The Rise of the Climate-Conscious European

Recently, I saw a Twitter post about someone comparing the options of a short-distance commute from Brussels to Amsterdam which showed how it was more expensive to take the train versus the plane. In the post, she called out both the airline company and the train company to essentially shame them.

This post is just one of several dozen I see now across my social media with people calling out business, governments and local municipalities for not taking more action to fight climate change. Being a so-called “climate conscious European” became popular around the same time Greta Thunberg started her climate strikes, some 200-odd weeks ago.  They have almost entirely ruled out air travel and prefer instead to opt to take the train as their preferred mode of transport for vacation. So much so, that the night train has made a major come-back with overnight services from Brussels to Vienna being offered with additional destinations to come in the future.

At the EU level, Brussels is one year into discussions on one of its most ambitious climate and environment regulatory packages—to cut 55% of greenhouse gas emissions across Europe by 2030 in order to meet its 2050 goal of climate neutrality. Key aspects of this poorly-named “Fit For 55” package are the files aimed at cutting emissions from the transport sector—including road transport, maritime and aviation.

In fact, depending on how discussions go, we might even see the end of the internal combustion engine in Europe by 2035. The lack of infrastructure continues to be a main concern flagged by automakers and is also being debated by European policymakers, with a deal that will encompass infrastructure for alternative fuels for passenger and heavy duty transport expected by the end of the year.

The change in consumer behavior combined with these regulatory initiatives that have been proposed at the EU level, have major implications for the tourism and travel industry in Europe. EV road trips from northern Europe to southern Europe are becoming more and more common as we see different types of electric cars available on the market for average day drivers. Rental companies are even joining in and starting to offer more sustainable options for their customers.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on travel and tourism in Europe has also highlighted the need to provide sustainable travel options (especially for air travel) while simultaneously supporting those European regions and small to medium sized enterprises highly dependent on the tourism industry. Recently, the European Parliament agreed to extend all flights leaving from an EU country within the EU Emissions trading system (ETS) so that the wider aviation sector actively contributes to reducing their emissions. The Parliament-backed legislative proposal also ensures that there will be financial support for innovative greener fuels for airlines.  Whether or not this will result in making air travel less affordable is still to be seen.

Finally, recent geo-political events such as the increase in energy prices across Europe, the war in Ukraine and the resulting inflation, as well as the impending global recession are all additional factors that may continue to put strain on the tourism industry. Yet, for the time being consumers who have spent the past couple of years worried about the pandemic are deciding to take the risk, with a majority of those preferring to stay in Europe.

The travel and tourism sectors in Europe have in the past years gone through a major transformation.  The rise of the climate-conscious European and their preferences for tourism destinations and their modes of transport is revolutionizing the sector. The renaissance of the rail will continue to change how European citizens, especially the youth, reach preferred tourist destinations. While for the older, wealthier sections of the population, electric car road trips are increasingly becoming the preferred mode of travel.

To remain competitive, be a workplace of the future and be part of the solution, corporations operating in the tourism and travel space must take responsibility to provide sustainable options. At the same time, understanding and shaping the European regulatory landscape is essential to mitigate any future legislative risk to their business models.