How travel can meet carbon zero goals by 2030

Katie Shriner

17 October 2023

We don’t want to kill travel and tourism, but we have to reach the goal of net zero.” – Bernadett Papp of the European Tourism Futures Institute 


Is there a scenario that will allow for tourism to meet Paris Agreement goals by 2030? How will it change the way we travel? These are the questions fuelling Europe’s travel leaders and their efforts to push the boundaries of what’s possible and deliver bold new solutions.

Bernadett Papp of the European Tourism Futures Institute is one of these leaders. Alongside her team, she has developed a scenario that enables the travel industry to meet carbon zero goals – while still allowing us to travel.  

In this episode of Travel Beyond, she explains that the solution lies in how we travel. “The problem is not necessarily with travelling, the problem is with the distance traveled,” she says. Learn more about the scenario, systemic changes that are needed, and what people and governments need to do differently. 

You’ll also learn:

  • The surprising good news for hotels and people who love travel.
  • What will need to change, and what can stay the same.
  • What infrastructure will need to be developed to make this all possible.
  • Who risks being unfairly impacted by this scenario.



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Show notes



Bernadett Papp: We don’t want to kill travel and tourism, but we have to reach the goal of net zero. We wanted to see whether there are multiple scenarios, multiple pathways that could get us to the goal. And to our biggest surprise, we only found one scenario, one option. 

Sara Raymond de Booy: Hello and welcome to Travel Beyond where we partner with leading destinations to explore the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet, surfacing their most inspiring solutions. 

I’m Sara Raymond de Booy, Associate Creative Director at Destination Think. I’m recording from Seattle, Washington on Coast Salish land, specifically that of the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot people.

We look at the role of travel and choose to highlight destinations that are global leaders. We talk to the changemakers who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities, often from the bottom up. 

Today, we’re listening in on a conversation between Rodney and Bernadette Papp, recorded at the recent CityDNA conference in Sofia, Bulgaria.

As a researcher at the European Tourism Futures Institute, Bernadette has been working to identify scenarios that allow travel and tourism to flourish and meet Paris Agreement goals by 2030.

I don’t want to give too much away right now, but Bernadette and her team have identified a single scenario forward that accomplishes that.

And guess what? The scenario probably isn’t as restrictive as you think it might be. It actually allows us to meet our net zero goals by 2050 and still holiday along the way. Curious to learn more? Let’s see what their research found out. 

Bernadett Papp: My name is Bernadett Papp. I’m a senior researcher at the European Tourism Futures Institute, ETFI in short. It’s a research institute at the Academy of Leisure and Tourism at NHS London, University of Applied Sciences, and we are based in the Netherlands, in Leeuwarden. 

Rodney: That’s an interesting sounding career. Can you tell us, what sort of things you do at the institute? 

Bernadett Papp: So we are part of a university. So while I’m involved in research, we work on all sorts of applied research projects linked to tourism development. But because we are part of the university, I’m also involved with education.

I’m actually lecturing in one of the master programs in international leisure, tourism and events management. Besides that, I’m also a PhD candidate, actually, at the University of Glasgow. So I’m also affiliated with that university. 

Rodney: We’re here in Sofia, in Bulgaria, at the City DNA Conference, and you were just on stage presenting.

Could you tell us what you were presenting? 

Bernadett Papp: Yes, the presentation was about the metaverse and its implications on city destinations. We developed four scenarios Looking at in what ways the metaverse will impact upon the destination image, the local economy, destination management and marketing in general with the aim of helping DMOs prepare for the future and what the future may hold when it comes to the metaverse.

Rodney: So scenario planning is a lot of what you do, and that was the reason I really wanted to sit down and talk to you. Because of the scenario planning work you’ve been doing on the future of tourism. And there’s a project that you’ve recently been involved in with the Netherlands Board of Tourism. Could you tell us a little bit about that project?

Bernadett Papp: Absolutely. It was a collaboration between, indeed, NBTC the Centre of Expertise in Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality, two universities from the Netherlands, one being NHL Stenden University, where I am based, and the other one, Breda University of Applied Sciences, and of course the Travel Foundation was involved as well.

Rodney: And what was the goal of the project? 

Bernadett Papp: So in line with the Paris Agreement, of course we need to half our emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. Not only tourism, of course, but all other sectors globally. And so we were very much interested in pathways. that could lead us to that goal, but also enable tourism, travel and tourism to flourish.

We don’t want to kill travel and tourism, but we have to reach the goal of net zero. We wanted to see whether there are multiple scenarios, multiple pathways that could get us to the goal. And to our biggest surprise, we only found one scenario, one option. 

