Study finds travel decarbonisation measures ‘woefully inadequate’

A new Travel Foundation report based on dynamic modelling of forecast tourism growth, sustainability initiatives and CO2 emissions warns the sector cannot remain on a business-as-usual path.

The report, ‘Envisioning Tourism in 2030 and Beyond’ dismisses the industry’s current sustainability measures as “woefully inadequate”, calls for “limits to aviation growth” and a cap on long-haul trips, and urges “trillion-dollar investments” in decarbonisation.

Yet it concludes travel can continue to grow through to 2050 if rapid decarbonisation is combined with capping trips beyond 8,000 km – roughly the distance between London and Cancun.

MoreAnalysis: The Travel Foundation charts tourism’s new frontiers

The study, published on Wednesday, was produced in collaboration with Breda University of Applied Sciences, the European Tourism Futures Institute at NHL Stenden University, the Centre of Expertise in Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality, and the Netherlands Board of Tourism.

It suggests “limits must be applied” to aviation growth and proposes capping long-distance flights at 2019 levels. The report notes these comprised 2% of trips in 2019 but accounted for 19% of direct emissions, and if unchecked would account for 41% of emissions by 2050. It adds: “A small number of frequent fliers, less than 1% of the population, account for 50% of commercial aviation emissions.”

The report warns the sector cannot achieve a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 but suggests this could be achieved by 2036 and the industry reach ‘net zero’ by 2050 while still growing.

The number of trips could double between 2019 and 2050 provided four out of five are less than 900 km return – about the distance from London to Turin. In line with this, it urges tourist boards to target short-haul travellers.

It dismisses offsetting as a “sticking plaster”, calls for a” global plan to manage distribution flows” and concludes: “The shape of travel needs to change.”

Senior industry stakeholders hailed the report. Intrepid Travel global environmental impact manager Susanne Etti said: “The report challenges all tour operators to move faster on decarbonising our businesses.”

Shaun Mann, senior tourism specialist at the World Bank, called it “a critical call to action” and Expedia Group climate and sustainability senior manager Tessa Lee, said: “This research helps us better understand our path forward.”

Chile undersecretary of tourism Verónica Kunze said: “We’re a distant country, so depend to a greater extent on long-distance visitors. However, tourism has the task of reorienting at domestic and near-proximity markets.”

MoreAnalysis: The Travel Foundation charts tourism’s new frontiers

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