LONDON, 28 July, 2020 − In the northern hemisphere it’s now high summer, with high temperatures to match, traditionally time for those with enough leisure and money to take wing and head abroad − when they could happily just spend their holidays at home enjoying a staycation.

2020 is not proving a very good year for tradition, or for air travel, or for risking exposure to Covid-19. Instead, though, it may be the year when staycations really do catch on: holidays as near as possible to your own doorstep.

They can involve spending not a single night away from home, or travelling only short distances. Essentially they tend to mean no journeys by air, whether or not you cross an international frontier. And although staycationing can be ruinous for airlines, travel companies and others who depend on foreign visitors for a living, it does have its supporters.

Pandemics prompt change

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

The Alliance says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. And people, it says, can also change their daily habits very quickly.

It believes staycationing has lessons for the rapid behaviour change it urges:

  • The necessity of staycations as part of efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic has forced people to rethink how to take breaks and have fun nearer to home
  • Staycations provide a potentially valuable means of supporting local economies in the post-pandemic recovery period, especially in hard-hit industries such as entertainment, catering and hospitality
  • Staycations could support efforts to address the need to drastically cut emissions from aviation.

The Alliance reviews some of the arguments for and against staycationing in an online report, The Great Staycation. It acknowledges there’s a price to pay for the gains it wants to see.

Many countries dependent on tourism are caught in a double bind, the Alliance says. Opening their borders to visitors could help their economies, but it could also risk a life-threatening second wave of Covid-19.

“If the entire tourism industry is to become more sustainable, it needs to look closer to home for customers”

The scale of international tourism is impressive: up from 25 million visits in 1950 to over 1.4 billion today. In 2016 transport-related emissions from tourism represented 5% of all human-caused emissions. Until the pandemic hit, the demand for flights continued to grow globally by 5% each year.

Recent International Air Transport Association (IATA) predictions expect Covid-19 to create only a temporary dip in demand for flying in 2020, of 60-80%, with long-haul flights back to pre-Covid levels by 2024, under a business-as-usual scenario.

Even before Covid-19 there were signs of new holiday habits emerging, including a generational shift, with more than half of UK 25 to 34 year-olds planning to increase the number of holidays they take domestically, and around one third of all those already taking holidays in their own country planning to take more.

For holidaymakers who do venture abroad, coastal tourism has been the largest component of the global tourism industry, with more than 60% of Europeans choosing beach holidays. Sun and sand tourism have also provided more than 80% of US tourism income so far.

This has implications for their destinations. In the Caribbean, it’s estimated, a one metre sea level rise would result in the loss of or damage to 21 airports, inundation of land surrounding 35 ports, and at least 149 multi-million dollar tourism resorts being damaged or lost.

Reefs at risk

The Alliance says coastal regions and tropical islands are more likely to be affected by extreme weather events linked to climate change and threatened by rises in sea levels, with coastal systems especially sensitive to three key drivers related to climate change: sea level, ocean temperature and ocean acidity.

Over 100 countries benefit from the recreational value of their coral reefs, which are now increasingly under threat because of warming seas. Reefs contributed US$11.5bn to global tourism, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2014 report.

For tourists seeking winter breaks in the mountains − and for those who live there all year round − there may also be trouble ahead. Warmer weather probably means shorter winters in ski areas: across the US, in some places by more than 50% by 2050 and 80% by 2090, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at current rates.

In California’s Lake Tahoe region warmer temperatures since 1970 have pushed the snow line uphill 1,200 to 1,500 feet. Some US ski destinations are investing in energy-efficient snow-making machinery to try to extend the season and still appeal to more environmentally conscious skiers.

Other resorts hope to keep going by packing more people into a shorter season, making skiing less exclusive and offering cheaper, dormitory accommodation.

Clean-up too slow

In Europe’s Alps, where half the glacial ice has already melted, the ski season has shrunk in recent years from 150 days to just 120. A study published two years ago in The Cryosphere predicted 70% less snow in the mountains by the end of the century, threatening a $30 billion ski industry.

Aviation accounted for about 7% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, but it is growing at a time when other emissions are falling and is projected to be the single biggest source of emissions in the UK by 2050.

The carbon intensity of flights is reducing by only 1% per year – far too slowly to balance the impact of growth rates, despite investment in lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft.

The UN’s World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) says Europe continues to be the leading global region for tourist numbers, welcoming 51% of all arrivals in 2019. If the entire tourism industry is to become more sustainable, the Alliance says, it needs to look closer to home for customers, and perhaps to its own advice on a creative response to the pandemic for new ways of enjoying leisure time. −

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.