Travel & Tourism’s Impact on Global Warming

G&A's Sustainability Highlights ( 05.01.2024 )
May 14, 2024 10:00 AM ET

Four decades ago the United Nations projected that the travel and tourism industry would be ranked very high among the world’s top industry categories for economic impact. Last year, Bloomberg News reported that the World Travel & Tourism Council’s data projects the industry’s contribution to the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) to be about US$16 trillion by the end of the decade, or 12% of total GDP (with $3 trillion of those annual revenues within the United States).

The COVID-19 pandemic did slow down domestic and global travel for two years, but the revenues for the industry are climbing once again. Categories used to assemble the global data for travel and related expenditures included airline travel, hotels and resort stays, train travel, and local spending by tourists in 160 nations.

The economic boom in travel tourism certainly benefits local destinations in both developed and developing countries. But there is a downside cost: it was estimated that the travel and tourism industry’s contribution to global GHG emissions was about 8% of the total from 2009 to 2013, based on study results published in Nature Climate Change in July 2018.

One major component was airline travel; the industry returned to profitability in 2023, with the global industry enjoying revenues of almost US800 billion last year, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The airline industry’s energy-related emissions have also slightly increased (more revenues=more flights=more emissions), and a growing number of airlines have responded by committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

To help business travelers address their travel-related carbon emissions and make a contribution to GHG reduction, a start-up company – Airwise Travel – is launching a new software dashboard that will enable corporate travel managers to book travel and purchase carbon credits to offset emissions from airline flights, hotels, and other arrangements.

Does it matter to travelers that their business or personal journeys are contributing to the growing volume of carbon emissions? We found interesting survey results out of Germany from One-of-three German travelers apparently do not count “sustainability” as a primary concern when planning or booking flights. These respondents are “tired of constantly hearing about climate change.”

The good news: 60% of German travelers do want to travel more sustainably in the next year. Many German travelers, says, feel that their sustainable travel experiences add value to their trips. Almost half of those surveyed feel they become the best version of themselves when they travel sustainably and carry the positivity back home.

We are sharing these survey results in our Top Stories. What are your considerations when you book travel for yourself, or your company travel department makes the arrangements? Are you a sustainable traveler? No doubt travel and tourism will be highlighted in the months ahead as disclosure of carbon emissions becomes mandatory for many large companies.

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