4 Sustainable Travel Innovations Shaping the Future of the Tourism Industry
Oscar Farrera/Hurtigruten Expeditions
Future of Travel

4 Sustainable Travel Innovations Shaping the Future of the Tourism Industry

From battery-powered cruise ships to aviation biofuel derived from microalgae. 

Presented by Hurtigruten Expeditions.

When it comes to sustainable ways to move through the world, big changes are happening in the travel industry. Nearly every sector of tourism, including cruise lines, luxury resorts, airlines, and the destinations themselves are turning to innovative solutions that cut carbon emissions and consider the environment first. 

But it's not just carbon output that's top of mind: The tourism industry is investing in people and the planet, including working to protect and restore ecosystems, and supporting the well-being of local communities, which has far-reaching positive socioeconomic impacts.

Here are four sustainable travel innovations happening right now that travelers can get involved in—and should expect to see more of in coming years.

 Misool Resort in Raja Ampat, Indonesia has created a marine protected area

Shawn Heinrichs/Misool Resort

Resorts are shoring up fragile ocean ecosystems for both visitors and locals

Around the world, luxury resorts that offer travelers a chance to commune with nature are stepping up to protect their local habitats. Oceanfront resorts have especially taken up the charge by collaborating with local populations to create marine reserves near their properties for all to enjoy. Among the best-in-class ocean conservation programs run by resorts is the barefoot luxury island destination Misool Resort in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. The founders created a marine protected area in the waters surrounding the hotel that now spans 300,000 acres and has rewilded one of the most biodiverse reefs on Earth. In Tanzania, the Manta Resort on Pemba Island created its own marine protected areas that have seen unprecedented returns to biodiversity and wildlife recovery among its reefs. This not only fuels unparalleled scuba diving and snorkeling experiences, but there’s also the “spillover effect"—a term used to describe healthy fish populations spilling outside of protected areas, which benefits local fishermen whose livelihood depends on a healthy ecosystem. In Belize, the largest marine protected area, the Turneff Atoll Marine Reserve, is a product of the hard work of Turneff Flats Resort and their dedication to conservation. 

The more resorts that help to protect the waters around them, the closer the industry comes to meeting ambitious benchmarks set by advocacy groups. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors, for one, has challenged sectors of the travel industry centered on scuba diving to help conserve 10,000 ocean sites by 2025, while the UN has set a goal to classify 30 percent of the world’s ocean space a marine protected area by 2030. 

Aviation fuels are becoming carbon negative

A handful of international airlines are leading the charge to slash their planes' carbon output and make flying more sustainable. Turkish Airlines recently took a huge stride with its new carbon-negative jet fuel. The airline is developing a synthetic bio-kerosene fuel derived from microalgae plants, which eliminates the environmental concerns surrounding crop-based biofuels, such as water use and competition for farmland. To ensure the entire process has a net-negative carbon output, the facility where the biofuel is produced will use carbon capture technology, which extracts carbon from the atmosphere and permanently stores it underground. 

Similarly, Air New Zealand’s net zero Flight NZ0 initiative and United Airlines' goal to reduce emissions by 100 percent by 2050 are making headlines through action items like electrifying fleets and also investing in biofuel and carbon capture. And on the subject of carbon capture technology: Programs like Tomorrow’s Air help climate-conscious travelers directly support carbon capture initiatives as a more effective version of offsetting their trip's emissions. The group partners with organizations like ClimeWorks, which permanently stores recaptured carbon in Iceland’s basalt rock. 

Hurtigruten Expeditions' MS Roald Amundsen is the world's first battery hybrid-powered cruise ship.

Espen Mills/Hurtigruten Expeditions

Cruise lines are setting a new standard

Norway-based Hurtigruten Group has a mission to be the global leader in sustainable cruising and to set the new industry standard for voyages that are gentle on the environment. Hurtigruten Expeditions, the brand's adventure line, has already achieved this in many ways. In 2019, it launched the world’s first battery hybrid-powered cruise ship—the MS Roald Amundsen. The ship's electrical propulsion capabilities, combined with innovative hull design, cut carbon emissions by 20 percent. That saves 3,000 metric tons of carbon per year.

In 2023, the line has undertaken a 100-million-euro green upgrade, which will see historic sustainable changes to its fleet. Hurtigruten is converting three more of its ships to be hybrid-battery expedition ships: the MS Richard With, the MS Kong Harald, and the MS Nordlys will all be refitted with new main engines and battery packs to slash carbon output by 25 percent. Additionally, on its Coastal Express ships—which are famous for exploring Norway’s Fjords—Hurtigruten is adding selective catalytic reduction systems to cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent.

The recent hiring of the cruise industry’s only on-staff Chief Scientist combined with the Hurtigruten Foundation’s commitment to preserving endangered wildlife, battling plastic waste and marine litter, and supporting communities in the areas they operate ensures their regenerative impact goes beyond technological innovations. 

Tourists are committing to protect the places they explore

A growing list of destinations are finding their own ways to answer the call to sustainability action. At home in the United States, Breckenridge, Colorado’s award-winning B Like Breck program promotes low-impact and sustainable travel initiatives that engage the community and visitors to both better the environment and enhance visitor-resident sentiment. Pledge programs and visitor education are also trending. Launched in early April 2023, the new Kanu Pledge in Hawai’i asks tourists to make a commitment to protect the islands on their trip—then challenges them to make good on that promise by joining local volunteer opportunities. The San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State have a Love it Like a Local pledge, in which tourists vow to explore the islands responsibly by taking small but meaningful actions like not feeding wildlife and conserving water when possible. Sedona’s Sedona Cares pledge helps tourists take an active role in protecting and preserving red rock country by having them agree to be careful with fire, not carve the rocks, and promise to respect the natural quiet of the spaces where they explore.