The damaging effects of tourism on the environment could be offset by a charge of just €10 for every trip taken, according to new research.

Planet could be saved with small contribution from tourists.

Planet could be saved with small contribution from tourists. Image by Images Money / CC BY 2.0

The study, a collaboration between universities in Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, and New Zealand found it would be possible to offset all carbon emissions from travel with a relatively small flat tax or fee on every journey.

Tourism is incredibly dependent on fossil fuels – not least in terms of highly polluting airline travel – and is a major contributor to climate change. Conservative estimates show that tourism, including transport, accommodation, and other activities are contributing at least 5% of human emissions worldwide. That level of emissions is as large as every country in the world, except five: China, the United States, India, Russia and Japan.

The cost per tourist would be the equivalent to  a portion of fish and chips in England.

The cost per tourist would be the equivalent to a portion of fish and chips in England. Image by Mats Hagwell / CC BY 2.0

At the same time, many travellers, particularly among younger age profiles, are environmentally-aware and may well be willing to pay a small amount to offset their emissions. The authors of the report calculated that a fee of just €10 (US$11) – the price of a fish and chips in England or a burger and soda in the United States – could offer a guilt-free solution if everybody was willing to cough up. If the cost was split between only those who travelled internationally, the cost would rise to €35 (US$38).

Professor Colin Michael Hall of New Zealand’s University of Canterbury said that if tourism growth continues along current trends, emissions will grow by 135% by 2050. He explained: “On a user-pays basis, the cost to have a tourism industry compatible with global climate policy is still less than many already existing tourism taxes and fees.”

Prof Hall told Lonely Planet: “There seems to be no difficulty in governments, in the case of departure taxes, or some tourism businesses for that matter, such as airlines and the notion of ‘fuel surcharges’, adding extra costs onto flight tickets with there being little discernable impact in the long-term on travel arrivals. In some cases I think many travellers are often unaware of some of these costs as they just pay the bottom line all-in cost. Therefore it is a small step to include an additional charge to help cover the real environmental costs of travel and tourism.”

The report said more than half of tourism emissions come from airline travel, 19% from cars, 2% from rail, buses, and boats, and 27% from hotel and lodging.

While it would be difficult to cut emissions from airline travel, a flat charge could be used to help contribute towards carbon offsetting. The biggest contribution to greener tourism however could be made in accommodation, and particularly investment in energy efficiency and renewable energies.