Accelerating the transition towards a net-zero economy and society requires a systemic look at how key sectors consume energy and produce emissions. Accounting for 10% of GDP in 2019, Travel and Tourism has become a powerhouse industry for Europe, engaging 2.3 million enterprises and providing nearly six times more jobs.
However, tourism is a complex sector. To understand its role in the transformation of Europe’s energy systems, we need a systemic overview. This would not only include sub-sectors such as transportation, lodging, food and beverage, leisure and entertainment but also diverse supply chains supporting them with agriculture, manufacturing of food and drinks, textiles, construction, as well as functional services such as waste management, water, and energy supply.
In the hospitality sector, big players are already greening their practices with energy-efficient buildings, renewable energy, and buying from environmentally responsible suppliers. The hospitality giant Hilton saved 1 billion in energy costs over the course of a decade by shifting to greener operations. However, small business owners often lack the tools, information or simply the funds to adapt their practices. As SMEs represent 80% of the Travel and Tourism sector, we need specific policies and awareness-raising campaigns to help them. Furthermore, we must ensure that tourists support local businesses, which favour short value chains. This would not only create benefits at the destination level by supporting local food producers and artisans, but also globally, by reducing the demand for mass-produced souvenirs, which are often manufactured overseas and delivered by container ships.
In the transportation sector, aviation (a major contributor to greenhouse gases emissions) remains at the heart of the debate surrounding tourism and the sustainable energy transition, and rightly so. We need technological innovation to drastically reduce emissions associated with air travel, and at the same time new policies that shape customer behaviour, transforming the way we think about and consume travel. The recent climate law voted in France that bans short-haul flights when there exists a train journey alternative of 2.30h or less is a bold move in the right direction. Promoting rail travel, preferably electric, is a secure path towards decreasing travel emissions and stepping up our commitment to a net-zero economy.
The shipping and cruising industries also need to step up their contribution. On top of multiple socio-economic issues, cruise ships consume enormous amounts of energy, generating an unacceptable level of pollution and damage to the environment. Unlike air travel, the cruise industry already has access to emissions-reducing technology, such as alternative fuels and fuel filters, or docking only at the ports that offer cold-ironing installations, allowing cruise ships to switch their engines off. However, companies seldom choose to make use of these opportunities. Policy and legislative intervention is therefore also critical in this sector. This is evidenced by the multiple instances of cruise companies having to align their ships and operations with the regulations of the ports they visit.
Beyond initiatives and regulations in various sectors, there is a growing demand for reimagining tourism as an enriching experience, which also benefits the host community. However, our growing affluence and craving for overseas travel has turned tourism into a carbon-intensive sector. It has become so excessive that before the pandemic, global demand for tourism was outstripping decarbonisation of tourism operations, creating a net acceleration of global carbon emissions.
The sector provides a livelihood to millions of people around the world, often to the most vulnerable. It also offers much-needed funds for natural and cultural heritage preservation.
As we are restarting tourism, it is important to bear in mind that despite the immense potential the sector offers, measuring growth alone will render all our efforts futile.
The key to a green energy transformation of Travel and Tourism is a widespread adoption of new measures of success for practices, policies and mind-sets in tourism supply and destination management. We must place impact at the core of everything we do, moving from a growth-driven to impact-driven tourism industry. This is a daunting task, but I know that we can do it together.