3E Intelligence

The future of tourism in an age of climate change was the subject of an exciting conference organised by the Greens in the European Parliament on 3 July. How can the global tourism industry be greened and which countries will be the winners and losers from global warming in terms of tourism?

The growth of mass tourism (or “democratic tourism”) over the last thirty years can be seen as a blessing or a curse. A blessing as shrinking distances have brought more awareness, understanding and tolerance for other cultures and tourists have enjoyed exotic places which they could only dream off in the past. But also a curse as this mass tourism has produced its own environmental stress and has contributed considerably to global warming and resource depletion. The Greens’ conference tried to answer the question how the ecological footprint of the world’s tourists can be made as small as possible without undermining the positive aspects of being able to travel.

In the opening session three climate experts sketched a bleak picture of the global warming trends and their effects on tourism (retreat of glaciers in the Alps, increasing droughts, forest fires or flooding in Southern Europe). Only one of them (Professor Helga Kromp-Kolb of the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences) connected the climate crisis with peak oil and future energy scarcity.

The Benelux countries, Denmark, Germany and the Baltic countries will be the big winners when global warming starts shifting holiday destinations, according to a report by Deutsche Bank Research presented by Philipp Ehmer. Spain, Greece and Turkey could be some of the biggest losers.

In the afternoon the conference heard presentations of good and bad practices of making tourism more environmentally friendly and listened to the plans of the French EU Presidency and the European Commission to tackle the climate-tourism challenges. In October 2007, the Commission presented its Agenda for a Sustainable and Competitive European Tourism. On 7 October it will organise an EU Day on Tourism. During the French Presidency of the EU, a special Forum Européen du Tourisme will be held in Bordeaux from 18-19 September 2008.

Overall, I felt that the conference was too exclusively focused on climate change thereby forgetting the implications of increasing oil prices and the new energy scarcity. The global tourism explosion of the last thirty has only been made possible because of extremely low oil prices and the availability of cheap flights and even cheaper gasoline. With the rising “scramble” for oil, the end of long-haul mass tourism seems to be inevitable. Maybe a topic for another conference: “the future of post-oil tourism”?

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