Giving Tourism a Green Shade: Studying Environmental Practices in Sri Lanka’s Hotels

Marking World Tourism Day 2012, Kanchana Wickramasinghe discusses a pioneering new study that attempts to measure the impact on the environment of Sri Lanka’s booming tourist hotel sector.


Racing Ahead

Tourist arrival statistics indicate the strong revival of tourism in Sri Lanka following the end of the separatist war. While the South Asian region recorded an 11 % increase in tourist arrivals in 2011, Sri Lanka showed a remarkable growth of 48 %1. The arrivals have increased by 98 % in 2011, when compared to the situation before the war ended in 2008. The World Travel Market 2011 Industry Report identifies Sri Lanka as one of the six emerging countries in tourism along with Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa; due to its revival after the separatist war, high investments in infrastructure development, and the beauty of the destination.

Given the vast potential emerging in the tourism industry, the Sri Lankan government has set ambitious targets to attract 2.5 million tourists by 2016. The target is nearly 2.9 times that of the arrivals in 2011. Several initiatives are in place to cater to the increasing demand for hotel accommodation by means of new investments and expansions of existing accommodation facilities. Accordingly, the number of hotel rooms is expected to increase to 50, 000 by 2016, from 14,653 in 2011.

Growing Pains

Tourism is an industry which consumes significant quantities of water and energy resources, and generates waste. In the case of Sri Lanka, the hospitality sector ranks as the most energy intensive and therefore, the most costly to power. The electricity demand of the hotel sector constitutes 4-5% of the national electricity demand and the cost of this energy consumption makes up about 18% of the total operational expenditure of a hotel2. With the increasing number of tourist arrivals, there is a likely increase in the amounts of energy and water used, and a consequent generation a larger quantity of waste.


Considering both economic and environmental factors, it is important that the hotel sector undertakes investments in efficient environmental management practices and implement effective waste management approaches. Adoption of environmental management practices will promote sustainable utilization of water and energy resources, and minimize the probable negative impacts on the environment through waste management. To sweeten the whole deal, it has been found that there is a possibility of a 20% savings in energy and water consumption as well as a 20% reduction in waste generated by the hotel2. This translates to an overall reduction in operating costs for the hotel industry, and given current tourism trends, might lead to a better reputation resulting in an increase in consumer demand.


It is widely believed that hotels tend to adopt good environmental management practices as a cost reduction strategy, and a means to get a market advantage. The evidence from different parts of the world reveal that the adoption of good environmental management practices by hotels is governed by an array of factors. The aforementioned two factors are irrelevant in certain contexts. The literature shows that the determining factors can be either, hotel-specific or external. Government incentives, government monitoring, managers’ characteristics (such as age, managers’ industry tenure and education), receipts of environmental awards, environmental news in print media, trade association membership, and hotel focus on ‘green’ consumers, are among some of these factors.


Identifying the problem

There isn’t a benchmarked environmental management process in Sri Lanka. It hasn’t been well researched or documented, leading to a host of questions regarding the relationship between the location, star classification, chain affiliation, attitude and awareness of higher management, and their affect on environmental management practices. The lack of evidence puts the industry in a difficult position, as all or none of these factors could affect the management of energy, water, and waste in hotels. The fact remains, that until we gather such evidence, the greening efforts in this sector are akin to scrambling around in the dark.


Research-based evidence on environmental management practices in the hotel sector will be pivotal for the sustainable development of the industry on two fronts. First, given the significant expansions in the accommodation sector, such evidence is vital to make the on-going and forthcoming developments environmentally and economically sustainable. Also, given the increased demand ecologically sustainable tourism, such studies can provide implications and data which could be used to leverage Sri Lanka’s position as a sustainable tourism destination.


First Steps

The IPS, with the financial and technical assistance from the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE), is undertaking a research study to assess the energy, water, and waste management practices, in the hotel sector in Sri Lanka. The two-year research project will come up with vital information on environmental management in the hotel sector, factors governing the adoption of environmental management practices, and policy implications to promote environmental management in the hotel sector. In sum, the study will shed light on a benchmarked environmental management process for the tourist sector in the country.



1UNWTO (2011), UNWTO Tourism Highlights 2011 Edition

2Miththapala, S. (2011), Good practice guidelines on environmental management for Sri Lankan hoteliers. Colombo: SWITCH Asia Greening Sri Lanka Hotels Project, C C Solutions.


This post is in our new category ‘The Note Pad’, where IPS researchers bring you short informal opinion pieces containing their personal thoughts/ideas/questions/contentions from ongoing research work and related engagements (seminars, presentations, conferences, etc).