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Green is the new black for the tourism industry

Northern Ireland is already leading the field in sustainable tourism with its world class environmentally friendly experiences

Solar boat
Solar power Island Discovery is a beautifully appointed all-electric solar boat. On board guests will experience the spectacular Lough Erne and island town of Enniskilllen, in the company of an expert local guide (Rob Durston/Courtesy of Tourism Northern Ire)

By David Roberts, Director of Strategic Development Tourism Northern Ireland

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.

OM Dark Sky Park
Sustainable stargazing Davagh Forest's OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory blends seamlessly with its natural environment and offers visitors an unforgettable and authentic stargazing experience (donal moloney)

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 – 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.

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.