By Luca Behne, Daniel Rosomm, Eggo Bracker, and Michael Palocz-Andresen
Sustainable tourism is a topic that has been intensively addressed for several years. Climate-friendly travel options are currently especially in focus. This paper highlights the opportunities for more sustainable travel in the tourism sector and examines the impact of external crises on the global tourism industry.
- The tourism industry has a significant role in job creation and economic development but is also accompanied by environmental pollution. The pandemic’s slowdown in tourism could be an opportunity to implement more sustainable options for travel.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the labor market, especially in the tourism industry, which is one of the largest employers globally. As tourism returns, many vacancies remain in the sector.
- The growing tourism industry must take into account the interdependence of countries, which may lead to conflicts and crises that can affect the industry. To address this, a solution is needed that encompasses sustainability, alternative energy sources like liquefied natural gas, and precautions against unpredictable crises.
The tourism industry is booming and expanding more into unexplored areas still untouched by larger groups of people. In 2018, travel and tourism was the fastest-growing sector, ahead of health, construction, agriculture, and banking. It has an important role in terms of job creation and economic development. This growing tourism is accompanied by increasing environmental and air pollution. An expanding tourism industry must face the conflict imposed by the need to reduce environmental debris and damage.
The tourism industry came to a complete standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While international tourist arrivals rose steadily from 957 million to around 1.47 billion between 2010 and 2019, this number fell to 402 million with the start of the pandemic and is being slow to recover. This drop in the tourism industry could be used to implement more sustainable options for these types of travel 1.
Meanwhile, the demand for greener travel options and destinations is increasing. A growing majority of people prefer to travel to places where attention is paid to a more sustainable and climate-friendly environment. Tourism depends on clean, intact nature, seashores, and environment, but at the same time destroys its most important resource. Can more climate-friendly travel options be ensured while incorporating steadily growing tourism, and what impact will global crises have on this development in the tourism sector?
According to the UNWTO, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, international tourism will grow moderately at a rate of 3.3 per cent per year until 2030. This implies that the tourism industry will expand by 43 million new tourists every year. By 2030, there should be about 1.8 billion arrivals of international tourists in different countries. The tourism sector is expected to grow the most in Asian and Pacific countries 2.
Negative aspects of tourism
The transportation of tourists produces about 4,650 million tons of CO2 per year. This value is rising steeply 3. In addition, services such as hotel stays, food supply, and the use of other tourist activities doubles CO2 emissions. Statistics demonstrate that tourism consists of many components. Therefore, in some places, the industry will look for innovative solutions to manage tourism in a more sustainable way. As 49 per cent of the carbon footprint of global tourism can be attributed to the transport sector, new, environmentally friendly options are being intensively researched 4.
The impact on the tourism sector
The COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine show very clearly that states and their populations can be hit by unpredictable crises at any time. These are events that have not occurred before on this scale. As a result, no adequate precautions were taken. Therefore, large parts of the world have been hit particularly hard by war and societal (or pandemic) crises. A current example is the crisis over resources and energy. Dependence on suppliers of energy such as gas and oil is currently causing major problems for many countries and their populations. This implies that there may have to be a change in thinking. There must be preparation for such crises by taking precautions. In this way, severe consequences for states and their societies can be mitigated.
The pandemic has led to changes and upheavals in many areas of society. The labour market has been very strongly affected by these developments. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a social problem in the labour market. The onset of the pandemic caused a worldwide standstill in the tourism industry. Not only were modes of transport such as cruise liners, aircraft, trains, cars, and buses affected, but there was also an impact on destinations, hotels, and resorts. The tourism sector is one of the largest employers and is especially important in poorer countries. A lot of former employees want to stay in their new jobs rather than return to tourism. Many vacancies remain in the tourism sector. Especially now that the pandemic is no longer such a big problem and many tourists are travelling again, labour is needed to keep tourism going.
Constantly growing tourism, unpredictable crises, and social problems together span a field of tension in which they are interdependent and influence each other. Globalisation provides a worldwide connection between different countries and their cultures. New places in distant regions are being developed because of the increasing desire for more new tourist destinations. For many countries, this is economically beneficial, because revenues grow and even more jobs can be created. With globalisation, the dependence of countries on each other is also increasing, because many resources and foodstuffs are simply imported and exported. Therefore, goods are traded that were previously not available or only available in small quantities in some regions. This normally has only positive aspects for all parties.
But, on the other hand, current events show that too much dependence on other countries can lead to major problems in one’s own country. Unpredictable and sudden crises and conflicts can especially have a negative effect on an unprepared country. Russia’s war on Ukraine illustrates how many European countries now have problems supplying their own country with energy due to their dependence on Russian gas and oil imports. Applied to the tourism sector, this means that precautions must be taken.
