The travel industry contributes to around ten per cent of global GNP, however it is also responsible for about five per cent of CO2 emissions worldwide with the majority of greenhouse gas emissions caused by transport.

Climate change is creating eco-awareness but not dampening people’s desire to travel leading to policymakers being called upon to support research and investment into greener transport options.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the tourism and travel industry accounts for around 10% of global GNP, 7% of global exports and more than 10% of jobs. However, for all its positives the sector has a noticeable impact on the environment.

Globally, tourism accounts for around 5% of CO2 emissions. A 2020 eco-awareness survey by the German Environmental Agency found that for 65% of Germans environmental and climate protection is a very important issue. Over 77% of those polled see human activity as being the main cause of climate change. According to the Global Consumer Survey (GCS) by Statista, which polled up to 60,000 people per country in over 55 countries, climate change has an influence on the travel behaviour of 65% of all tourists in Germany.

Consumers are aware of the transport problem
According to the UNEP, transport is responsible for three-quarters of global CO2 emissions resulting from tourism. Air transport (40%) and car use (32%) account for the majority of these CO2 emissions. Train and bus transport is responsible for only a small share (three per cent). In Germany in 2019 (the base year in order to exclude pandemic effects), a domestic flight with an average passenger load emitted 214 g of greenhouse gases per passenger km – almost 40% more than a car (154 g per passenger km at a load factor of 1.4 persons/car) and almost 638% more than a long-distance train journey (29 g per passenger km). The latest Statista survey now shows that German travellers are more aware of the environmental impact of the transport they use. In response to whether they would change their travel behaviour because of climate change, the most frequent answer given was “avoiding (long-haul) flights“.

Trips abroad remain in high demand
However, deciding not to travel at all for reasons to do with sustainability is rare according to Statista’s survey results. Of the German interviewees planning not to travel in 2022, only 6% gave protecting the environment as their reason. Accordingly, the threat posed by climate change is not generally affecting people’s desire to travel, but potentially influencing how they go on holiday.

Despite 24% of German travellers interviewed by the GCS saying environmental reasons had recently motivated them to change their foreign travel plans, in 2022 these trips are still in high demand. Seventy percent of Germans planning a trip this year want to (also) cross international borders. Only later will we discover whether people have actually changed their travel behaviour as indicated and actually refrain in numbers from (long-haul) flights and long-distance trips.

Environment ITB Berlin Statista
Looking for more sustainable, green destinations is a lasting trend (Photo: Mosel in Cochem, Germany-LC/Cleverdis)

Sustainable tour operators are a possible solution
However, in the case of both domestic and foreign trips the following applies: sustainable travel is feasible. A general assessment of package tours, all-inclusive hotels or budget travel is not possible. In addition to the type of transport, there are other aspects which influence how sustainable a trip is and which are of interest to tourists. Thus, for 48% of German travellers avoiding waste is important on their holidays, for example. For 40%, saving resources such as energy and water is important, and 39% would like local staff to be fairly paid.

Rika Jean-François, CSR commissioner for ITB Berlin: “Every step towards sustainability counts. Even an all-inclusive resort can be run responsibly and sustainably if it has a proper waste and water management system, uses renewable energy and offers local produce, and if the employees are from the region – however, the management must support these measures. Nowadays, customers no longer have a binary choice between ‘low-cost’ and ’ethically correct’ travel, as more and more operators are including sustainability in their product portfolio without raising prices. This is an investment in the future. Beyond that, independent certification is no less important, as it offers operators and customers orientation and helps to prevent greenwashing.

“Sustainability must become part of a general mindset, including towards our travel behaviour. If I take a local trip by train I am reducing my carbon footprint. If I fly, will I stay longer at my destination instead of indulging in short trips? We all have to ask ourselves if we really need to jet somewhere to go shopping. I hope that soon this will no longer be hip and believe we will see this lifestyle changing in the near future.”

Sustainable tour operators offer many types of eco-friendly travel. They include companies such as Forum Anders Reisen, Gebeco and Intrepid Travel. According to the GCS findings, the potential exists in all the markets that were specifically examined (Germany, UK, USA). More than 40% of those polled were willing to book a trip with a sustainable tour operator, and around 36% were even willing to pay a premium for booking with one. However, in the past two years only 19% of respondents had done so.

Here too, time will tell whether travellers actually abide by their resolutions. Contradictions between one’s expectations or convictions and actual behaviour are not a new phenomenon, especially where protecting the environment is concerned. However, what is clear too is that travellers are not only aware of their individual behaviour, but also see the travel industry as having an obligation to provide attractive sustainable travel options.

Policymakers and tour operators must act

In the GCS, 92% of travellers in Germany demand that policymakers and tour operators introduce measures for more eco-friendly holidays. For travellers in the US and UK, certification of eco-friendly resorts and providing information on a trip’s carbon footprint are a big factor. In Germany, banning private planes tops the list of measures (28%, first place), compared with 19% (fourth place) in the UK and 11% (ninth place) in the United States. Tourists in all countries are unanimous that above all there needs to be more research (combined: 23%) and investment (combined: 24%) in eco-friendlier transport options.

Additional information is available at and from the ITB NEWSROOM & SOCIAL MEDIA.

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