"We are the tourism industry's guide to 2050"

What measures should the industry take to become climate neutral? 

By 2030, the tourism industry must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. By 2050, the goal is in fact for the industry to be completely climate neutral. "Quite a challenge," agrees Jasper Heslinga, researcher at NHL Stenden's European Tourism Futures Institute (ETFI)  "These targets were agreed at the tourism summit in Glasgow last year. But a list of effective and concrete measures on how the sector should achieve them is missing. Hence, we are testing concrete actions and developing a roadmap towards 2050."

This year, World Tourism Day has chosen the theme 'Rethinking Tourism'. "Rethinking tourism is a hot topic within the tourism industry," explains Jasper. "Globally, tourism contributes 8% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. That percentage will only increase further in the coming years if nothing changes. In the sector, the urgency to become more sustainable is certainly felt and steps are already being taken at the company level. From solar roofs on accommodations to hotel chains reducing waste and food waste to zero, but the big problem remains flying to get to the destination. These Glasgow goals call for a global approach, with the industry joining forces and coming up with joint measures and actions. Everyone agrees that something needs to be done, but the big question is: what and how?"  

Testing measures 

With the research project Envisioning Tourism in 2030: on target to net zero', Jasper Heslinga and colleague Bernadett Papp are developing a tool on behalf of ETFI, together with Breda University, the Centre of Expertise Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality (CELTH), the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC) and The Travel Foundation, to map the necessary mix of actions and interventions to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. "Most of the tourism industry's CO₂ emissions are caused by flying," Jasper knows. "This is therefore where the biggest battle can be fought. People have been talking for a long time about increasing flight taxes, introducing excise duties on paraffin or a cap on the number of flight kilometres per year per person. It is just that the impact of all these plans has not been calculated."

To better understand the impact of the proposed actions, the researchers are inserting all these optional measures into the simulation model of Paul Peters, lecturer at Breda University. Jasper: "With the simulation model, we measure the impact on emissions, tourism, transport, economy and human behaviour. We can 'test' the measures, so to speak, to see what will happen. By turning the various policy knobs, we want to demonstrate the effects of travel and provide insight into the most obvious choices for a more sustainable world."

“By turning the various policy knobs, we want to demonstrate the effects of travel and provide insight into the most obvious choices for a more sustainable world.”
Jasper Heslinga
researcher ETFI

Four scenarios

Besides measures for air traffic, the researchers also look at other concrete actions towards a climate-neutral tourism sector in 2050. They do this using scenario planning. Examples include improving and making train travel cheaper, taxing aviation more fairly compared to rail or exploring the opportunities offered by technological advances. "The industry has mostly pinned its hopes on technological solutions," notes Jasper. "But hydrogen-fuelled flying or electric flying won't be ready for large-scale use for another 20 years at the earliest. In the meantime, we really need to take other measures to reduce emissions." 

To convince the industry of this, the researchers outline four possible future scenarios, also known as pathways. "The scenario in which the government introduces top-down measures and the tourism industry joins forces to achieve the target seems to be the most favourable scenario," says Jasper. "In such a pathway, we outline the roadmap and the measures needed. Next month, we will present the first results to a group of industry representatives and stakeholders from around the world to reflect on them. The aim is for them to better understand what the impact for the proposed measures is going to be for the sector."

Step by step

The final research report will be presented at the 2022 COP27 climate conference in Sharm-el-Sheikh (Egypt) in November. The researchers' ambitions are high. "As a university of applied sciences, we obviously cannot take decisions and determine actions ourselves," Jasper also realises. "But we can offer organisations and companies insight into the most effective measures and concrete routes to become more sustainable step by step. We are, so to speak, the guide that takes the sector on the road to 2050."

Would you like to know more about this research?

Would you like to know more about this research from the European Tourism Futures Institute? Or would you like to get in touch with Jasper and his colleagues about the other research projects? Check out the ETFI website.