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Climate emergency and sustainable tourism

UK domestic tourism has a number of positive impacts.  Tourism can play a key role in supporting rural communities through to helping to diversify the local economy, health and wellbeing benefits and along wider regeneration outcomes.

The natural world is a vital tourism asset and ‘attractor’, just as much and sometimes more that built heritage, local communities and culture, visitor attractions, eateries and supporting infrastructure.

When developing sustainable tourism projects there is a requirement to balance, often conflicting needs.  In some instances, there are tensions between the needs of tourism and the pressure / impact on the environment.  There can also be tensions with local host communities, where tourism can place a strain on local resources and in the past two years before COVID-19 we heard a growing number of reports of “over tourism” in the press.

Tourism contributes to the ongoing climate emergency in a number of ways, which include, for example: 

  • Pollution (transport providers and human activity related)
  • Congestion
  • Supply chain impacts
  • Travel miles
  • Water supply
  • Over-use services and utilities

Climate change and the impact of tourism on local communities raises some fundamental questions. Perhaps, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this more to the forefront of the tourism development process?

There are some key drivers of change to help create a more environmentally and socially sustainable future for domestic tourism in the UK

The key drivers of change which are presenting a number of opportunities for innovative Destination Management Organisations and businesses within the tourism sector.   Some of the changes include:

  • Consumer behaviour and increasing interest in environmental issues. During 2019 we witnessed the emergence of a number of climate protests across the UK and the wider world, which in part has been driven by the actions and the growing influence of Greta Thunberg.  Research shows that consumers are making active choices linked to the environmental credentials of destinations, accommodation providers and travel organisers.   This can help to command a premium price in the market place.
  • The legislative environment is also changing with the UK Government committed to achieving a net-zero carbon position by 2050 and in Scotland the target is more ambitious – 2045.  This is coupled with legalisation in terms of the quality of air, recycling and water.
  • Significant investment has been made in technologies such as, renewable energy and the improvement to the life of batteries is likely to have a significant positive impact on transportation and energy production.
  • Long-term rising costs associated with air travel along with increasing environmental regulation are likely to make air travel in the long-term more expensive, most likely leading to increased activity within in the domestic tourism marketplace.
  • Consumers are likely to seek their holiday breaks with a stronger focus on their own locality or region, certainly for short breaks if not for main annual holidays.
  • The Government Financial Reporting Manual 2019-20 sets out the annual reporting requirements in terms of financial statements. There is now a requirement to report the impact of their business on the environment.  Perhaps, there will be more of move from Corporate Social Responsibility to Corporate Environmental Responsibility.

What are some of the key opportunities presented by the climate emergency tourism in the UK?

The climate emergency presents a number of key challenges for the tourism sector, however, emerging from this are a number of opportunities for forward looking tourism businesses, organisations and Destination Managment Organisations.

In the UK Tourist Destination Management Organisations and tourism businesses can respond to the climate emergency in a positive way and in a way which makes financial sense.

The key is developing tourism products and services which meet the drivers of change as set out above. What are we seeing in the marketplace?

  • Loganair, Scotland’s Airline, services a number of routes across Scotland and further afield. The airline is working with Cranfield University to reconfigure a Britten-Norman Islander aircraft to enable it to be powered by electricity. The route it is proposed this will be introduced on will be between Westray in the Orkney Islands to Papa Westray (a very short flight).   But it helps to demonstration innovative thinking and the start of a new approach
  • The National Trust is aiming to become carbon net zero by 2030
  • Merlin Farm Holiday Cottages, a group of award winning eco units in Mawgan Porth in Cornwall offer ‘guilt-free’ experiences for visitors and even have the ability to rinse wetsuits in rainwater
  • Center Parcs has long advocated its green credentials. The company has shown that tourism can be sustainable and that by investing in biodiversity through the process of environmental management, it is possible to integrate a leisure development with our natural heritage. The company claims that its latest village at Woburn represents one of the UK’s best examples of a sustainable and energy efficient large scale projects, designed to the highest energy efficiency and sustainability standards. The aim is to consume 25% less energy than the average existing village and to produce or source 10% of their energy from renewable sources.

We must not forget local communities and the economics behind sustainable development and tourism

When we think of sustainable tourism development we must not just think of the environment in isolation. We also need to consider the ‘sustainability of local communities’ and ‘economic sustainability’ alongside ‘environmental sustainability’. If we only address one or two of these key pillars of sustainability, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

This means we need to include the local community in the planning and development process. This will help to ensure that visitors are managed in a way which benefits local communities and the concerns of local communities are take onboard and addressed during the development process.  The importance of ensure communities are involved in the tourism development process is going to become more important post COVID-19.

COVID-19 – a time to reset the tourism business model

The advent of COVID-19, provides tourism businesses and organisations an opportunity to re-think and reset their current operational and business models. The recovery from COVID-19 presents an opportunity for change…

How can we help?

In respect of developing sustainable tourism projects which respond to key environmental and host community challenges we can help you at an area wide level, for example, preparing Sustainable Destination Management Plans and at a site level preparing supporting HM Treasury Green Book compliant Business Plans. We work with a network of environmental specialists from ecologists through to architects and landscape architects.


We have worked with a range of clients, where sustainable development is at the heart of the project.

  • Broads Authority
  • Derbyshire County Council
  • Forestry England
  • Kent County Council
  • Lancashire Wildlife Trust
  • Natural England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Northumberland Wildlife Trust
  • Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority
  • Shropshire Wildlife Trust
  • South Downs National Park Authority
  • Sussex Wildlife Trust


If you need assistance developing a sustainable tourism strategy or a business plan or would like to explore market opportunities please don’t hesitate to phone or email Richard Linington on 023 9248 1999