Europe's Voice of Tourism

Good and Bad of the Tourism Industry Transport

The European tourism industry, heavily reliant on air, ground, and sea transport, significantly contributes to climate change. This article delves into the environmental impact of these transportation modes, highlights the initiatives by companies to mitigate their emissions, and presents both the challenges and advancements in making tourism more sustainable. It also addresses the issue of green-washing, ensuring that only genuine efforts towards sustainability are acknowledged.

Air Transport

Air travel is a cornerstone of the European tourism industry but also a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, aviation was responsible for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, with EU aviation contributing 3.6% to the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Air travel is highly energy-intensive, and each flight releases substantial amounts of CO2, NOx, and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Despite technological advances that have improved fuel efficiency by approximately 1.5% annually, the rapid increase in passenger numbers has offset these gains. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) projects that passenger numbers could double by 2037, potentially exacerbating the sector’s environmental footprint. For instance, a single long-haul flight can emit more CO2 per passenger than many people in the world emit in an entire year.

Mitigation Efforts: Airlines are adopting various strategies to curb emissions. For example:

  • KLM has been a pioneer in developing and using sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), which can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel.
  • Lufthansa has invested in modern, fuel-efficient aircraft and operates a carbon offset program allowing passengers to compensate for their flight emissions by funding certified climate protection projects.
  • EasyJet became the first major airline to operate net-zero carbon flights across its entire network through carbon offsetting, although this is a temporary measure while more sustainable solutions are developed.

Ground Transport

Ground transport, encompassing cars, buses, and trains, is integral to the European tourism industry. In 2020, road transport was responsible for nearly 20% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions, highlighting its significant environmental impact. While trains are the most environmentally friendly option, the widespread use of cars and buses poses considerable challenges.

Cars, the most popular mode of ground transport, emit substantial amounts of CO2, with the average passenger vehicle producing around 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year. Buses, while more efficient on a per-passenger basis, still contribute significantly to overall emissions. For example, a diesel bus can emit approximately 1.3 kilograms of CO2 per kilometre travelled.

Mitigation Efforts: Several bus operators are leading the charge in sustainability:

  • FlixBus offers carbon-neutral travel options by allowing passengers to offset their carbon emissions. The company is also testing electric and hydrogen-powered buses, aiming to significantly reduce their carbon footprint.
  • National Express has committed to becoming a zero-emission operator by 2030, rolling out electric buses in numerous cities and investing in renewable energy sources.
  • Trafalgar‘s “Make Travel Matter” initiative utilizes eco-friendly buses with advanced emissions-reducing technology and partners with local communities to promote sustainable tourism practices.
  • RegioJet and Megabus are also making strides with eco-friendly initiatives, including the introduction of electric buses and enhanced fuel efficiency measures.

Trains remain the most sustainable option for ground transport, with companies like Eurostar and Deutsche Bahn investing in high-speed rail services powered by renewable energy sources. For instance, Eurostar’s London to Paris route emits 90% less CO2 per passenger than the equivalent flight.

Sea Transport

The maritime sector, particularly cruise ships, faces intense scrutiny for its environmental impact. Cruise ships are notorious for their high emissions of CO2, sulfur oxides (SOx), and nitrogen oxides (NOx). A 2019 report by Transport & Environment revealed that Carnival Corporation emitted nearly 10 times more SOx around European coasts than all 260 million European cars combined.

Mitigation Efforts: However, several cruise companies are making significant efforts to become more sustainable:

  • Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady incorporates low-friction hull paint, advanced waste management systems, and clean energy technologies. The ship can switch to cleaner fuels and utilizes heat recycling and LED lighting to minimize energy use.
  • Havila Voyages operates ships like the Havila Capella and Havila Castor, which use large battery packs for zero-emission sailing and LNG to reduce CO2 and NOx emissions.
  • Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot, a hybrid expedition ship, runs on both LNG and electric batteries, significantly reducing its environmental footprint and is designed for minimal impact on polar regions.

Green-Washing and Genuine Sustainability

Green-washing, the practice of making misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product or service, is a significant issue in the tourism industry. Companies might exaggerate or fabricate their sustainability efforts to attract environmentally conscious consumers without making substantial changes to their operations. This practice undermines genuine efforts to mitigate climate change and can lead to consumer distrust.

To combat green-washing, it is essential to focus on verified and measurable sustainability initiatives. Certifications from recognized environmental organizations, transparent reporting, and adherence to stringent environmental standards are indicators of genuine sustainability efforts.


The European tourism industry’s reliance on air, ground, and sea transport significantly impacts climate change. While the sector faces substantial challenges, innovative solutions and a shift towards sustainable practices are crucial. Airlines are investing in sustainable fuels and modern aircraft, bus operators are transitioning to electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles, and cruise companies are adopting clean energy technologies. These efforts, combined with regulatory measures and a growing awareness of environmental impacts, are essential for the future of European tourism in a rapidly changing climate landscape.

Only through genuine sustainability efforts, devoid of green-washing, can the tourism industry make meaningful strides towards mitigating its environmental impact and contributing to a more sustainable future.

Source: International Transport Forum