The COVID19 pandemic has shown what can happen to an entire sector that is dependent on globalisation and further interrelations with other countries. In the future, it will be particularly important to take appropriate precautions with regard to conflicts and crises such as the two current examples. In addition, the issue of sustainability must not be neglected. This adds a fourth key point to the field of tension. After all, climate change has also been increasingly in the spotlight for years, and numerous measures have long been under discussion to combat this development. In the tourism sector, a lot of investment has been made in new innovations and techniques for a cleaner climate. A solution is needed that encompasses all four of the key points previously mentioned.
Liquefied natural gas
The alternative energy source liquefied natural gas (LNG), offers much potential for more climate-friendly travel options. LNG is a mixture of various lightweight hydrocarbons whose use results in lower emissions. It is produced by cooling natural gas to -162°C and purifying it. It must be considered that this cooling requires a significant amount of energy. LNG is almost the cleanest fossil fuel and offers the opportunity to eliminate diesel and heavy oil completely. There is nearly no sulphur in natural gas. Combustion causes no particulate and fine dust emissions, and nitrogen oxides may be reduced by around 80 per cent. In addition, less CO2 is produced during combustion than with diesel. Carbon dioxide emissions can only be reduced by 20-30 per cent. As a solution to this problem, bio-LNG is considered a pioneer.
Unlike fossil liquefied natural gas, this gas can be produced from biogas. Transport, storage, and combustion are exactly the same as for the fossil variant and require no additional costs. One barrier to the free use of bio-LNG in Europe is the lack of a European certification procedure. This creates the problem that normal LNG terminals are not yet allowed to accept bio-LNG. Furthermore, biogas plants in the EU are a long way from being able to supply the entire EU market. Worldwide investment in the supply of LNG could ensure the use of biological gas in the future 5.
So far, LNG has not been commonly used by most modes of transportation. Some cruise ships operated by major shipping companies have partially converted to the use of liquefied natural gas. One problem is the paucity of LNG terminals. Since this energy source cannot be made available in sufficient quantities, the conversion is not worthwhile for large companies. In the meantime, however, the initial situation has changed. The war on Ukraine is obliging countries to rely more on LNG for energy supply. The result is that developments in this area are now proceeding rapidly. Hence, the tourism sector, and sustainable tourism in particular, will benefit.
On the other hand, there are still many means of transportation that run on kerosene, petrol, diesel, or other types of energy. It is not possible to switch to new technology immediately. This is a gradual process of introducing the new technology and replacing the old. Raw material and energy problems also affect the tourism sector, as transportation depends on these resources. Likewise, the COVID-19 pandemic has left widespread problems in its wake. While the pandemic is considered to be almost over, the aftermath is still being felt in the tourism industry. There is a shortage of workers in holiday locations, as well as in travel facilities. The question is whether similar crises can be better managed in the future. So how can and must this economic sector change in order to be prepared for such conflicts and crises? At the same time, aspects of more climate-friendly travel need to be considered. The next section discusses the opportunities for more sustainable tourism.
Bus and car
Many emissions occur not only on the way to tourist destinations, but also at tourist hotspots. This is due, among other things, to the fact that vehicles are needed to reach the various destinations and sights at any given location. Coaches are a popular travel option in tourist hotspots. Buses travel steadily along the same route, covering all the relevant locations, which significantly reduces general traffic and emissions 6. Bus travel is already considered to be one of the more environmentally friendly travel options compared to other modes of transportation. Nevertheless, improvements can be made here as well. An example is the city of Paphos, in Cyprus. This is the first and only resort to use an electric minibus, which covers all the important destinations and sights. By charging at photovoltaic charging stations, this mode of transportation is completely green and climate-friendly7.
One disadvantage would be that you can’t reach all the possible destinations with this bus. The on-demand bus model may provide a new solution. It is proposed that electric buses with lower capacities could be ordered through a smartphone app. These travel a personalised route. Since passengers use the app to indicate which route they plan to take, the most efficient route can be determined. This is particularly useful in regions with few connections or lower passenger volumes 8. Car sharing could also be a greener transportation alternative. If several people share a vehicle, then emissions may be reduced. Electric cars may be used for a complete reduction of emissions but only when green energy is supplied and used for recharging. The sharing concept could also be used for bicycles, electric scooters, and electric motorcycles. This means that this transportation can always be rented for a certain period of time 9.
