Amidst the European Tourism Day, the Network of European Regions for Sustainable and Competitive Tourism (NECSTouR) organised a thematic workshop in Brussels on scaling-out regenerative tourism governance and learning effective approaches to decarbonizing tourism activity.
Members of the network in the 2018 Barcelona Declaration “Better Places to Live Better Places to Visit” promoted the idea of regenerative tourism using the language of the 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations. The declaration called on “countries, multilateral agencies, destinations and enterprises to develop similar practical guidelines and to encourage planning authorities, tourism businesses, tourists and local communities – to take responsibility for achieving sustainable tourism, and to create better places for people to live in and for people to visit.”
Tourism can be a solution, not a problem.Marie-Hélène Pradines, Head of Tourism and Textiles Unit at DG GROW
1. Unravelling regenerative tourism
“Tourism is a means, not an end, and it can be a positive contributor to climate instead of a problem”, Vincent Nijs, Chief Strategist at Visit Flanders, opened the workshop. But for that to happen, there needs to be a paradigm shift in tourism, moving away from the low ambition of just doing less harm and into the regenerative mindset of contributing through actions and solutions.
Regenerative tourism creates the opportunity for stakeholders to join a shared journey that not only generates profitable businesses, but also tackles climate action, benefits host communities, champions local places, such as nature, culture and heritage, and empowers visitors to be responsible, explained Mary Rose Stafford, Head of School – Business, Computing & Humanities, Munster Technological University, Cork.
One of the first steps of achieving that is measuring the success of tourism in something other than numbers, Stafford pointed out. What should matter instead are: community perceptions of tourism; community strength; environmental protection, including the recovery of areas degraded by over tourism, through reduced erosion, revegetation and reduced disturbance of vulnerable species; enriched visitor experience, such as tourism activity that recognises local identity and culture; and the distribution of economic benefits by reducing seasonality and using local businesses and services.
2. Collective effort
Continuing to do business as usual is not an option. As shown in the Travel Foundation’s “Envisioning Tourism in 2030 & Beyond” report, presented by Dr Paul Peeters, from Breda University of Applied Sciences, all sectors across the tourism industry need to fundamentally change to meet the global decarbonisation pathway milestones, i.e. reducing emissions by 50% by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.
The report looked at 40 types of actions, like limiting the global number of long-haul flights, switching to electric cars or having accommodations powered by renewable energy, and showed that there is only one scenario, requiring a united global effort, in which the tourism industry can reach these milestones.
The most challenging sector is aviation, as it takes up the bulk of the tourism industry’s emissions. E-fuels, hydrogen-electric aircraft and technology advancements all provide improvements but are either not enough or not fast enough, so the only short term solution is to temporarily stop the growth of aviation until the others, combined, can sustain a zero-emission aviation industry.
3. Concrete action
It’s not by big statements we’re going to change things, but through these small significant actions.Cristina Nuñez, Managing Director NECSTouR
The hardest step is the first one. “One of the most difficult decisions was the simplest which is to actually do this, but ultimately we wanted tourism to be a force for good, we knew tourism had to be part of the solution”, explained Lee McRonald, International Partnership Manager at Visit Scotland. “We were fortunate enough in Scotland to have an ambitious government which has allowed us to get some momentum.”
For the tourism sector to decarbonise, destination management organisations (DMOs) need support from authorities and policymakers who have to be bold enough to make the hard, but necessary, decisions. However, since these decisions do not have an immediate effect, “politicians do not have the time to wait for 2-3 years for things to change”, Anya Niewierra, Director of Visit South-Limburg said, referring to how South Limburg is turning the Parkstad region from an over-tourism overnight attraction place to a museum like experience.
As a former coal mining region of the South Limburg province, Parkstad started developing its tourism industry in 1998 by building attractions on the sites of the old coal mines. By 2020, the region was turning over €400 million from tourism, but they soon realised their model was not sustainable. In 2019, Parkstad decided to switch its marketing strategy, highlighting instead its heritage, such as housing the oldest Roman constructions in the Netherlands. “We are the most interesting part of the Netherlands”, Niewierra proudly concluded.
Another success story is that of Ljubljana, where the mayor of the city 16 years ago had a vision and, despite backlash, he decided to completely close the city centre to traffic. People were afraid that the centre would die out, but the exact opposite happened, Petra Stušek, CEO at Ljubljana Tourism, revealed. Once traffic closed, new spaces, mindsets and opportunities opened and “the shared space now teaches people to also take care of each other, not just themselves”. Residents’ lives improved and Stušek highlighted that “A happy local means really happy tourists”.