Our Desire to See the World is Killing it – Here's What You Can Do to Help

by Gavin Haines and Oliver Smith, The Telegraph, May 8, 2018

The world has never been so inundated with tourists. A record 1.3bn foreign trips were made by holidaymakers in 2017 – up seven per cent on the previous year.

Much has been made of the impact mass tourism is having on local populations. The residents of Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik have been particularly vocal about the growing number of overseas visitors. They say tourists are spoiling the character of their cities, raising house prices and driving locals out.

Last month Telegraph Travel put forward the case for “overtourism” - increasingly used to describe these recent problems with crowding in major cities but not yet found in any dictionary - to be 2018’s word of the year.

But less well documented - and now, evidently, underestimated - is tourism’s impact on the global environment.

This week it was revealed that tourism’s contribution to carbon emissions is four times worse than previously thought. A study, published in Nature Climate Change, suggested that the industry accounts for eight per cent of the world’s carbon emissions – a figure which was previously thought to be between two and three per cent.

Put simply, our collective penchant for exploring the world is helping kill it.

The situation will get worse before it gets better

Tourism is growing faster than many other economic sectors, so the figure of eight per cent is almost certain to rise. By 2030 international tourists will make 1.8bn annual trips, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Driving this rapid growth is the burgeoning Chinese market. The country currently accounts for around a tenth of global tourism - that will rise to almost a quarter within 12 years.

At a glance | The rise of global tourism At a glance | How China will account for nearly a quarter of global tourism 

So what can you do?

The simplest solution, of course, would be to stay put. But travel is one of the life’s great pleasures. It broadens the mind and - done right - can be hugely beneficial to the local population. Far better would be to adapt how we choose to holiday to lessen our impact on the environment.

Fly less

The biggest single contributor to tourism’s carbon footprint, according to the study, is international air travel. “The main environmental cost of holidays is always the flight,” adds Greenpeace’s Graham Thompson. “If you’re not flying, you’ll have a much lower impact.”  

Flying has never been cheaper, so - understandably - we’re all taking advantage. But much of Europe can be reached by train - it’s not just Paris. Amsterdam, Bruges, Bordeaux, Lyon, Strasbourg and Cologne are just a few of the gems that can be reached by rail in under six hours from London. Once you consider the rigmarole of navigating the airport and the often lengthy transfer to the city centre, it’s often just as quick to hit the tracks.

15 cities you can reach by train in under six hours from London

Besides the environmental benefits, there are numerous other reasons to opt for trains over planes. To name a few, you’ll usually get more legroom, there’s no stingy baggage charges, and - statistically - it’s safer.

At a glance | The safest mode of transport

Take fewer mini-breaks

Another way to fly less without giving up your holidays is to cut back on frequent short breaks in favour of one- or two-week jaunts. Research by the ONS last year found that Britons are increasingly favouring regular weekend escapes over longer itineraries. But that means a far larger carbon footprint. Longer holidays are not only better for the environment, but also offer a chance to truly explore a region. Which break might you remember more fondly in 20 years? Two weeks in Tuscany, uncovering hidden villages, visiting vineyards and cycling through gorgeous landscapes, or two nights “doing” Florence, and negotiating the crush of other tourists trying to do likewise?

Enjoy the UK

When the weather is this good, a “staycation” suddenly sounds like a great idea. Not only are domestic holidays better for the environment, but the UK actually has some pretty remarkable corners - many of which you’d never considered visiting. Let the following galleries off some inspiration.

13 beautiful places in Britain you'd never thought to visit Who needs the Grand Canyon? Britain's answers to the wonders of the world 19 beautiful places you won't believe are in Britain

Behave more like you do at home

The study found that many travellers, particularly those from Canada, Switzerland, Holland and Denmark, exert a much higher carbon footprint elsewhere than in their own countries. That’s because tourists often take taxis, eat in “international” restaurants and stay in big chain hotels. Walking or hiring a bike, eating locally-sourced food and drink, and opting for hostels or self-catering accommodation, could lessen your environmental impact.

Choose a green hotel

Once upon a time eco-hotels were the preserve of sandal-wearing hippies, but times have changed – eco has gone lux. See our guide to some of the best environmentally-friendly resorts here

Or a green destination

Every year the non-profit organisation, Ethical Traveler, reviews the environmental policies of developing destinations around the world and produces a table of the best performing nations, based on their human rights record, social welfare provisions and environmental protection standards. The table can help travellers make an informed decision about their destinations. This year the 10 best were as follows:

  1. Belize
  2. Benin
  3. Chile
  4. Colombia
  5. Costa Rica
  6. Mongolia
  7. Palau
  8. St. Kitts & Nevis
  9. Uruguay
  10. Vanuatu

Carbon offset

Virgin Atlantic, Qantas and Delta are among the airlines that have carbon offset programmes (there are also third party providers out there). Under such schemes, passengers’ emissions are calculated and an equivalent amount of carbon credits are purchased. Those credits then finance renewable energy, forestry and conservation projects.

Environmentalists have questioned the effectiveness and ethics of carbon offsetting (some liken it to paying for someone else to be faithful when you have cheated on your partner), but if you do want to go down that road look for schemes approved by Gold Standard (GS) and Verified Carbon Standard (VCS).  

Don’t be a clean freak

Most people don’t change their towels and bed linen every day at home, so why bother on holiday? Hotels usually give guests the opportunity to reuse sheets and towels, which saves a huge amount of water. Another easy environmental win is to use soap rather than those little bottles of shower gel, which invariably end up sitting in a landfill site – or worse, a beach.

Ditch meat

Einstein once said that “nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances of survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” Producing meat emits way more carbon than the aviation industry, so you’ll be doing the planet a favour by going veggie.

The impact could be keenly felt locally, particularly in Latin American, African and Asian counties, where rainforests are being cleared at an alarming rate to make way for cattle ranches.


This article was written by Gavin Haines and Oliver Smith from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

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