Why the tourism industry is growing green

Why the tourism industry is growing green

By David Roberts, Director of Strategic Development Tourism Northern Ireland

Whether you’re offering somewhere to stay or somewhere to play, anyone involved in running tourist attractions, holiday experiences or activities sees the impact we all have on the environment every day.

Right now, the world is telling us that we must take action. More and more consumers are making ethical choices on which brands they support. As a result, businesses everywhere are adopting more sustainable practices and tourism is no exception. This is something the industry cannot afford to ignore and many are already embracing green tourism.

Northern Ireland has it all. From our big-hearted welcomes to our breath-taking surroundings. Our natural resources, rugged landscapes and our generous hosts are the reasons people come here and enabling visitors to enjoy a sustainable experience is one more way we can delight them.

 Sustainable Tourism

The UN World Tourism Organisation defines sustainable tourism as tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.

We need to understand that this is about more than energy saving and recycling – important as those are. It is about visitor management, supporting your community and helping visitors to do their bit, whether they’re with you for an hour or a week. Caring for the environment begins with us, in our homes, workplaces and communities.

So every time you suggest a green experience, offer greener options or nudge visitors towards greener actions, you’re promoting sustainability, giving yourself a competitive edge and making Northern Ireland an even more attractive destination for tourists.

Green Tourists

Sustainable experiences and getaways are where tourism is heading and in today’s society, everyone should be considered a green tourist.

According to studies by Travel Foundation and Forum for the Future, statistics show that 75% of travellers want to make responsible holiday choices and 66% want an easier way to identify green holidays. Booking.com have noted an increase in searches for green experiences – hiking 94%, clean air 50%, nature 44% and relaxation 33%.

Showing that the desire to recharge, rebalance and reconnect with nature has never been greater, businesses need to appreciate that this is not a niche market anymore, but rather a global trend.

Being a green tourist, is a more thoughtful way of travelling and experiencing our surroundings that protects the environment for the future. It means understanding the impact that we have on the places we visit and why supporting sustainable enterprises matters.

Right across Northern Ireland we have so much to offer these visitors. They are looking for hidden gems, to spend time with the artisan food producers, to seek out the local culture and to experience the uniqueness of our natural surroundings – all of which we have in abundance. Green tourists are inspired by meeting ordinary people who go the extra mile, getting the inside track from local guides and enjoying some distinctly Northern Ireland wit and humour.

 Ideas and Inspiration

We have a number of trail-blazing sustainability tourism heroes in Northern Ireland who have taken steps above and beyond the standard and are becoming industry leaders that others can take inspiration from.

  • OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory (above)– The only accredited International Dark Sky Place in Northern Ireland, Davagh Forest in the Sperrin Mountains is known for its lack of light pollution and is on a mission to get the world to turn down the lights. Turning what was once a stop off into a staycation destination in the Sperrins, development and building in the forest had to be sensitive to its surroundings. Planting a sedum roof, using sustainable materials for its Solar Walk boardwalk and an eco-friendly heating system all preserve the nature of the site, whilst its dark night sky and observatory offer a magical experience to visiting stargazers, all evolving through green tourism.

  • Erne Water Taxi – With a passion for showcasing the beautiful county of Fermanagh and an inspirational idea to give visitors the chance to become immersed in the spectacular lake-land landscape of Lough Erne, Erne Water Taxi is a completely unique experience. An opportunity for visitors to connect with nature and enjoy an outdoor adventure off the beaten track, Erne Water Taxi inspires travellers to imagine Lough Erne’s ancient landscape through stories, told my knowledgeable and passionate guides. The new Island Discovery boat offers visitors a silent, all-electric eco-friendly motor experience and is the best way to appreciate the views and hear the distinct sounds of Northern Ireland’s waterways.


  • Salthouse Hotel – A carbon negative hotel located in the north coast seaside town of Ballycastle, The Salthouse Hotel is a stunning example of sustainable accommodation that delivers on every level. By using materials sourced within the region to deliver a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of modern living, The Salthouse Hotel promises coastal calm in a luxury eco setting, inspired by nature and the best traditions of the area. Northern Ireland’s first eco hotel also boasts a number of eco-lodges which draw renewable energy from their own local wind and solar supply, keeping in line with The Salthouse Hotel’s actions to minimise any impact on the environment and offering sustainable luxury, a true example of green tourism at the highest of standards.

