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Armchair travel and carbon passports: Experts predict dystopian future if we don’t cut emissions now

Flying could soon be limited by personal carbon allowances, report warns.
Flying could soon be limited by personal carbon allowances, report warns. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Angela Symons
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Flying could soon be limited by personal carbon allowances, report warns.

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Overtourism, carbon-spewing flights and climate breakdown: travel is at a tipping point.

If we don’t stop taking from the places we visit and start giving back, we could lose the privilege of seeing the world first-hand.

That’s the conclusion of a report by small group adventure tour operator Intrepid Travel and trend forecaster The Future Laboratory.

It examined what travel could look like in 40 years if we don’t take action - and the picture is bleak.

Here’s where travel is headed if we continue down this route - and what we can do to change course.

Why do we need to change the way we travel?

This summer, deadly floods, wildfires and heatwaves proved that the climate crisis is well and truly at Europe’s doorstep.

Once viewed as a distant and intangible threat, it is now directly impacting the most popular tourist destinations around the world.

Low-lying islands like the Maldives could become uninhabitable by 2050. Iconic European cities like Venice could be underwater. Greenland’s glaciers are retreating rapidly.

With the travel industry contributing 8 per cent of the world’s total CO2 emissions - and flying accounting for 2.5 per cent - it is only fuelling the fire.

Carbon passports and virtual travel: What could travel look like in 40 years?

Drastic change is needed to ensure a sustainable future for travel.

Carbon passports will become the norm, the report predicts. This would see personal carbon emissions limits imposed on travellers, essentially rationing the amount we can fly.

Experts suggest that we should limit our carbon emissions to 2.3 tonnes per year. The current UK average is 11.7 tonnes, according to the report. Future generations are likely to take carbon footprint monitoring into their own hands, using real-time mobile apps.

Failure to change tact could force many of the world’s favourite destinations to go virtual. Armchair travel, like the 360-degree videos and virtual tours seen during the pandemic, could become the norm.

Tuvalu, a small pacific nation in Oceania, has become the first country to create a digital version of itself, prompted by rising sea levels.

The metaverse could soon be the only route to engage with places that have been rendered inhospitable or destroyed because of climate change.

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Which travel destinations could become popular in the future?

As extreme heat grips popular destinations, travellers will shift from sun-worshipping beach trips to cooler climes. Holidays in the Mediterranean will increasingly be replaced with Scandinavian and Baltic retreats.

Norway’s Fjord Coast, Iceland’s Akureyri and Finland’s Northern Ostrobothnia could soon spike in popularity.

Belgium, Slovenia and Poland are also being touted as alternatives to holidays in southern Europe. Meanwhile, Albania is becoming a key destination for regenerative agri- and ecotourism.

Overtourism will also change the face of travel. High footfall in destinations like Étretat in France and Italy’s Cinque Terre are causing increased landslides. Holiday rentals in major cities like Barcelona and Lisbon have sparked a cost of living crisis.

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Affected destinations are already imposing rules and regulations to combat these issues, like visitor caps, tourist tax and rental restrictions. This is likely to become more common in future.

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Cooler countries like Norway are rising in popularity as the climate warms up.Canva

Sustainable travel: How can we see the world more responsibly?

A focus on decarbonisation, community, education and empowerment could forge a brighter future for travel.

As younger generations put their money where their mouth is, the travel industry will be forced to pay attention. Empowerment of women and local communities will be key trends.

Regenerative travel that fights tourism leakage will shift our focus from products - like fancy hotels - to people. Through more meaningful experiences that place money in the hands of locals rather than international corporations, travellers can contribute to rather than detriment the places they visit.

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Transient experiences - including nomadic, temporary accommodation - could be the future of traceless travel.

Night trains and luxury locomotion will continue to surge in popularity, speed and comfort. Innovations like Virgin’s Hyperloop could one day see floating passenger pods hurtle through vacuum tubes at 966 km per hour.

And AI will help to track carbon footprints in real time, with loyalty schemes rewarding low carbon options rather than air miles.

“The dawn of a new era of travel beckons, one where a culture of extraction has no place,” the report reads. “The resounding call to action - the ‘now-or-never’ rhetoric - must echo throughout the travel industry, guiding us away from a world marked by unsustainable values.”

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