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Towards Carbon Neutral Tourism in Montenegro

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As a member of the project, ‘Towards Carbon Neutral Tourism in Montenegro’, one of my tasks has been to find ways to make people understand the importance of the links between tourism and climate action.

Tourism is an important source of income and employment for every country and fulfills an important role in social development and satisfaction. However, its rapid growth has also had detrimental environmental and socio-cultural impacts.

As a main driver of Montenegro’s economic growth and investment, the tourism sector is directly and indirectly responsible for a large share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially from the transportation and accommodation industries. The tourism sector contributes over one-third of Montenegro’s GDP and half of the capital investment in infrastructure; it will increasingly be a significant, if not leading, factor in projected GHG emissions growth.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. ‘Greening’ tourism can create new jobs and opportunities, strengthen the country against future economic and environmental shocks, and support efforts towards the global goal to combat climate change.

By becoming a low carbon, sustainable tourism destination, Montenegro will give its tourism businesses a competitive edge by achieving cost savings and opening new tourism markets. If companies measure their carbon footprints and start reducing them, they can significantly increase their profits and market share, reduce their impact on the environment, improve customer loyalty and attract new environmentally-conscious customers, all of which will help market a greener brand.

And yet many of the terms we use at UNDP—such as “carbon neutral tourism”,
“sustainable tourism” or “sustainable development”—mean little (or nothing) to most people.

Indeed, during our first meetings with members of the tourism industry, some people only had a vague notion of what carbon neutrality is, while others had no notion at all.

Milos, a small hotel owner from the Bay of Kotor, told me: “My wife, who runs the hotel with me, first thought [carbon neutrality] was to do with cigarettes or some physics phenomena. I somehow related the topic with expensive cars and solar panels and was going to tell you how that is far too expensive for me.”

Having worked as a journalist before joining UNDP, I knew that in order for UNDP’s work to have an impact, it has to be described in terms that people like Milos can understand. The key is to take complicated concepts and show how they relate to everyday life—to our work, to our travel/leisure habits and to our general behavior. Our project has thus taken a wide-ranging approach to spreading awareness about the benefits of carbon neutral tourism. 

The rising water polo star Stefan Vidovic is currently serving as a goodwill ambassador, and part of his role is to give a face to our efforts. We created a video to show the tremendous natural resources that are at stake. We launched the “anti-idling campaign”, appealing to drivers to take a few easy steps (including turning the engine off when stopping for more than 10 seconds) to reduce emissions. And this past October, we organized the First International Conference on Low Carbon Tourism to help spread enthusiasm for green living and doing business sustainably.

Much still has to be done to communicate the concept of low-carbon tourism to both the tourism industry and to tourists themselves. We still need to encourage accommodation providers to minimize their waste and decrease their energy and water use. We need greener transport options, and are working to encourage both locals and visitors to use public transport when travelling in Montenegro.

But it’s clear that our project is already helping protect what is unique about Montenegro—its beautiful coastline, its sandy beaches, its iconic mountains and forests, its rivers and lakes—and will help ensure that those resources remain healthy for generations to come.

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