Carbon – do tourists care?

A new report from Amadeus and Queensland’s Griffith University has highlighted the difference between words and actions when it comes to carbon emissions related to tourism, with a small minority of travellers currently choosing to offset their trips by purchasing ‘carbon offsets’. The white paper on Carbon Reporting in Travel and Tourism highlights a range of issues — including a lack of consistency and transparency in so-called carbon calculators, difficulties in purchasing offsets during the booking process, and incomplete knowledge about the impacts of carbon among consumers.

However this may be set to change, with the paper forecasting that increasing pressure from external stakeholders as well as mandatory reporting requirements will see more travel and tourism companies following the lead of a “growing number of highly committed frontrunners”. Although a large proportion of travellers are aware of climate change and the impacts of travel, detailed knowledge is often lacking, the report summarises. The fact that tourism companies necessarily operate in a range of jurisdictions each with their own standards and requirements also makes the situation more difficult.

The report compared more than 50 carbon “travel calculators” and found variations in emission estimates of a whopping 540%. The difference resulted from different (and sometimes dated) underlying data sources, choice of emissions factors, consideration of additional non-CO2 effects at high altitude, and assumptions about detour and delay factors. But in the end the point may be moot, because the report concludes that tourist demand for low-carbon products, including carbon offsets, is largely of a passive nature. “Travellers are aware of their impacts, but [are] not necessarily willing to make significant changes,” the paper says.

There is, however, a “small but consistent” group of consumers dedicated to reducing emissions who do make the most of the available carbon reduction options. The report urges further research into what proportion of the currently less-committed types of travellers would participate in schemes that offer “highly transparent, credible and convenient solutions”. Robust and transparent carbon estimations, along with easy-to-use low-carbon options and offsetting programs, have the potential to increase uptake which in turn could “create new social norms, which further encourage broader participation and consideration of carbon-relevant behaviours”.