Analysis - April 12, 2010



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April 2010


Print Distribution networks, Sustainable tourism,

Canadian Travel Agents and Carbon Offsets

In 2006, 26,400 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere, of which tourism contributed 5% (UNWTO, 2008). Of that 5%, air travel was responsible for 40% and land travel for 36%.

The relationship between climate change and tourism is interwoven and interdependent.  Climate change has major implications for the future of tourism because weather conditions factor heavily into the business direction of tourism operators. In Canada, seasonal and outdoor tourism may be adversely impacted by abnormal or unpredictable weather patterns, and costly changes to infrastructure may be required to cope with these changes .

With the growing concern about the effects of climate change and how the tourism industry is vulnerable to these effects, the challenge is to determine the awareness of tourism stakeholders and their level of participation in mitigating such effects.

A 2008 study by L. Kole et al at Ryerson University aimed to determine the level of awareness among Canadian travel agents with regard to climate change, and their willingness to offer carbon offsetting as a mitigation strategy to their clients. The study also aimed to determine whether more information regarding environmental issues and carbon offsetting needs to be provided to travel agents to assist them in channelling this knowledge to consumers.

The study sent an e-survey to 1886 members of the Association of Canadian Travel Agents (ACTA) and 2,500 members of the Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors (CITC). The study received a 5.9% response rate.


The study found that while travel agents consider climate change a threat, they were unaware of the tourism industry’s contribution to climate change. Their consumers, travellers, also did not make the connection between climate change and their travel habits. Most travel agents have a ‘basic’ understanding (50%) of climate change and carbon offsetting. More than 50% said their first business priority was ‘making a profit.’ However, 9% of travel agencies said their first priority was ‘spreading knowledge of climate change.’ In addition, although 46% of agents felt it was important to communicate environmental issues related to tourism, they were not encouraged to do so by their agencies.

Some 34% of Canadian travel agents believe their customers would be willing to pay up to $10 as an additional charge for carbon offsets, although they felt that the government should bear the financial costs of carbon offsets. Less than half of these agents ’sometimes’ suggest carbon offsets to their customers while customers ‘rarely’ bring up the option of carbon offsets.

The study concludes that since most travel agents have only a ‘basic’ knowledge and understanding of climate change, they are not sufficiently informed to help transfer knowledge about climate change and carbon offsets to their clients. This is also the main reason that agencies are apprehensive about presenting carbon offsetting as a viable option. Travel agents need to be well-versed in environmental issues and carbon offsetting in order to be ambassadors of environmental change.


In order to increase awareness, a combined effort needs to be initiated among governments, academic institutions and corporations to educate agents about the effects of climate change on tourism and carbon offsetting. As travel agents are representatives at the frontline of the tourism industry, they wield considerable influence when it comes to travellers’ actions and awareness of environmental issues.

There are a number of approaches for communicating climate change awareness within the tourism industry and for making climate change and carbon offsetting a fundamental part of the industry:

  1. Education Campaign for Agents – climate change and mitigation strategies should be part of travel training institutions’ curriculum.
  2. Increase client awareness through the tourism industry, in order to incorporate this issue into mainstream culture.
  3. Offer clients a flat-rate fee for carbon offsetting.

Travel agents must realize that they can help mitigate the effects of climate change. Agents can inspire action by educating consumers about how their travels contribute to climate change, and by offering them carbon offsetting options to enable them to reduce their carbon emissions.


Kole, L., Krestell, S., Parlagreco, L. & Dodds, R. (2008). Climate Change and Carbon Offsetting. Toronto: Ryerson University. 49 pages.

United Nations World Tourism Organization (2008). Climate Change and Tourism:
Responding to Global Challenges. Retrieved from

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