Using Digital to Reduce Carbon Footprint

Climate change is a defining challenge of our era, with no industry remaining untouched by its influence. It is undeniable that tourism has amplified our global carbon footprint, with millions journeying across the globe each year. However, the digital age does present a myriad of opportunities to make tourism more sustainable.

The main tourism-related activities that contribute to carbon emissions are transportation, accommodation, activities and catering but all carry the similar premise that the changing mindset of the modern traveller has the potential to positively affect them. A growing number of tourists are becoming more eco-conscious and actively seeking sustainable travel experiences, which has created a shift in demand that should incentivise tourism business to adopt greener practices and digital solutions.

As the world transitions to digital, tourism businesses have much to gain by adopting these advanced technologies. Integrating digital solutions provides numerous advantages for the travel and tourism industry: financial savings by going paperless and implementing smart energy management; improved customer experiences by digital booking systems; personalised recommendations and automative transactions and gaining a competitive edge by offering eco-friendly tech that will appeal to the growing number of environmentally friendly travellers; build a stronger brand reputation by proactively transitioning to digital future proofing of the business.

Adopting digital is now imperative for tourism businesses aiming for success, sustainability and satisfaction. The digital future is here and early adoption promises substantial benefits.

All Tourism Northern Ireland video, audio and photography production assets are produced in line with AdGreen principles. AdGreen is a platform that helps the advertising industry reduce carbon emissions from production. The production team actively manage the carbon footprint using the Adgreen Carbon Calculator which identifies where emissions are occurring and how to reduce and offset those emissions. For large scale productions a Sustainability Officer is appointed to oversee a sustainability plan for the production and ensure adherence across agency, client and crew. Tourism Northern Ireland is also working on a Carbon Calculator to measure, reduce and offset emissions from their advertising media activity.

Destination Sustainability Programme

At Tourism Northern Ireland we launched a 12-week innovative programme, which created a new opportunity for visitor attractions and experiences to confidently showcase sustainable tourism practices across Northern Ireland through peer-to-peer learning and business mentoring, inspiring collective sustainable action.

Having commenced in January 2024, the 12-week programme delivered by The Tourism Space will empower businesses to become advocates for sustainable tourism experiences in Northern Ireland and to feel confident in sustainability and climate action, supporting them to manager their energy, water and waste consumption. Topics explored include Biodiversity and Business, Leave No Trace Awareness, Sustainable Storytelling and Waste Reduction and Waste Management in Your Business.

By completing the programme, businesses will achieve a holistic understanding of sustainability that focuses on doing less harm, doing more good and making the destination better as a result of tourism activity.

Through a blended learning approach of in-person group sessions, online workshops and 1-1 mentoring, participants will have the opportunity to share experiences, solutions and challenges in relation to sustainability.

Leaner and Greener

We understand ‘Going Green’ is a common term that is often used when talking about sustainability but what it actually is, is the process of reducing carbon emissions caused directly or indirectly by your business. ‘Going Green’ means taking intentional action to reduce the carbon emissions of your business, mainly by managing energy, waste, water and transport more responsibly and more efficiently.

Tourism Northern Ireland has developed a ‘Leaner and Greener’ series which is helping those within our industry take practical steps to manage energy costs, food, waste, water and transport. We have a number of guidance reports available on our website and also host webinars for tourism businesses, that are focusing on Climate Change and Threats to Biodiversity in Northern Ireland. These sessions help businesses to understand Northern Ireland’s current standing point around climate change and biodiversity, gives advice on what steps you can take in each of these areas and the potential benefits to your business. All sessions are available to watch afterwards online at www.tourismni.com.

Sustainability Toolkit

Becoming sustainable is not something anyone can achieve overnight. What matters is that our tourism businesses in Northern Ireland keep learning, adapting and developing, no matter what stage they are at in the process.

At Tourism Northern Ireland, we have developed many resources to help our tourism businesses develop their sustainability strategies and practical solutions to implement these into their day-to-day practices such as a sustainability audit, help with setting up a green team and finding a green mentor, developing green experiences, supporting visitors, sustaining the local community, creating a sustainability policy and developing your online presence.

In addition, Tourism Northern Ireland has also produced a series of ‘bite-sized’ webinars called ‘Lunch & Learn’, as part of our ongoing Tourism Enterprise Development (TED) programme. These sessions include updates on the latest useful resources, toolkits and supports that are available for the NI tourism industry across a range of topics including Sustainability in Tourism.

Split into Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer sessions, businesses can sign up to attend these sessions on www.tourismni.com and view previous sessions which might also prove beneficial.