Tourism expert on sustainable travel: “We are schizophrenic when we travel”

FOCUS online Earth: Mr. Schmude, climate change also affects our vacation. Last summer, popular holiday islands in southern Europe suffered from floods and forest fires. How will German travel behavior continue to change by 2050?

Jürgen Schmude: Traveling is and remains a basic need. For Germans, traveling is even more important than cars when it comes to consumption priorities. Even during the corona pandemic, Germans traveled, albeit differently. So even in times of climate change, traveling will remain a stable need that will play a role in the future. Even though there were some extreme weather events on southern European islands last year, Spain and Italy will remain at the top of the German travel destinations.

So climate change or climate protection will not influence our travel behavior?

Dirty: Climate change will only change travel behavior marginally; such changes in travel flows are very, very slow. Rather, research has found that changing demographics are having a greater impact on travel behavior. Because: More older people allow cultural tourism to grow.

When it comes to sustainability when traveling, we behave schizophrenically. In everyday life we ​​have a much greater awareness of sustainability than on vacation because these are “the most beautiful weeks of the year” and we don’t necessarily want to be confronted with the topic. In everyday life we ​​separate all kinds of glass, but on vacation we still get on the plane. Vacation is important, but we finally have to use our brains when it comes to our travel behavior.

Sounds like you don’t approve of the double standards on vacation…

Dirty: No, I basically don’t want to put it down at all. Vacation is a wonderful thing, both for the citizens and for the economy in the travel destinations. It’s just important that people realize how big their “travel footprint” really is and that it doesn’t have to be a long-distance trip every year or that there are alternatives to certain flights. A small proportion of Germans are already paying attention to more ecological transport, such as night trains.

In addition, a lot more needs to happen on the provider side. We cannot wait until demand is only driven by ecology. More sustainable accommodation and, above all, climate-neutral transport options are needed. After all, 50 to 80 percent of emissions from travel come from transportation.

A classic example: ski tourism. The ski areas are more than obviously suffering from climate change, so ski holidays will change more and more in the next few years. The snow cannons are not so much the problem, but the holidaymakers who drive to the Alps every other weekend and go skiing. Instead, it’s better to drive there and back once and then stay for a week at a time. Or take the train. A lot has already been done.

What should Germans pay attention to when planning their vacation so that travel is as environmentally and climate-friendly as possible?

Dirty: When choosing accommodation, you can pay attention to regional cuisine or water-saving measures. When it comes to the core problem of traffic, you can try to get to your holiday destination either by night trains, electric cars or coaches. If you’re going to fly to Australia, please don’t just for two weeks, but preferably for a longer stay. When visiting highly visited places, be careful not to accidentally or intentionally destroy the environment. Some destinations are already trying to curb the effects of overtourism. But per se there is no perfect sustainable option when traveling, we can only try to get as close to it as possible.

However, some segments of the travel industry are further away from sustainability than others. Keyword: cruises. How hopeful do you have for the cruise industry that there will soon be climate-friendly tours?

Dirty: And again: We behave really schizophrenically when we go on vacation on cruises. We have almost two million crusaders in Germany. Cruises have been a success story for more than 20 years, even though so many people are aware of the negative impact that heavy oil-powered giants have on the climate and the environment.

But the ship offers all your needs: safe, sheltered space, everything is organized, all-inclusive offers and many leisure activities. Many holidaymakers no longer even leave the ships in the ports, but instead look at the port and say “Yup, I was here once”.

When it comes to cruises, I’m not so hopeful that things will soon become more climate-friendly. The life cycle of cruise ships is also very long, and unfortunately they cannot be easily converted to renewable drives. Then we also need gas stations for cruise ships in every port. The whole transformation will certainly take decades.

I can only repeat myself: travel, yes, absolutely. But please think a little.

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