The high price of international tourism

By Rachel Borchardt

A major overhaul of global tourism is needed to help an industry that is not only threatened by climate change but also a contributor to the problem.

This position was put forward by Professor Stefan Gossling from Sweden’s Lund University in an address to the University of Queensland’s School of Tourism late last week.

Gossling, who is in Australia for the Tourism Futures conference to be held on the Gold Coast this week, said although tourism was a pastime for the wealthy, with 98 per cent of humanity not participating in international air travel annually, it was important to note tourism caused 5 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. Forty per cent of these emissions emanated from air transport.

“This is an important issue in Australia since [the nation is] so dependent on international aviation.”

While Australia was a leader in identifying the impact of tourism on climate change, the industry was still hoping for significant growth.

“There’s a huge gap between the aspirational targets of the tourism industry and what is the projected growth rate for tourism-related emissions in the future,” Gossling said.

Aspects of the existing tourism model could be altered to improve things, he said, including addressing the oversupply and wastage of food in tourism; focusing on reducing energy in accommodation facilities; and boosting the awareness that long-haul flights were huge emission generators.|

Australia, although it depends on international tourism, could focus on getting tourists to stay longer and spend more money at one site rather than taking more trips. Marketing efforts could target closer nations.

“That might mean a need to focus on Chinese tourists rather than German tourists,” Gossling said.

He told GovernmentNews that our governments could assist “by initiating a process where people really start thinking about these issues”.

“I think Australia would have a good starting point because sustainability has been so important in the past so probably you could use existing networks to now distribute information on carbon dependency and trying to change.”

Local governments could start, for example, by working to show hoteliers in their municipality that retrofitting their rooms to remove standby options on appliances could save them substantial amounts of money and help the environment.
“We have to start somewhere and involve people and then probably that system could grow and become reinforcing. And if you start with an economic starting point then it might be attractive,” Gossling said.

More broadly, he said governments could show the tourism industry why it needed to restructure, coupled with pressure to do so by making energy more expensive.

“You can believe in climate change or not – it doesn’t really matter because on the global scale the mechanisms are put in place now to really take climate change seriously and to reduce emissions in all sectors including tourism,” Gossling said.

“So essentially you can make a decision about whether you want to belong to the leaders or to the laggards … I would think in Australia, which in the past has had a very good reputation for focussing on sustainable tourism more than any other country in the world, should again revive this kind of reputation.”

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