Global warming not cooling travelers' wanderlust
By Sylvia Westall
BERLIN (Reuters) - Global warming's threat to the existence of the exotic resorts and beaches tourists crave has not dented holidaymakers' appetites for pollution-producing, long-haul trips, experts said at Berlin's annual tourism fair.
In his opening speech to the International Tourism Exchange fair earlier this week, German Economy Minister Michael Glos said climate change was a serious problem for the future of the travel industry.
A Deutsche Bank report demonstrated how the industry would suffer if the effects of global warming, including rising temperatures and water shortages, hit popular holiday destinations such Spain and Australia.
According to United Nations' research, tourism accounts for 5 percent of world carbon dioxide emissions, which scientists have linked to rising atmospheric temperatures.
But exhibitors at the fair say tourists so far are not that worried about the environmental cost of their holidays.
"There is heightened awareness, but does that mean people are willing to change their approach to travel? The answer is no," said Geoff Buckley, managing director of Australia's tourism board.
Online travel agency Expedia says it has seen no decline in the number of people taking long-haul flights and that climate worries are a peripheral concern for travelers.
"People are concerned about climate change but they don't want to change their habits," said Expedia spokeswoman Claudia Ressel, who added that holidaymakers were happier to contribute to carbon-offsetting schemes rather than travel less.
Two of Germany's largest tourism groups, Thomas Cook and TUI said they will do more to promote carbon-offsetting schemes for customers booking flights. But interest in such voluntary schemes, where others are paid to cut emissions on the airlines' behalf, has so far been small.
Another area that has failed to take off yet is eco-tourism in which people opt for train over air travel and make shorter journeys, said Klaus Liedtke, editor of National Geographic Deutschland magazine.
German tourism companies say business is booming, despite an expected slowdown in national economic growth, with the tourism industry expected to grow by 3 percent to 4 percent this year.
And travel groups argue exotic destinations in developing countries would take a severe economic hit if they were to fall out of favor with tourists.
"Tourism is an easy target," said Nancy Cockerell from the Travel Business Partnership consultancy. "But it's both the culprit and the victim."
(Editing by Mary Gabriel)