Exploring the Ecological Footprint of Tourism in Ontario
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Once considered a 'green' industry, tourism and its associated ecological impacts are now widely acknowledged. Focus within tourism planning has aimed to reduce the ecological burden placed on a destination area, and move towards a more sustainable tourism industry. This research proposes the use of the Ecological Footprint (EF) as a tool to compare the ecological costs of different types of tourism. The EF shows the relative amount of productive land appropriated by the activities and choices of an individual tourist. The main goal of this study was to analyse and compare the ecological resource use of tourism in Ontario. Surveys were conducted with tourists staying at 9 different types of accommodations throughout Ontario. Additional data were collected from personal interviews with accommodation managers at each location and incorporated into the EF calculation. Four areas of tourism ecological impact were identified; tourists' personal consumption, transportation, activity, and accommodation costs. These four components contributed in varying degrees to each tourist Ecological Footprint, and this variation became the main area of analysis. The findings of this research demonstrated that air travel contributes significantly to the total ecological cost of a particular tourism experience. Comparably, travel by personal car made a much smaller contribution to the tourist EF. Thus, local area tourists who could drive to a destination had a smaller EF than those long-distance domestic and international tourists who flew. Accommodation ecological costs were primarily a factor of the amount of built space available, and total energy usage per guest. Accommodations that had a large number of occupants for a given area and level of energy consumption achieved a scale of efficiency. In this manner, larger, more efficiently constructed accommodations often made smaller contributions to the tourist EF than small-scale, but inefficient accommodations. The main conclusion was that the ecological impacts of tourism can be quantitatively recorded, and that a complete trip view of tourism ecological resource use is necessary. When considering practical applications in the tourism industry, an Ecological Footprint analysis could be used by tourism managers as an evaluative tool to compare the ecological outcome of various construction, programming, and operational changes. For the tourist, the EF can serve as an 'eco-label', to distinguish one type of 'green' tourism from another, creating a more informed consumer. Ultimately, the Ecological Footprint serves one purpose- to demonstrate that less ecologically consumptive tourism choices are possible for both tourists and tourism managers.