“Sun, sea and sustainability: rebuilding and decarbonizing the tourism industry”
On November 16th 2021 our Chair Michele Crisostomo took part in a panel discussion on “Sun, sea and sustainability: rebuilding and decarbonizing the tourism industry.” It was organized by Economist Impact, the think-tank and events branch of the London-based weekly magazine The Economist, and was supported by Enel. The discussion was moderated by Guy Scriven, the publication’s climate risk correspondent, and also featured Debbie Hopkins, Associate Professor in Human Geography at the University of Oxford, Julie Allison, Vice-President, Sustainability and Transformation at the Accor hotel group, and Jari Kauppila, the Head of the Quantitative Policy Analysis and Foresight Division at the International Transport Forum.
The effects of the Pandemic
The pandemic had an enormous impact on the tourism industry, with 95% of destinations initially being subjected to restrictions. And it has affected national and regional economies in different ways. Oxford University’s Debbie Hopkins, for example, pointed out that some destinations in the UK saw record numbers of tourists in the summer of 2021 as British citizens holidayed in their home country, while regional tourism in the Caribbean and South Pacific islands was not enough to compensate for the fall in international travel, and the local economies suffered massively as result.
A growth industry
Prior to the pandemic, tourism was one of the fastest growing sectors worldwide and contributed to around 10% of global GDP. According to statistics quoted by the International Transport Forum’s Jari Kauppila, international tourist arrivals were expected to grow by 50% between 2016 and 2030 and global passenger travel is still expected to double by 2050.
Tourism is, however, a carbon-intensive sector, contributing around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And it is clear that people are becoming more aware of the environmental consequences of their choices. According to our Chair Michele Crisostomo: “We’ll have tourists that over time are more conscious of the environmental impact of staying in a hotel - meaning that competition between different hotel chains will also be based on how efficient the building is from an energy point of view, and what the impact of that building will be on their carbon footprint. That is reshaping the hospitality business.”
Accor’s Julie Allison agrees: “People do want more meaningful travel, in the sense that they want it to be more sustainable and responsible, and they want to put value on experience rather than on consumption.” She says that as many as 75% of people today plan to travel in a more sustainable way.
Some tourism sectors are, however, harder to decarbonize than others. The most problematic is aviation, which accounts for 90% of all international tourism-related emissions. Oxford University’s Debbie Hopkins points out: “Low-cost airlines don't democratize aviation and make it more available – they actually just mean that middle-class people travel more. So we get low-cost airlines actually accelerating the mobility of those who are already flying, rather than making it available to more people, which is the claim we often hear.” Potential solutions to the aviation problem include electric and hydrogen-powered planes, in addition to producing sustainable aviation fuels at scale. These solutions are, however, some way off.
The Sea and Sardinia
The situation in other transport sectors is arguably more promising. Michele Crisostomo says that work underway to decarbonize sea travel, especially through the implementation of green harbors and ports, will particularly benefit seaside tourist resorts such as those in the Mediterranean. Along with a focus on energy-efficient shipping, powered by hydrogen for instance, there are promising signs for the decarbonization of sea travel, though new technologies will need to be scaled up dramatically in order to meet the challenge.
Crisostomo talked about the work that Enel has been doing in Sardinia, in decarbonizing the island and allowing it to jump from fossil fuels to renewables, which could give it a competitive advantage in the increasingly competitive sustainable tourism market. And these benefits should provide food for thought: “What is key is that all partners across the ecosystem work together to catalyze the net-zero transition. Industry partners, finance partners, as well as public sector partners must work with the tourism industry to make the transition a business opportunity, rather than see it as a cost to be avoided until absolutely necessary.”
The shape of things to come
The tourism industry cannot successfully decarbonize on its own, and making the transition requires the collaboration of several industry partners, as well as investors and governments.
As Accor’s Julie Allison highlighted however, the regional divergence in the level of support for decarbonization makes global action exceedingly difficult - and firms in the sector are increasingly having to collaborate and forge alliances within the sector to tackle the issue.
In order to watch the video of the panel discussion, click here.