Rodney: Can you tell us about the pathway that you found for tourism? And travel to exist in a decarbonizing world. 

Bernadett Papp: It’s a scenario that is very much aligned with the business as usual scenario in the sense that the scenario that we created allows for growth. So a number of trips would still, in the future. Length of stay would actually outpace the baseline, the business as usual scenario revenue would still grow. However this is the growth we’re talking about is nothing like what growth was before. In this scenario, we need to move away from the traditional growth paradigm. The scenario signals are model shift, change in travel behaviour behavior, and also, and probably most importantly, the redistribution of resources across subsectors and also geographies.

So in this scenario, we prioritize the sectors or subsectors that are faster in their decarbonization journey. And therefore growth would predominantly come from short or medium haul travel and would come from alternative modes of transportation like electric cars rail, electric ferries and accommodation.

The accommodation sector would be a big winner, actually, because of length of stay, which actually grows even beyond what we would anticipate in a business as usual scenario. But it requires system change. That’s for sure. It requires travel and tourism to change the dynamics.

Rodney: It’s interesting that the scenario that you found allows for growth in the number of travellers visiting the Netherlands. Can you explain how that’s possible? 

Bernadett Papp: Perhaps it’s good to point out that this is a global scenario. And the reason why number of trips may grow is because we anticipate a shift towards short and medium haul travel.

Which is less polluting, of course, than long haul travel, especially longest haul travel. Very interesting numbers that you can also read in the report is that, for instance, longest haul trips, which would be 16,000 kilometers Sydney-Shanghai return. Only account for around 2 percent of all flights, however, responsible for close to 20 percent of emissions.

And if this is left unchecked, then by 2050 it will be 4 percent of all flights, but 40 percent of emissions. We can continue to travel. But we need to move away from long haul, we need to move away from aviation, we need to switch to transportation modes that are more sustainable. So the problem is not necessarily with traveling, the problem is with the distance traveled, which is a key indicator and a key contributor to increasing emissions.

And that is in the core of the scenario that we developed, that we need to we need to control. The distances that we travel, and that has to do with how the holiday experience is defined. Predominantly, we tend to attach higher value to faraway destinations. And I think this presents an opportunity to the sector to redefine the holiday experience and change the narrative.

Because there are wonderful destinations around us everywhere. 

Rodney: What do you think that means for destinations that are currently dependent on long haul? 

Bernadett Papp: There will be destinations that will suffer more in the scenario that we propose. And those are predominantly small island developing states, of course.

However what we really try to emphasize is that we need to unite. The sector globally needs to unite behind the shared vision and we need to take both individual and collective action to get to the goal, which also means that we need to provide support for destinations that are likely to suffer more.

Of course, those are the ones that are highly dependent on aviation or highly dependent on long haul travel or does not have a sizable domestic markets or regional market. There are ways that we can support these destinations by, for instance setting up tourism development funds or tourism equity funds and similar collaborations can very much help these destinations.

We can also prioritize tourism growth in destinations where it is still possible. And we can hold destinations that have higher or bigger eco footprint, that you can help them more responsible for, reducing their emissions faster, which would be the global north, of course, especially Europe and North America, where most air passengers are registered, and most air departures are registered.

Rodney: Travel is a luxury, and I often think about a discretionary carbon budget that we have as individuals. And that comes with responsibility. What responsibility do you think the travel sector has to lead and and be a fundamental part of the solution to decarbonisation? 

Bernadett Papp: Do you mean that what can this sector, like the supply side do to, yeah.

No, I really believe that travel behavior change in particular needs to be supply driven. There are limits to voluntary behavior change. We’ve seen that. research conducted before. So I definitely believe that the sector has a huge responsibility in terms of redefining the holiday experience searching for a new source markets product development, definitely.

The only, the opportunity or the possibilities that we offer the travellers, they should be sustainable. There shouldn’t be an alternative that is not. We shouldn’t leave it up to the choice of the travellers. So that’s a huge responsibility. 

Rodney: What you’re describing as a future scenario is very inspiring.

It’s very different to the current state of the travel industry. You mentioned systems change. How do you think we get from here to the scenario that you’ve described? 

Bernadett Papp: Very interesting. If you look at how ready we are for the TDS scenario. We see that we are not at all ready. A lot of the change needs to come from outside the travel and tourism sector.

So we do need to acknowledge that we depend very much on investment sector on construction, energy sectors, the rail industry, the car industry, aviation, of course. So first of all, we need them to get on board with the scenario and we need them to start making or taking steps towards this net zero future.