There is a concept that shows how greener cruise ships could look and function in the near future. This ship is called the “Ecoship”, a project by the Japan-based international NGO “Peace Boat”. Ten stiff, retractable sails are to be mounted on the ship, covered with solar cells. In strong winds, these sails can simultaneously support propulsion. When the sun is at the right angle, the solar cells can be used to generate electricity on the cruise ship. The ship will have a hybrid engine that can run on diesel, LNG, biogas, and biodiesel. The design of the sustainable cruise ship is based on the biophilia concept. This building concept makes use of natural elements, such as air, light, and water, as well as nature-based materials and designs. The hull shape is inspired by the shape of a whale and is said to reduce fuel consumption by up to 5 per cent with resultant savings and hydrodynamics. The hull is equipped with anti-water-drag technology and air bubbles on the bottom for a more energy-efficient ride. The aerodynamic design of the Ecoship minimises drag10.
The most energy-intensive heating areas on the ship are supplied with energy from the reuse of engine heat. The ship’s energy utilisation system uses this recovered energy mainly for the hotel area and the HVAC system, which is the main control for the temperatures in interior areas. Insulated, four-layer glass windows, intelligent control of the HVAC system, and special furniture that prevents rooms from cooling down are other measures for energy-efficient heat conservation. Gardens on board the ship provide cooling by evaporating the water. This can save 20 per cent of the power of air-conditioning systems. Ten retractable wind turbines support the ship while under power. Not only the sails of the Ecoship, but also areas that are under constant solar radiation will be equipped with solar cells. These include the windows, railings, and balconies on the upper decks. The solar energy generated is used to cover some of the electricity demand of the lighting system 11.
Avoiding business-class travel also saves a small amount of CO2 emissions. Innovative strategies for aircraft and the airline industry should create opportunities for consumers that do not represent an expensive alternative due to the additional costs for tourists. To this purpose, the following section outlines ways in which the airline industry and travel could be made more sustainable. Due to technological progress, flying is constantly evolving. Air travel can be divided into three main sectors – short haul, medium haul, and long haul – and to this can be added a fourth, the materials sector.
- Short haul
Short-haul flights offer travellers the opportunity to make use of intercity flights to cover a distance of about 1,000 kilometres in a short time (Berlin to London, for instance). Electrically powered aircraft are optimal for this purpose, as the main challenge of these aircraft is their short range. In addition, only small groups of a maximum of 20 people can use an electrically powered aircraft. This, in turn, has the advantage that smaller airports can be used, so that other air traffic is not impeded. Nevertheless, the starting and take-off part of the flight needs relatively the most energy per distance, meaning that high-speed trains have a much better energy balance than short-distance flights.
- Medium haul
Trips of 1,500 to 3,000 km are classified as medium-haul. Since electric-powered aircraft are ineffective and therefore uncompetitive on these routes, there are other possibilities to make them more sustainable. Hydrogen aircraft are still in the early stages of their development, but they have the potential to replace kerosene as a conventional fuel. Since aircraft are used for an average of 20 to 25 years, aircraft already built can be converted using a hydrogen conversion kit. With the help of hydrogen technology, an aircraft is almost 100 per cent climate-neutral.
A turbine propulsion system could use the hydrogen directly as fuel. A propeller propulsion system is powered by electrical energy. This is generated by the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen from the air in a fuel cell. An electric motor is used to motorise the propeller. Renewable energies can be used for the production of hydrogen in order to save CO2 emissions. On the other hand, hydrogen is difficult to handle, due to its extremely inflammable and explosive behaviour if leakages occur.
Hydrogen aircraft at large airports are a viable option, since adaptation of the airport infrastructure is required.
- Long haul
A third way to make the airline industry more sustainable is to use what is known as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The biggest advantage of using SAF is that it can be used with existing infrastructure, as it can be blended with conventional fuel. The biggest challenge is to make SAF technologies competitive on an international scale. In 2022, SAF will account for only 0.05 per cent of total kerosene consumption 13. This is mainly caused by the high costs. Furthermore, since SAF is also produced from biogenic raw materials, oil can be avoided. In view of the volatile price of crude oil, biogenic raw materials such as used cooking oil, agricultural residues, or municipal waste are ideal alternatives to at least accelerate the growth of SAF use. There are three main methods of producing SAF; for example, the “power-to-liquid” process, which converts renewable energy into liquid fuels. In addition, the use of biofuels can prevent the emission of methane.
Polymers in which carbon or glass fibres are incorporated reduce the weight of an aircraft. A special coating of the materials is also helpful, as it lowers air friction. Plasma electrolytic oxidation is another way to save weight. In this process, a metal is converted into its oxide, making it more durable.
