Friday, June 17, 2022
Globalization reached tourism at the end of the 20th century. The democratization of travel, together with the appearance of new companies and new ways of traveling, allowed many people to move from one country to another to get to know different places and cultures. In 2019, according to figures from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals were reached worldwide, which economically translated into a contribution of 1.7 trillion dollars. UNWTO analysts had put tourism growth for 2020 at around 3-4% over the previous year; but the pandemic halted the upward trend.
Travel restrictions, sanitary measures and lockdowns around the world gave us enough time to rethink the world we were designing, including the concept of sustainable tourism, defined by experts as a form of tourism that is respectful of the environment and local communities.
In order to inspire public administrations and companies in the challenge of achieving responsible recovery, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has developed a series of principles under the 'One Planet Vision' strategy, which, as the organization's director of Sustainable Development of Tourism, Dirk Glaesser, explains, has six fundamental axes: public health, social inclusion, biodiversity conservation, climate action, circular economy, and governance and finance. With them, "progress must be made towards the recovery of tourism" which, according to Glaesser, can be considered complete as of 2024.
Despite the good results of recent months, the path "is still fragile and uneven," he says. At present, international figures are still up to 70% below pre-covid-19 records, with domestic tourism, outdoor activities or nature products being some of the upward trends that determine a new tourist profile.
Balance between leisure and sustainability
In the public-private initiative, the main players in sustainable tourism are clear that the objective is to promote balanced development so that society can enjoy the diversity of our planet, while at the same time helping to conserve biodiversity, social well-being and the economic security of the countries visited.
Therefore, this form of tourism should be viewed, according to its advocates, from a broader prism aligned with the axes of the 'One Planet Vision' strategy. In December 2019, during the COP25 global climate summit, the sector had been forecast to generate CO2 emissions of more than 25% by 2030, far from the commitment made in the Paris Agreement —in force since 2016— where countries were required to reduce emissions by around 7% per year over the next decade.
This goal was achieved in 2020, as a result of the global paralysis forced by the pandemic, and experts consider it appropriate to maintain efforts in decarbonization, efficiency in the use of resources and investment in technology in order to stay on track.
Without mobility there is no tourism. What options are there?
Air travel remains one of the most popular ways to travel, still behind 2019 figures (39 million flights), but showing signs of recovery that for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) prove the "strength of the sector."
Thus, although emissions from this mode of transport are still far below those of other systems, IATA agreed at its 77th General Assembly that airlines around the world should achieve zero emissions by 2050, i.e., they are committed to eliminating some 21 gigatons of CO2 emissions over the next three decades.
The association states that "the key to sustainable air travel is to increase the amount of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)," for which it estimates that the industry must use "around 450 billion liters of SAF" by that date. This "necessary" increase must be made with the joint work between companies and governments; since without these synergies, according to their criteria, it will be more complicated to implement "a radical new technology that will also require a massive effort from the entire industry".
In this line, some companies are already applying the solution of biofuels of renewable origin and high energy value, most of which are produced from biomass, promoting the circular economy by favoring the reuse of resources and extending their life cycle. In addition, "biofuels have a chemical nature similar to fossil hydrocarbons, which makes it possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without altering the operation of engines," says Javier Casado, head of Business Development and Market Intelligence in Bioenergy at Cepsa. According to IATA estimates, this type of fuel could reduce aviation emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional kerosene.
In this field, Iberia, Binter, Air Nostrum or Vueling have entered into an alliance with Cepsa for the supply of sustainable fuels, in addition to promoting energy alternatives in aircraft and service vehicles at airports, such as renewable hydrogen and electricity. The energy company, which currently represents 35% of the energy supply market for the aviation sector in Spain, is working to become a benchmark supplier of sustainable fuel for aviation, with an annual production that will reach 800,000 tons by 2030.