Tourism and Environmental Health in a Changing Climate

We cannot solve the greatest challenges to health by working in isolation. That is why we provide business, government, universities and civil society ways to measure, report, and mitigate environmental and climate change impacts on communities that are dependent on tourism.

The International Sustainable Tourism Initiative (ISTI) researched a new framework, the ISTI Framework to help local governments and national planning bodies to measure the Invisible Burden. The Invisible Burden is defined in the new report, Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of TourismThis research helps to measure the Invisible Burden in Tunisia, via funding from GIZ.

Download Report:  Tourism and Environmental Health in a Changing Climate  

Harvard LogosThe ISTI Framework was tested in Tunisia between July 2017-December 2018, primarily on the island of Djerba.   

The report comes to the following conclusions:

  1. Without further monitoring at the destination level, tourism will play an increasingly energy and resource-intensive role that will not be accounted for in national planning and will leave local authorities without the resources to manage growth.
  2. Municipal leaders require data on the many unmonitored and unaccounted for impacts on local destinations to guide the development of more sustainable, efficient economies, in order to meet the Sustainable Development (SDG) Goals and lower GhG emissions in accord with the Paris Agreement.

As we face the growing probability that climate change will undermine the enormous value of tourism investments worldwide, and as the impacts of climate change continue to escalate, governments and business have barely begun to deliberate on the impacts climate change will have on tourism-dependent countries and their communities. ISTI has formulated a means to help industry and government measure, report, mitigate, and adapt in order to garner the substantial human and financial resources required to help local destinations decarbonize and deploy proven approaches to environmental protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation.


Tourism and Environmental Health in a Changing Climate: The ISTI Framework for Tourism Destinations


The International Sustainable Tourism Initiative (ISTI) Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health undertook research on the ISTI Framework in Tunisia on Djerba Island and Tozeur in 2017 with the support of GIZ, to test a science-based set of measures for destination authorities to manage their GhG emissions and the unaccounted-for costs of tourism growth, including energy, solid waste, waste water, water utility services and local land-use.

The ISTI framework uncovers the indirect costs of tourism development and reveals to local authorities how to avoid growth without adequate recompense for supporting sustainable infrastructure in host countries.  It also takes an in-depth look at land-use changes and measures required to protect coastal tourism destinations from the impacts of climate change.

Local authorities working with business can now determine more precise costs for properly developing local infrastructure related to the tourism industry.  This will allow for public private planning and data driven tourism management.  The ISTI Framework is now ready for Beta testing and the approach to this will be dictated by the following goals:

  • Reveal the indirect costs of tourism growth, and the investment required to protect environmental health and local population well-being
  • Measure municipal costs for servicing tourism and guide decision making on policies and infrastructure
  • Help to develop strategic mitigation and adaptation plans to protect tourism economies and local populations when climate impacts worsen
  • Trigger international funding, subsidies, and impact investment for sustainable infrastructure projects, such as solar energy and alternative waste treatment for tourism areas
  • Create a new category of research based on empirical data to drive global research cooperation on destination planning

Contact Megan Epler Wood, Director of our International Sustainable Tourism Initiative, for more information HERE.


Megan Epler Wood

Director: Megan Epler Wood


Co-Principal Investigator: Dr. John Spengler 

Dr. Henry Lee

Co-Principal Investigator: Dr. Henry Lee

Sofia Fotiadou

Team Member: Sofia Fotiadou, Research Manager