There are a lot of challenges if just if we just look at aviation. Scaling up sustainable aviation fuel production is very much a challenge. Also we do see interventions from governments. There are quite a few examples already. Stuff mandates, carbon pricing in aviation and so on. So we are potentially heading towards the right direction, but there’s still a lot to do.

If you look at the rail industry standardizing rolling stocks and the rail network so that we can travel across borders seamlessly is still a challenge. Rules and regulations, the language, it’s not, as aligned as it is in aviation, for instance. So a lot of those challenges still exist. Also, if we look at the rail network, huge differences across world regions.

Of course, Europe, China, Russia, India, they’re all doing relatively well when it comes to developing the rail network. But then when you look at North or even South America, Then you see a completely different situation. Same with car industry. Of course, still a lot of challenges with how we how we produce.

Those electric cars the raw materials the used battery, what do we do with those? Also public charging infrastructure is not as developed. And also we need renewables and clean energy to run those that infrastructure. So we are still a long way from being able to fully implement this scenario.

And a lot of these changes, as I mentioned, need to come from outside of the travel and tourism sector. But what we as a tourism sector can do, we can accelerate this change. By offering those sustainable alternatives by offering those innovative tourism products that are low emission or zero emission investing in electrification of accommodation developing tourism packages that are based on real travel focusing on domestic and regional markets.

So there’s a lot we can do to accelerate change, I think. 

Rodney: As someone who thinks a lot about the future, are you worried about climate change? 

Bernadett Papp: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, we do see and feel, I think, the impact of climate change already. And I don’t want to say it will only get worse, but it will unless we we decide to change things.

And even though the scenario allows for growth and it really describes a flourishing travel and tourism sector. It requires some sacrifices, but I believe that the sacrifices are not too big. Because the cost of climate change will definitely, will bigger, will be bigger. And the dynamics will change no matter what.

So I think it’s better if we do it in a controlled way, in a proactive way, rather than let climate change do it for us. 

Rodney: Speaking of proactivity I spend a lot of time in destination planning. And recently had one of our researchers do a project to look at hundreds of different destination plans to analyze how many mentions of the word climate change or Paris targets or decarbonization or scope three emissions that were and – we’ll share the results soon – but they were frightening in terms of the preparedness of the people leading destination management and destination marketing. And there were very few mentions other than in the SWOT analysis at the start.

Climate change often appeared next to pandemic as a known threat, but then the plan didn’t go on to to do anything about it from a destination experience perspective. We’re seeing more floods and more fires, and that will have an impact on brand. From a, an infrastructure perspective, we’re seeing airports flood in Auckland and Miami and entire destinations get taken offline.

And, what, based on your thinking, what would you, what message would you give to the people leading destinations in terms of preparing for the future? 

Bernadett Papp: Take climate change very seriously. There is, of course, scientific evidence. We all know that we we’re going to have to deal with the consequences of climate change.

We already are dealing with the consequences. And also I think we have a lot of responsibility, us working in the travel and tourism sector. There clearly is a paradox through travel and tourism, we can contribute tremendously to the well being of local communities and destinations.

Tourism is a driver of socio -conomic development but on the other hand, because of traveling and traveling long distances especially, tourism also is a great contributor to climate change and we have to be very honest about it and we have to recognize that and take responsibility. And now is the time to take responsibility and change the dynamics because the technology is there already.

We have the knowledge that is required to make the change. And also I do think that it’s, it very much depends on our will to make the change. And if you don’t do it now, it’s going to be too late in a couple of years. I do think it’s very important that we join forces, that we unite behind a shared vision and we take action together to get to the goal of net zero by 2050.

And it’s also important that we help those destinations that might suffer more throughout this transition. 


In the Netherlands, where you live, can you tell me about some of the things you’re seeing in terms of social sentiment towards aviation and tourism?

Bernadett Papp: Yes, absolutely. I think the Dutch are quite an interesting group of travellers. They very much travelling with their camper vans and going to campsites. They travel a lot within their country, but also in the region, going to Germany, Luxembourg, France. Perhaps we can say that they are a little bit more conscious about their eco-footprint, and they also find a lot of joy in exploring their own country and exploring the region.

Of course, they also fly a lot, but I think there is a lot of potential in the Netherlands to also further develop car based tourism, for instance. And I do think that the Dutch people are very much open to that. But also we can see that Schiphol Airport is capping capacity, right?

I believe from the end of this year. The government, I believe and also the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions is taking the matter very seriously. And I do consider them as frontrunners when it comes to climate change and tourism and taking action. 