Besides technical innovations, there is also the possibility of improving flying in the short term. Recycling trash and using local food are ways to optimise flying 11.
In recent years, many travellers have switched from air travel to train, as it is considered more environmentally friendly. Rail transport is the most sustainable way to travel (apart from bicycles or similar means of transport). Compared to car travel, the greenhouse gas effect of emissions per kilometre travelled is 75 per cent lower for trains. Trains also offer the advantage of low noise pollution compared to highways or airports. The rail network in Europe can transport an average of 50,000 people per hour on a train line.
Trains account for 8.5 per cent of all travel (in Europe). Therefore, the expansion of climate-neutral travel in Europe is being promoted. By 2030, emissions from European trains will be reduced by 40 per cent (compared to 1990) 15. The electricity required will be generated by renewable energy. In Europe, energy prices continue to rise due to ongoing crises. Above all, conventional power generation is affected by this. The expansion of renewable energies (wind power, hydro power, and solar power) is therefore one way of counteracting energy prices.
Recommendations by the WTTC
Due to the corona pandemic, many companies in the tourism industry had to cut jobs. As international travel restrictions have increasingly been lifted in recent months, consumer demand for travel is increasing. Nevertheless, there are 1.2 million vacancies in the European tourism industry. Also, due to poor working conditions, workers laid off by the pandemic cannot be rehired. Moreover, as tourism is forecast to grow in the coming years, the tourism industry must overcome not only environmental challenges, but also societal issues. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) therefore published recent recommendations to address societal issues regarding the reduction in jobs. Workers should be able to apply for simplified work visas, so that job seekers from different countries can work in the tourism industry.
New work models should increase the attractiveness of the tourism industry. Part-time models or home office are possibilities that also work in tourism. Competitive remuneration can improve working conditions and reduce strikes. In order to retain workers in companies in the tourism industry in the long term, transparent career opportunities should be offered. Continuing education and retraining of workers creates new job opportunities. Finally, the expansion of technological innovations will save labour.
New technologies have already transformed the tourism industry. Innovations help ensure that travel is sustainable in the future. The goal has to be developing sustainable travel in the future while looking at the social and economic issues. The tourism sector must prepare itself and learn from past and present crises. While the tourism industry is still recovering from the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, this economic sector is already being hit by the next crisis. Hence, it will be important to focus on the four key points (growing tourism, conflicts/crises, social problems and sustainable mobility).
The tourism sector is one of the most important social sectors and has a great social and economic impact on a country. Jobs need to be made more attractive again, with better wages and working conditions. There should also be opportunities for job training and further education. Governments should allocate budgets to promote innovation and development within the tourism sector, and other alternative techniques and resources to reduce dependencies should also be set up. In the future, worldwide pandemics may occur again and, in this respect, measures should be taken to prevent greater damage. Further conflicts and crises cannot be predicted but will come for sure.
The authors would like to thank Prof. Dr José Ignacio Huertas, director of the Energy and Climate Change Research Group of the School of Science and Engineering at Tecnológico de Monterrey, where it is possible to implement sustainable projects.
This article was originally published on April 14, 2023.
About the Authors
Eggo Bracker studied materials sciences and mechatronics, working with marine research institutes and expeditions on research vessels alongside his studies. He worked as a graduate engineer in the R&D departments of different companies in the machinery, aviation, defence, and ship supplier sectors for several years, followed by a decade of technical sales and project management in ship automation and data recording in supplying Asian shipyards. Since 2018 he has worked for Thales Naval and since 2013 he has been an interdisciplinary guest lecturer for Leuphana University.
Luca Behne has been studying business administration with a focus on behavioural management and marketing at Leuphana University Lüneburg since 2019. He supports the student exchange for sustainable issue solving. Through several seminars, he was able to deal with sustainability in the economy. In addition to his interest in fair water use in the Lüneburg area, he is committed to a sustainable media landscape through his minor in Social Media.
Michael Palocz-Andresen is working as a full professor at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla México. Since 2018 till 2022 he was a Herder-professor supported by the DAAD at the TEC de Monterrey. He became a full professor at the University West-Hungary Sopron, and a guest professor at the TU Budapest, the Leuphana University Lüneburg, and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He is a Humboldt scientist and an instructor of the SAE International in the USA.
Daniel Rosomm started his bachelor studies in economics as a major, and digital media as a minor, at the Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2019. He completed several seminars with the main focus on more sustainable solutions for the environment and finding opportunities for a better future. Through a complementary seminar at the Leuphana, he learned about first approaches to sustainable tourism.
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