How tourism can be part of the solution to climate change

In the midst of European Tourism Day, the Network of European Regions for Sustainable and Competitive Tourism (NECSTouR) organized a thematic workshop in Brussels to expand the regenerative management of tourism and study effective approaches to decarbonize tourism.

Network members in the 2018 Barcelona Declaration Better Places to Live, Better Places to Visit promoted the idea of ​​regenerative tourism using the language of the 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations. The declaration calls on “countries, multilateral agencies, destinations and businesses to develop similar practical guidelines and encourage planning authorities, tourism businesses, tourists and local communities to take responsibility for achieving sustainable tourism and creating better places for people to live.” and people to visit.’

Tourism can be a solution, not a problem.

Marie-Hélène Pradines, Head of Tourism and Textiles at DG GROW

Marie-Hélène Pradines, Head of Tourism and Textiles at DG GROW © Julie Vervenne

1. Discovering regenerative tourism

“Tourism is a means, not an end, and can be a positive contribution to the climate instead of a problem,” Vincent Nice, chief strategist at Visit Flanders, opened the workshop. But for this to happen there needs to be a paradigm shift in tourism, away from the low ambition of simply doing less harm and towards a regenerative mindset of contributing through actions and decisions.

© Mary Rose Stafford

Regenerative tourism creates an opportunity for stakeholders to join a shared journey that not only generates profitable businesses, but also addresses climate action, benefits host communities, supports local places such as nature, culture and heritage, and gives an opportunity for visitors to be responsible, explained Mary Rose Stafford, Head of School – Business, Computing and Humanities, Munster University of Technology, Cork.

One of the first steps to achieving this is measuring the success of tourism in something other than numbers, Stafford pointed out. Instead, what should matter are: community perceptions of tourism; strength of community; environmental protection, including restoration of areas degraded by over-tourism through reduced erosion, re-vegetation and reduced disturbance of vulnerable species; an enriched visitor experience, such as a tourism activity that recognizes local identity and culture; and the distribution of economic benefits by reducing seasonality and using local businesses and services.

Mary Rose Stafford, Munster University of Technology Cork © Julie Vervain

2. Collective efforts

Continuing business as usual is not an option. As shown in the Travel Foundation’s report Envisioning Tourism in 2030 & Beyond, presented by Dr. Paul Peters of the University of Applied Sciences Breda, all sectors of the tourism industry must change fundamentally to meet the milestones of the global journey of decarbonization, i.e. reducing emissions by 50% by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.

© Dr. Paul Peters

The report looks at 40 types of action, such as limiting the number of global long-haul flights, switching to electric cars or accommodation powered by renewable energy, and shows that there is only one scenario requiring a concerted global effort in which the travel industry can achieve these stages.

The most challenging sector is aviation, as it absorbs most of the tourism industry’s emissions. E-fuels, hydrogen-electric aircraft and technological advances are providing improvements, but either not enough or not fast enough, so the only short-term solution is a temporary halt to aviation growth until the rest, combined, can support a zero-emissions aviation industry .

© Dr. Paul Peters

3. A specific action

It is not with big statements that we will change things, but through these small meaningful actions.

Cristina Nunez, Managing Director NECSTouR

Cristina Nunez, Managing Director NECSTouR © Travel Tomorrow

The hardest step is the first. “One of the hardest decisions was the simplest one actually to do this, but at the end of the day we wanted tourism to be a force for good, we knew tourism had to be part of the solution,” explained Lee MacRonald, International Manager partnership in Visit Scotland. “We’ve been fortunate in Scotland to have an ambitious government which has allowed us to gain some momentum.”

To decarbonise the tourism sector, Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) need the support of authorities and politicians who must be brave enough to take the difficult but necessary decisions. However, since these decisions do not have an immediate effect, “politicians do not have time to wait 2-3 years for things to change,” said Anja Nieviera, director of Visit South-Limburg, referring to how South Limburg is turning the Parkstad region from an overnight tourist attraction to a museum-like experience.

Anya Nieviera, Director of Visit South-Limburg © Travel Tomorrow

As a former coal mining region in the province of South Limburg, Parkstad began to develop its tourism industry in 1998 by building attractions on the sites of the old coal mines. By 2020, the region was turning over 400 million euros from tourism, but they soon realized that their model was not sustainable. In 2019, Parkstad decided to change its marketing strategy, instead emphasizing its heritage, such as housing the oldest Roman structures in the Netherlands. “We are the most interesting part of the Netherlands,” Nieviera concluded proudly.

Another success story is that of Ljubljana, where the mayor of the city 16 years ago had a vision and despite the backlash, he decided to completely close the city center to traffic. People were afraid that the center would die, but the opposite happened, revealed Petra Stusek, CEO of Ljubljana Tourism. Once traffic was closed, new spaces, attitudes and opportunities opened up, and “shared space now teaches people to care for each other, not just themselves.” Residents’ lives have improved and Stuszek emphasized that “A happy local means really happy tourists.”

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