The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many changes to the way in which we live. While some are only temporary, others might last. The tourism industry is one facet of our lives that could have long-lasting effects both on a local as well as an international scale since it has almost ceased to exist during this time.
The tourism industry has previously experienced severe crises in the wake of terrorist events (September 2001), viruses (SARS 2002-2003), and economic recessions (2008-2009), among other disruptions. However, since the beginning of the 20th century, there has never been a complete halt in this industry.
In the wake of the corona pandemic, could a temporary reduction of tourism serve as an opportunity to improve the environmental footprint of the tourism industry at large? Or will everything will be back to normal once restrictions are lifted?
Dr. Yael Ram, Director of the International Relations Office at the Ashkelon Academic College, says, “the tourism industry crash has come at a high personal and social cost. However, we cannot look at this industry only as a victim of the health and economic situation, because the tourism industry has played a crucial role in spreading the plague through international aviation networks and resorts.”
Ram published an article called “International Tourism in the Post-Corona Era – the Environmental Significance of Reducing Aviation and Vacation Cruises.” This article is about international tourism in the post-Corona era and was featured in a special issue of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences scientific journal, Ecology and the Environment devoted to the impact of the Corona epidemic on the environment.
665 million tons of carbon dioxide
According to various estimates, the global tourism industry is responsible for five to eight percent of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including flights, maritime and land transport, hotel construction and operation, and air conditioning and heating. International aviation is the main contributor of emissions, which was estimated to be 665 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted as of 2018. The cruise industry’s impact is much lower, with only 35 million tons of CO2 emitted per year as of 2012.
According to previous studies, aviation is responsible for 40 percent of GHG emissions in the tourism industry, with 33.5 percent from shuttle services, 21 percent from guesthouses and hotels, 4 percent from various tourist activities, and 1.5 percent from vacation cruises.
In recent years, global tourism and economic organizations have set ambitious reduction requirements for aviation emissions. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) published a series of recommendations, like choosing nearby destinations and low-carbon modes of transportation, as well as creating incentives for tourism operators to reduce emissions. However these recommended measures were not accompanied by end goals, and thus, did not improve the situation.
The aviation and cruise industries will likely achieve their emission reduction targets in the short term, due to Corona, says Ram. She and Professor Noga Collins-Kreiner of Haifa University have recently begun research in the Ministry of Science and Technology that examines ‘the day after the Corona crisis’ in the tourism industry. According to Ram, the aim of this study is to understand how to tourism will recover by analyzing data based on a comparison of past crises in Israel and the world. Such crises include the Second Lebanon War and the 2016 chain of earthquakes in Italy.
“Our research begins with the understanding that unless we analyze the dynamics of the collapse of the industry, we will not be able to rebuild tourism in a way that is more suited to the Corona era and more immune to future crises,” says Ram. “During a crisis, the tourism industry is among the first to be damaged. Even in the current crisis, we are seeing an 80 percent reduction in public spending on tourism consumption in Israel.
Rated return to the hiking routine
According to Ram, in order to reduce the impact of tourism on the environment, the principles of sustainable tourism must be applied. For example, having activities that make sensible use of natural resources without disturbing the lives of local residents and communities. At the same time, these activities should be economically, socially, and mentally profitable for its participants.
“Tourism will not continue to exist in the way that we are used to. The high number of flights we have become accustomed to creates a great deal of damage to the environment and to us. We need to remedy the situation so that everyone benefits,” says Ram.
Ram adds, “I think tourism in nature reserves and open spaces will evolve because it is cost-effective, convenient, and closer to home. Here, too, there are areas we need to strengthen, such as suitable public transport and access to the general public.”
Finally, Ram hypothesizes that over-globalization is the root cause of COVID-19, which is why we need to change how humanity operates on a public and private scale. For example, airline incentives that do not include decreasing GHG emissions can have a devastating effect on the climate.
This ZAVIT article was also published in Ynetnews on 06/20/2020.