Skift Take

The UK's tourism industry is robust and vitally important to its economy — which is why it's even more important that the government take a look at its environmental impact.

The UK parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee will launch an inquiry into the cost of tourism to the environment, it announced Thursday.

The announcement mentioned various consequences of overtourism, including carbon emissions, resource degradation, the decline of cultural sites, and negative effects on the housing market. It specifically called out the impact of aviation as a priority of the inquiry, noting that it intends to “seek views on travel choices to inform the Government’s forthcoming aviation strategy to 2050.”

Chair of the committee, Mary Creagh, member of parliament, said the recent cruise ship collision in Venice as well as local protests in highly-impacted cities like Barcelona has put the issue of overtourism in the spotlight. Though it was not mentioned, this year’s Extinction Rebellion protests in the UK put climate change in the public and media consciousness much more than in recent years.

“The industry adds five percent to global greenhouse emissions, putting our net zero by 2050 target at risk,” Creagh said. “While there are some sustainable practices, we want to look closely at the Government’s actions to ensure the economic, social and environmental impacts of tourism are minimised.”

The committee’s role is to examine how government policies and programs contribute to environmental protection and to “audit their performance against sustainable development and environmental protection targets.” Prior inquiries have been into the impact of electronic waste and the toxic chemicals found in everyday life. The committee is asking for submissions of evidence from stakeholders and the public and plans to publish a report on the matter early next year.

Green MP for Brighton, Caroline Lucas, told the Guardian she hoped the inquiry would examine plans for a third runway at Heathrow

“How we travel can make a major difference to the environmental impact of our holidays, yet far too often the greener options are less affordable. That must urgently change if the UK is serious about the climate emergency, yet the government is failing even to acknowledge the problem – instead supporting a third runway at Heathrow as well as reckless airport expansion elsewhere in the UK.”

The UK is one of the world’s top five travel markets, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, welcoming 38 million visitors in 2018. Last month, outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May announced the first-ever tourism sector deal to ensure the industry stays globally competitive amidst Brexit.

Anthony Pickles, head of tourism affairs for VisitBritain, the nation’s destination marketing organization, told Skift that “VisitBritain is working with the UK Government and the tourism industry on the recently announced Tourism Sector Deal to build stronger tourism destinations across the country and will be submitting evidence to the inquiry in due course.”


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Tags: UK government, visit britain

Photo credit: A British Airways A380 flying over the cliffs at Dover. Neil Frazer / Skift

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