Sustainable tourism by OTS

How might we contribute to a healthy ocean ecosystem in Okinawa through tourism?

About OTS​​

Okinawa Tourist Service inc. (OTS) is an Okinawa-based travel agency with two primary businesses: travel-related services and rent-a-car services. OTS’ travel-related services include tours within Okinawa, domestic tours from and to Okinawa, overseas tours, and selling air tickets and hotel rooms. For car rentals, OTS is one of the most prominent players in Okinawa.


OTS is an Okinawa home-grown local company established in 1958 when Okinawa was still under US occupation after WWII. OTS aims to leverage tourism to: 

– Promote mutual understanding and bring peace to the world

– Promote respect for the local nature and tradition/culture

– Promote the local economy


Tourism and the challenge of Ocean sustainability

Until the outbreak of COVID-19, the number of tourists to Okinawa was growing year by year, having reached 10 million in year 2020, attracted by the beautiful coast and ocean. Japanese visitors accounted for two-thirds, while foreign visitors accounted for a third and rapidly growing.  Tourists travel to Okinawa to enjoy the beautiful beaches and mild climate. Moreover, Okinawa is considered the best Japanese location for watersports. The average stay of tourists is a little less than four days and the most popular tourists sites besides beaches are Churaumi Aquarium, Shuri Castle, Kokusai Dori shopping street.


Tourism is one of the main industries in Okinawa. The tourism industry has the potential to create a positive contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It contributes to the local economy through the creation of jobs and it promotes mutual understanding and respect among different cultures. At the same time, tourism puts a load of pressure on the environment. In the specific case of Okinawa, we are witnessing increasing environmental stress on the ocean. Among the others, tourism leads to an increase in CO2 emissions by vehicles used by travelers, such as airplanes, tour buses, and rental cars (see here and here for reference). Waste, and more specifically food waste, is another big issue (see here for reference). Before COVID19, the capital of the prefecture, Naha, distributed flyers to hotels and restaurants to keep their food waste in check. The repeated lockdowns posed a different threat to the local food system since much of the food harvested to serve the tourism industry went to waste. Finally, chemical runoffs due to toiletries used during hotel stays are posing severe threats to the local ecosystem, including the coral reef surrounding Okinawa’s islands.

The tourism toll accelerates global warming and environmental pollution. Okinawa’s ocean – a key resource for the local tourism industry – is likely to be critically impacted. OTS wants to contribute to preserving Okinawa’s ocean.


Your ideas

How might we contribute to a healthy ocean ecosystem through tourism?


For our challenge, we ask you to develop ideas in one or more of the following categories: 

– raising environmental awareness

– reducing environmental impact

– enabling sustainable innovation


Think about ways to involve visitors, companies in the tourism industry, and residents/communities in Okinawa. Make your vision concrete using images and digital and physical models. Keep the specificities of Okinawa’s ecosystem in mind.


Raising environmental awareness

This category refers to raising awareness of the importance of coastal and ocean preservation through tourism. You could think about ways to engage visitors through the creation of ocean-themed certification programs, or promoting exchanges with local scientists involved in ocean conservation.


Reducing environmental impact

This category looks for ways to reduce the environmental pressure on the ocean created by tourism. Think about ways in which OTS can decrease CO2 emissions of their rental cars and other activities. You could explore wastewater bioremediation, runoff reduction, and freshwater conservation technologies and schemes for the hotel industry. CO2 emissions reduction programs can be designed with a collaboration between the hotel industry and OTS in mind. We particularly welcome solutions that suggest ways to involve tourists in the reduction of environmental loads, for instance addressing the problem of food and other types of waste that end up in the ocean.


Enabling sustainable innovation

This category calls for solutions that innovate the tourism industry in Okinawa sustainably. You could design programs that OTS could run to promote more innovation in the industry, such as ocean-themed innovation challenges, startup incubators, and accelerators. You could also propose new business models that support sustainable practices and livelihoods, such as subscription seafood business.


Collaboration incentive

The real reward is driving meaningful social and environmental impact. The best ideas will get a chance to turn their ideas into real products, for instance through a paid internship at OTS. Moreover, the best team across the two categories will be invited on a trip to Hawaii to present its solution to local experts.