Ireland’s denial as flight-shaming clouds gather over tourism

On Nov 18, 2019 by ghadmin.

GHP Comment: The Irish Tourism sector is slowly waking up to the fact that it must adopt Climate Change Friendly policies – even if it doesn’t believe that our Tourism Sector will be negatively impacted by the societal changes that are underway due to the fears of consumers worldwide, a belief mirroring that of the current USA President. The MICE and Multi-national markets are clearly setting standards for hotels and conferences, etc. and more and more visitors are expressing concerns – in Ireland we are still incredibly slow in formulating active strategies to take the high-ground and demonstrate good practice.

As the most senior people in the Irish tourism industry gathered in Croke Park last week to discuss Fáilte Ireland’s plans for 2020, the elephant in the room was the c-word. Not in any profane sense – most industry figures don’t dislike the sector’s voice at cabinet quite as much as all that. Rather, the c-word in tourism is climate.

Just as most tourists are in denial about the damage inflicted on the planet by travel, the Irish tourism industry may also be in denial about the threat posed to the industry’s projected growth by what the Swedes call flygskam, or flight shame fuelled by environmental concern. It is what drives the campaigner Greta Thurnberg to keep traversing the Atlantic Ocean in boats.

Ours is an island nation. If flight shame really does take off as a mode of consumer behaviour in coming years, how else are the bulk of US and European tourists meant to get here? They won’t all suddenly switch to the booze cruise from Holyhead.

The Irish tourism industry has had a mixed year, due mainly to Brexit effects and an increased Vat rate. The latest data shows the number of trips to the State is down 1.1 per cent, as revealed by Fáilte Ireland at its Croke Park gathering. But for the medium-to-long term, the industry’s neck still cranes upwards.

Under pressure from practitioners, the Government in recent months recalibrated its targets for the sector for 2025 after the previous targets were met seven years early. Leaving aside whatever they spent to get here, 9.5 million overseas tourists to the State spent €5.2 billion on holidays here last year. The Government’s revised target for 2025 is for 11.6 million overseas tourists to spend €6.5 billion on Irish holidays.

That will require the Irish tourism industry, including its flight capacity, to expand by about a quarter over the next six years. Paul Kelly, Fáilte Ireland’s chief executive, even spoke at the conference about data suggesting a 40 per cent growth in international tourism by 2030. The sector thinks it can grow, grow, grow unhindered.

In response to a query about whether this target-setting may soon collide with the realty of growing consumer flight shame, Kelly replied that the industry is “not seeing any significant mindset shift in that area”. He may be right, so far. But more flight shame appears to be in the post.

A recent, extensive study by UBS found that more than one-fifth of western travellers have already reduced their flying over the last 12 months – the year of flygskam – due to environmental concerns. The Swiss bank found that, if the trend continues, the airline industry’s projected growth in passenger numbers could be halved. If the extra number of people flying is cut in half, so will Ireland’s tourism targets.

Flygskammers might have you think otherwise, but overall, commercial aviation isn’t responsible for a huge share of global carbon emissions. It generates only about 2.5 per cent of all emissions, according to data from the International Council on Clean Transportation. That rises closer to 3 per cent in the European Union.

So, even if we all went full Greta, quit flying and mothballed the airports, the planet would still produce 97.5 per cent of the carbon it currently belches out. The reason air travel is in the crosshairs of environmentalists is not the gross amount of its emissions. it is the stratospheric rate of growth. Aviation emissions account for only a small chunk of the total now. But that proportion will grow exponentially in coming years.

Global aviation emissions have risen by a third over the last five years. It has been assumed they will triple by 2050. The ICCT researchers analysed the impact of about 40 million flights, and estimated that emissions are currently growing about 70 per cent faster than previously thought. Other researchers have predict that by 2050, air travel may account for a quarter of all permitted emissions, as the planet battles to contain climate change.

The notion of flight shame is not an idle fear. It is perfectly plausible to believe it could reach a tipping point in coming years.

From an Irish tourism point of view, the worst bit of the ICCT’s research is the emphasis on short-haul flights, which are the bread and butter of the sector here. Our next-door neighbours in Britain are close to 40 per cent of the Irish tourism market, while France and Germany are also major sources.

About 43 per cent of aviation emissions come from the sort of narrow-body aircraft upon which most visitors to Ireland arrive. A fifth of aviation emissions come from freight planes, and the rest is from long haul travel.

Proportionally, shorter flights are twice as bad for the environment as long haul flights. Expect any future green taxes or restrictions to be imposed on that basis.

Nine EU countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, and France, recently asked the European Commission to examine the possibility of an EU-wide aviation sin tax to reduce air travel and its damaging effects. The game is already on.

Ireland, as Kelly highlighted last week, is opposed to EU aviation taxes as it would harm “an island nation”. He believes the solution to aviation’s carbon problem lies in fuel efficiency. But even the most wild-eyed of scientists believe green flying is decades away.

In the meantime, the only way to dampen the effects will be to reduce aviation demand. Shame is a powerful emotional force. Consumers may decide to do it all by themselves, and the Irish tourism sector will feel the effects of that more than anybody.

Source – The Irish Times

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