Three Ways to Action on Climate Change

Head of Research and Insights
Published 12/14/23
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Highlights from the Destination: Stewardship, A Guide to Action on Climate Change

The end of 2023 sees a new record (again): the hottest year the world has experienced in recorded human history.

The recently completed COP28 climate change conference held in the UAE has again highlighted the magnitude of the challenge to transition humanity to a net zero carbon future. Few industries have as much at stake in addressing climate change as tourism. A hotter world with extreme weather will impact every destination, disrupt billions of dollars in travel annually and put at risk many of the world’s iconic attractions and destinations. From Florida’s beaches to the Great Barrier Reef, the wonders of Venice to numerous ski resorts, climate change poses an existential risk to tourism.

Therefore, tourism needs to be a leader, not a laggard, in climate change action. The principle of “stewardship” has emerged in recent years as a critical role of destination organizations; arguably, no challenge is more central to the role of good stewards than climate change. 

In our updated white paper, “A Guide to Action on Climate Change,” we summarize 28 areas of climate change action for destination marketing and management organizations and their industry, government and community partners. Each area is illustrated with global examples of real-world projects and programs and supported by a range of expert resources and references. This white paper was developed in collaboration with our colleagues at Coraggio Group along with several expert partners: Group NAO, The Travel Foundation, Global Destination Sustainability Movement (GDSM) and Solimar International

Destination organizations should be at the center of climate change action in their communities. As organizations that connect the public and private sectors, destination organizations have the right structure, role and resources to be long-term, invaluable supporters, facilitators and coordinators of action in the tourism sector, working with government, industry and community partners.

There is no more time to discuss and debate. It's time for tourism to step up and take action.

Here are three areas highlighted in the complete white paper:

1. Champion and Support the Migration to Electric Vehicles in your Destination

The migration to electric vehicles (EV) will be the biggest change in ground transportation in more than 100 years. Despite some legitimate concerns about the environmental impact of EVs, it is a significant net positive for sustainability and the carbon footprint of travel (read more in “How Green are Electric Vehicles?” New York Times, June 2023). However, the EV revolution is getting bumpy and needs tourism to take more of a leadership role. No other industry will benefit as much from a smooth transition than tourism, especially remote or underserved communities that are central to promoting visitor dispersal and broadly based benefits from tourism. These opportunities are central to the role of destination organizations. Challenges include major gaps in charging infrastructure, plus reliability issues that create persistent high levels of range anxiety amongst travelers. 

In our major annual research report with Longwoods International on U.S. road trip travelers, including a custom report on EV trips, over 90% of travelers cited concerns about EVs. The majority focused on the availability, accessibility and usability of use of charging stations. The good news: substantial amounts of government funding are available in many countries to help invest in charging infrastructure in your destination. A priority must be working with government and industry partners in pursuing this funding and ensuring charging stations are allocated thoughtfully based on the broader goals of tourism including visitor dispersal. 

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2. Empower Visitors' Use of Public Transport and "Green Mobility"

EVs are one part of “green mobility” in a destination, along with public transport (e.g.: buses, trains, light rail, etc.), bikes and walking. Visitors’ use of public transport and bike rental programs not only makes their travel more sustainable but can be an important, incremental source of ridership and revenue. Public transport was hugely disrupted by the pandemic in many cities around the world, and growing visitor patronage will be an important part of rebuilding public transport use and funding. Destination organizations and their tourism industry partners should advocate for highly simplified ticketing options for visitors. For example, new contactless payment systems integrated into public transportation in London and New York enable any visitor to easily tap on or tap off with their credit or debit card, and without the need to figure out where and how to buy a ticket or determine its cost. 

 

In addition to highlighting “green mobility” options in visitor marketing, destination organizations can develop, manage and market travel or city cards for visitors that combine visitor attractions with a public transport pass. Many European cities, including Berlin, Vienna and most Swiss Cities (e.g., Zurich), offer such cards for travelers. These cards integrate public transport and provide discounts to a range of visitor attractions, both public and private. These cards not only promote public transport use and highlight lesser-known visitor attractions but also drive a revenue stream for destination organizations.

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3. Advocate for Increased, Dedicated Funding for Sustainable Aviation

Destination organizations and the tourism industry should take a leadership role with the biggest climate challenge facing tourism: sustainable aviation. Airline travel supports trillions of dollars in tourism spending but has become the poster child for public and political concerns about climate change. More than a dozen nations, mainly in Europe, have already introduced environmental taxes on flights. The airline industry and tourism sector need to take a far more assertive role in finding solutions. Failure to do this will simply invite more governments to regulate, tax or restrict flying. For example, the Dutch government plans to cut flights at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to reduce noise pollution and help meet climate goals. Airlines and tourism must step forward with solutions. Central to this is a dramatic scaling of the funding available for sustainable aviation. This includes scaling the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), investing in research and development for new SAFs and finding breakthroughs in electric and hydrogen fuel solutions. Far more money is needed to accelerate the migration to sustainable aviation. Money should not be the issue as tourism generates vast amounts of taxes and revenue for the government, estimated at $500 billion to $1 trillion USD annually (based on our work in “Funding for Tomorrow” in 2021). This research estimates that less than 5% of this revenue goes back into tourism globally, and a small fraction is dedicated to sustainability. We need to advocate to redirect some of these existing taxes and fees into sustainable aviation. This should be accompanied by the introduction of new fees for flying, specifically for sustainable aviation. Dedicated funding is critical to protect this revenue and prevent governments' propensity to “hoover up” tourism taxes as “consolidated funds” to spend as they see fit, often with little or no political consequences (as visitors don’t vote).

For all 28 areas of climate change action, check out our updated white paper, “Destination: Stewardship, A Guide to Action on Climate Change.” Additional resources on climate change action and resources related to sustainability and stewardship are available here.