The head of the world’s leading tourism body has said the industry must accept it is a cause of climate change and travellers should take a train ahead of a short-haul flight where possible.

United Nations World Tourism Organisation secretary-general Francisco Frangialli said: “Tourism is a victim but also a vector of climate change. It is not as great a vector as sometimes said, but we must acknowledge it.”

Speaking at German travel trade show ITB in Berlin, Frangialli said: “Aviation contributes to the greenhouse effect. We have to consider environmentally friendly options if we have the choice of travelling by aircraft, car or high-speed train, because the third option contributes less carbon emissions.”

However, he said: “The possibility of substituting forms of transport is limited if you want to go to Costa Rica or the Philippines. It is not so simple as to renounce travel.

“In 2006, tourism spending will have totalled $700 billion, of which $200 billion is for developing countries.”

Frangialli expressed personal concern about the conditions in the Alps, where he is deputy mayor of a village, saying the current winter has been the warmest in 20 years.

“Maybe in ten years it will have been the coldest in a decade,” he said.