Rodney: What are some of the things that give you hope that we can achieve the massive transformation that’s in front of us? 

Bernadett Papp: First of all as I said we do have the knowledge necessary to achieve change. We do have the resources as well because For the scenario that we propose, it’s a trillion dollar investment that is required.

But that is only two to three percent of global tourism revenue throughout the same period of time, which is not a lot. So we have the means to make the change. which gives me hope. And I do hope that there will be the will as well to make those changes. And the fact that this report is out there and so many people are talking about it, I think it’s definitely a good sign that perhaps finally we can stand behind this this scenario, this vision, which I believe is a positive vision of the future.

Rodney: Can you tell me about your personal travel? Have you changed how you travel since you’ve become more aware of our sort of one scenario? 

Bernadett Papp: I do attend a lot of conferences and I’m very proud that this year already I took the train to Germany. I’m going to take the train to Denmark. So definitely, I also look for alternatives when it comes to getting to the destination.

Also those admissions tend to be, the biggest contributors and we often don’t account for. those emissions. So for me, it’s important that I find ways to reduce my reduce those emissions and find alternative mode of transportation to get to the destination to get to the conference to the event.

So that is perhaps one example of how I’m trying to be a bit more conscious. And also, in, in everyday life with the use of plastic or how we manage waste, all those examples, I do try to implement sustainable practices in my everyday life. 

Rodney: Yeah, it’s something I think a lot about is the question about whether it’s a personal responsibility or a system responsibility and both.

It’s both. Yeah it has to be both because those small changes that you’re talking about can have such a big effect on the people around you once they, even if it’s one or two people that you influence that leadership can be really contagious. 

Bernadett Papp: Yeah, I do think it has to be both individual and collective action, but I also think that systems change is very important. That’s the only way we can enable the tourism sector to, to implement the changes that we need.

Systemic change, that’s what we really need, I think. 

Rodney: So based on all the research that you’ve done and the thinking you’ve done on this issue, If for one day you could be in charge of the world with a magic wand, what are three systems changes that you would put in place tomorrow? 

Bernadett Papp: I would redistribute resources, first of all, across geographies and sub sectors to accelerate change. Another one would be probably just to get stakeholders together and help them be open. To new ideas transformative ideas, perhaps and help them be courageous enough to trust that we can reach the goal and still have a thriving travel and tourism sector.

So yeah, redistributing resources, investments to help the global travel and tourism system change as one system supports the stakeholders in terms of collaboration, partnerships and probably also try and get the travelers on board make them realize what their impact is and also help them change.

Rodney: What are your thoughts on carbon pricing and taxation? 

Bernadett Papp: In the scenario, we experimented a little bit with taxing aviation, for instance. But what we found was that with all the other changes that we propose and all the other interventions, tax did not really have a huge impact. It had temporary impact because it influenced demand, of course, but on the long term we didn’t see a huge influence on emission levels, actually.

So that was something that we experimented with in, in the scenario and we didn’t think it was a very efficient intervention, so to say. 

Rodney: That’s really interesting. When I think about short haul and medium haul there’s alternatives to short haul. There’s fast trains and Hyperloop and electric vehicles and public transportation.

Those are all realistic alternatives that are readily available that we can, amplify. When it comes to medium hole, there’s realistic technological developments that will manifest in a meaningful time frame. When it comes to long hole, the weight to energy density ratio is a real problem. And there’s a lot of very clever people thinking about this and working on it, but there’s no… solution sitting there waiting. Do you think long haul aviation can ever decarbonise?

Bernadett Papp: According to our scenario, yes. But I do think that it will take a really long time. For long haul aviation to, to succeed in that sense. In the scenario, what we propose is capping aviation growth temporarily. So the scenario actually says that we will lift those restrictions once aviation can fully decarbonize, and that also includes long haul.

Rodney: I really appreciate being able to sit down and talk to you. It’s It’s refreshing to hear someone talk so candidly about what the future looks like for our industry. 

Bernadett Papp: Thank you for the opportunity. 

Sara Raymond de Booy: This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think. And you just heard from Bernadette Papp, a researcher at the European Tourism Futures Institute. This episode has been produced and has theme music composed by David Archer. Lindsay Payne, Annika Rautiola, and myself, Sara Raymond de Booy, provided production support.

We would like to thank CityDNA for making this interview possible at their conference in Bulgaria. You can help more people find the show by subscribing to future episodes and by leaving a rating and review on Apple podcasts. We’re actively looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems. So be sure to reach out if you have a story to share with us. 

See you next time.


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