promoting the uptake of food waste reduction strategies by tourism stakeholders to enhance the contribution of the sector to sustainable food systems. The Roadmap supports the implementation of SDG12.3 and aims to raise awareness among tourism stakeholders of the opportunities deriving from a more sustainable and circular management of food, with special emphasis on reducing food waste as a cost-effective and environmentally responsible strategy.

Circularity represents a key enabler within the framework of the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism which aims to accelerate mitigation and adaptation efforts from tourism stakeholders.

All the initiatives are implemented under the umbrella of the One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme.

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