Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries. In Germany alone, 70 million trips are made annually (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie). Inevitably, tourism has an impact on the environment due to the enormous consumption of energy and the emission of air pollutants. Worldwide, 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions of tourism is due to air travel; 32 percent is to car traffic and 21 percent to accommodation (Umweltbundesamt). In total, tourism causes around eight percent of the global carbon dioxide emissions (Nature Climate Change). Therefore, tourism becomes a complex topic in which numerous areas, such as mobility, accommodation and catering, must be considered in relation to environmental pollution and impact.
Much of the success of tourism within the global economy relies on the transportation sector. However, it is precisely this mobility – especially due to arrival and departure – that leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions: The journey to and from the destination accounts for over 90% of the environmental impact of the entire vacation (ReNatur). It causes high levels of primary energy consumption, climate-damaging emissions, impairment of the atmosphere and noise emissions. Travel by car, ship, or airplane contributes considerably to greenhouse gas emissions and therefore adds to pollution and climate change. Traveling by plane plays a particularly damaging role: Greenhouse gases at high altitudes have a far more damaging effect on the climate than emissions on the ground. Additionally, when kerosene is burned, numerous other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, aerosols and water vapor are emitted. These various effects add up in such a way that the greenhouse effect of flying is on average, about two to five times higher than the effect of the emitted CO2 alone (source: (Umweltbundesamt). In addition to flights on vacation, cruises are a particularly environmentally harmful form of travel with their use of heavy fuel oil.
It is therefore no wonder that sustainable mobility concepts are becoming a mandatory task in tourism. Not only does it increase the overall attractiveness of destinations; it is also beneficial for the future-oriented development of tourist demand, and it will be increasingly expected by guests in the future. Alternative communal mobility concepts on site, incentive systems for the use of rail and bus services, or the CO2 compensation of flights already serve as sustainable concepts.
New technologies are available that are increasingly integrating individual modes of transport into complex mobility chains. Many travel companies now offer electrical vehicle rentals while on vacation – whether on two or four wheels. Compared to fossil-fueled cars, electric cars cause fewer greenhouse gases and, in addition to walking, cycling, public transport, etc. – switching to electromobility can be an additional strategy for climate protection.
To get to a destination, rail and bus are the most sustainable means of transport for long-distance travel. But should one ever have to rely on a car, carpools or car sharing and public transport are eco-friendlier alternatives for travel, but also offer a much more intensive impression of the country and its people.
As aforementioned, the least environmentally friendly form of transport is air travel. Yet, optimized flight routes, lighter construction, new fuels and more efficient engines are approaches to more climate-friendly flying. For example, the Swedish airline Novair has been working consistently for years to reduce emissions and is now one of the most fuel-efficient airlines in Europe.
Another successful approach to offset greenhouse gas emissions when flying is compensation: An emissions calculator determines the number of climate-damaging gases for the respective flight and consumers pay an amount that various climate initiatives forward to certified climate protection projects. Providers of these climate compensation solutions invest, for example, in projects to promote solar energy, hydropower, biomass or energy saving projects in order to offset the amount of climate-damaging emissions that arise during the flight. The same amount of CO2 that is produced when the kerosene is burned on the flight is accordingly saved elsewhere (source: (atmosfair). In recent years, more and more voluntary compensation standards have been established: International standards such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) or the Gold Standard cover the majority of the market and there are also emerging other national initiatives and standards.
Whether in the choice of the travel destination, the means of transport or behavior in nature on site – there are numerous ways to protect the environment. Of course, refraining from flying is the most environmentally friendly measure, but it must be borne in mind that without the mechanisms of compensation, there might not be such climate protection projects that are also a climate protection measure. However, developing and encouraging different types of transportation in tourism, such as cycling, walking, carpools or car sharing, fuel-efficient transport systems and the use of electric vehicles, that have a low impact on the environment, is key to an eco-friendlier way of traveling.
by Marie Klimczak