Beyond borders: rethinking the sustainability of long-distance travel

The slow recovery of long-distance travel offers us a unique opportunity to rethink one of the largest emitters of CO2

(Source: Boeing)

As the world recovers from the pandemic, the tourism sector is clearly picking up. However, concerns about sustainability and the impact of long-haul flights on the environment are causing many to question whether they are a viable and sustainable option.

Long-distance travel is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, which are one of the main causes of climate change. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the aviation sector is responsible for around 2% of global CO2 emissions. But, if only CO2 emissions from the tourism sector are considered, aviation represents 55% of that total 2%, and long-haul flights represent 19% of that 55%, according to a recent report published by The Travel Foundation. . Although many airlines are investing in more fuel-efficient aircraft and alternative fuels, and the European Commission has set a minimum of 2% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production for the sector by 2025,

In light of these concerns, travel intelligence provider Mabrian has recently carried out an analysis of air connectivity data for long-haul destinations from April to October 2023 in the source markets of Italy, Spain, England , France and Germany. The recently published study found that while long-haul travel is on the mend, it is still somewhat below 2019 levels, with much of the recovery coming in the form of new routes, as many of the old ones have closed. See the full report here.

But long-distance travel is vital to the tourism sector, and data can show how long-distance travel can sometimes be even more beneficial and sustainable than shorter journeys. By way of example, Mabrian has analyzed the impact of American visitors to Barcelona compared to shorter-haul travelers in Europe, through its Travel Intelligence platform. The analysis reveals that American visitors have stayed, on average, 189% longer (11 days) than the average European visitor to the city (only 3.8 days). In addition, US visitors spend on average 70% more than traditional European tourists during their stay.

But the cornerstone for achieving balance remains emissions from air transport. If we take into account one of the indicators of tourism sustainability created by Mabrian, the Income/Carbon Footprint Index, which relates the carbon footprint generated by aviation per passenger and visitor spending during their stay, US visitors would still have to spend three times as much to reach the average income to carbon footprint ratio for Barcelona (which is largely made up of short-distance visitors). Alternatively, if there was a way to cut emissions by three times from flights to get to the destination from the US, that would also have the same impact. According to the current flight emissions metric (ICAO methodology), an American traveler to Barcelona would have to extend their stay by 21 days to match the average daily CO2 footprint of European markets in Barcelona. Obviously, the best way to make it more efficient is to reduce emissions from flights per km.

Carlos Cendra, Mabrian's Director of Marketing and Sales, comments: "We need to think more creatively about how we perceive long-haul travelers; it's not as simple as short-haul good, long-haul bad. Long-haul travel is of vital importance for the exchange of cultures and human evolution, which is one of the great values ​​of tourism.Obviously, its carbon footprint is greater than that of national visitors, but it should be noted that there are some long-distance visitors whose spending at the destination is several times that of a short-distance visitor. This could even mean fewer visitors and the same economic impact for the destination, which has the added benefit of reducing overcrowding in cities for the benefit of residents."

Making long-distance travel more sustainable poses significant challenges. Of course, there are some positive signs of progress, such as airlines starting to invest in more sustainable practices, such as reducing the weight of their planes and using more efficient engines. And some airports are exploring the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, to reduce their carbon footprint.

"There is still a long way to go. The aviation industry must continue to invest in more sustainable practices and technologies, and governments and regulators must introduce stronger policies to encourage airlines to reduce their emissions. And travelers themselves need to consider the impact of their travel choices and make more conscious decisions about the way they travel.

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