Sustainable travel is also referred to as a climate-neutral vacation. Sometimes the buzzword „travel with a clear conscience“ is also used.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines sustainable travel as travel that takes into account current and future environmental, social and economic impacts as well as the needs of the industry, visitors, communities and the environment. This wording is very general, but the bottom line is that when traveling, whether for leisure or business, the negative impact of the trip on the environment, society and economy should be minimized.
What is Sustainable Travel? Explanation, meaning, definition
Travel has an enormous impact on our planet and has already severely damaged the environment. Over the past decades, industrialized nations in particular have given little thought to how travel affects the environment and how much the tourism industry contributes to pollution. Every flight emits a great deal of CO₂, which fuels climate change and contributes to the destruction of nature. We live in a world of massive acceleration and permanent competition. Tourism accounts for around nine percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Germans, Britons and Americans are particularly drawn to faraway places, and China has seen the strongest growth in travel worldwide. Travel has been democratized, but this has led to great ecological destruction. Everywhere, the damaging excesses of climate change are becoming visible and calls to curb greenhouse gas emissions are growing louder (and not just among marginalized groups).
Sustainable travel in relation to the environment
Travel is a major contributor to global warming, accounting for more than 5%. This applies not only to air travel, but also to overuse of water and land. Countries with high tourist traffic not only have to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, but also with huge amounts of waste.
Sustainable travel in terms of the environment means traveling in an ecologically responsible way. For example, short-haul flights can be replaced by train travel, disposable plastics on flights can be eliminated, or the proportion of biofuel can be significantly increased. Some airlines have already committed to implementing appropriate measures.
Apart from air travel, it is also possible to spend a domestic vacation in a sustainably certified hotel. These are certified, ecological hotels. The criteria are set out in a catalog. The most important are:
- the hotels commit themselves to the responsible use of the environment and resources
- they treat and pay their employees fairly
- they are socially committed
- they plan economically for the long term and do not strive for short-term profit maximization
Sustainable travel has social and economic aspects, even if the social ones are less in focus in the public discussion. It is important to keep in mind that the tourism industry has a direct impact on sustainable development goals. When it comes to sustainable travel in relation to the economy, it is mainly about supporting the local cultural heritage and the local economy. Those who travel sustainably want money spent locally to stay in the country to support the local community. For vacationers, this means visiting local restaurants and stores to strengthen the economy at the resort, and for tour operators, it means getting socially involved at the tourist destination.
Tourism in harmony with the environment and nature – is that even possible?
Regions only remain attractive to tourists if nature and the environment are intact. Then they have a high recreational value and can at the same time increase regional added value. Germans are by far the most frequent vacationers in their own country. The quality expectations of today’s travelers have changed. They increasingly value enjoyment, comfort, sustainability and health. A modern tourism industry must take these needs into account.
Sustainable travel has become a trend in 2022/23 that is welcomed by many, because sustainability relies on resource conservation and more regionality instead of internationality. Demands for sustainability and the desire to satisfy one’s wanderlust are nevertheless not so easy to reconcile. While we denounce the frequent travel of politicians, we turn the beach at our vacation destination into a party mile. Aspiration and reality still diverge, we find ourselves in a constant contradiction.
What does the future of tourism look like (example Germany)?
Demand in tourism is influenced by very many factors. Climate change is one of them. The sooner providers adapt to the changes, the easier it will be for them to succeed. In the Alps, snow is by no means guaranteed everywhere, warm regions are becoming even warmer, and in many countries there is a threat of water shortages.
The tourism industry in particular is directly dependent on the weather. Thus, low precipitation and rising temperatures increase the attractiveness of German tourist destinations. It is expected that the summer season will last about 60 days longer by the year 2100. The upper layers of the North Sea, Baltic Sea and inland waters will also warm up more in the future, which will have an impact on water quality.
Temperatures change the supply of nutrients. As a result, algae, seaweed, jellyfish and bacteria will multiply. The declining water quality poses health risks for bathers, but also impairs the recreational effect and aesthetics of the bodies of water. In winter tourism, snow-covered landscapes are becoming increasingly rare. Artificial snowmaking will no longer be profitable. Here, too, vacation destinations will have to come up with new, sustainable concepts. These are just a few examples of realistic future scenarios to which tourism will have to adapt.