The tourism industry has exploded in recent decades, with adventurous souls travelling further afield and travel for business becoming increasingly common. While we love to vacation as much as the next person, the negative effects of tourism are a threat to our planet. From increasing carbon footprints to overtourism destroying areas of natural beauty; what does the future hold for the travel industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the world to reconsider its addiction to travel and aviation. Do grounded planes and eerily empty airports signal the end of the travel industry as we know it? And it’s not just cross-border travel, it’s local travel too. After the pandemic, we’re seeing cities rethinking their transport policies (especially since they saw how clear skies could be without air pollution from dirty vehicles). It’s clear transport and travel are really changing: but how?
You wouldn’t need numbers to guess how big the carbon footprint of the tourism industry is. But in case you didn’t know, a 2018 study published in Nature Climate Change has done the work. After surveying 160 countries between 2009 and 2013, the researchers found that the industry’s global carbon footprint increased from 3.9 to 4.5 GtCO2e, four times more than previously estimated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Why? It came down to transport, shopping and food, and unsurprisingly, the majority of the footprint is exerted by and in high-income countries.
Aside from the carbon footprint, the tourism industry has also created negative environmental, economic and socio-cultural issues in tourism hotspots. This even led to the term “overtourism” being coined, to describe the heightened level of anxiety that stems from that. But as the UN acknowledged on World Tourism Day last year, global tourism can be a force for change too, if it ends up protecting the environment rather than destroying it.
According to the UN, by 2030, up to 1.8 billion are expected to travel in a single year. As a result, travel and tourism create jobs for over 320 million people and generate 10.4% of the world’s gross domestic product. But these numbers were generated before accounting for the COVID-19 pandemic, which has undoubtedly changed everything. Perhaps a more nuanced approach to tourism is needed, as The Guardian writes: “Destructive though it is, the virus has offered us the opportunity to imagine a different world – one in which we start decarbonising, and staying local. The absence of tourism has forced us to consider ways in which the industry can diversify, indigenise and reduce its dependency on the all-singing, all-dancing carbon disaster that is global aviation.”
Examine your own travelling habits. Have you ever been conscious about travelling before? Calculating your carbon footprint as you go is one thing, but it also extends to the travel experience itself. How conscious are you of the environment, the space and the community that you’re entering? If you’ve never thought of the impact you’re leaving behind (environmentally, culturally, etc.) now would be a good time to start.
And don’t forget, it’s not just about global tourism either, it’s about local travel too. How can you make more conscious travel decisions, when moving to and fro in your own country? How can you contribute to making local transport options more accessible and affordable? How can you promote domestic tourism instead of high-carbon, international tourism instead?
– Calculate your carbon footprint while travelling
– Explore low-carbon options for transport, food, and shopping
– When travelling, try to bring your own, go low-waste and plant-based as possible
– Explore accommodation and engage in activities that aren’t harmful to the local community and environment
– Explore domestic tourism options
– Beware of greenwashing in tourism
– Explore low-carbon options for travelling (public transport, bike lanes, walking, etc.) in your own city/country and try to make them more accessible
– Try to cut down unnecessary work-related travel
– If you do have to fly, consider offsetting your carbon footprint