The pace of change for the coach sector seems to be a real challenge

Tourism and the environment: change in the air?

The pace of change for the coach sector seems to be a real challenge

It’s been a while since I last commented in this column on the challenges of achieving sustainable travel and tourism against the background of both significant increases in demand for all kinds of visitor activity, and global concern at the consequences of pollution and CO2 emissions on the environment, and on us humans too.

The impacts of the sector’s activities come in many forms. Some are the direct responsibility of those running travel and leisure facilities, and developing hotels and attractions; some the result of consequential effects of large numbers of people visiting places with fragile eco-systems or archaeological and heritage sites not designed for the stresses of volume visitors; and some the result of the lack of thought and respect by individual visitors for the physical, cultural and ecological consequences of their behaviour and expectations – from energy and water consumption to waste and damage to landscapes and eco-systems.

It was interesting to note at the seminar sessions at ITB Berlin earlier this year the concept of ‘over tourism’ being discussed quite intensively amongst all the other industry issues.

Sadly, I suspect, those interested in the tourism impacts sessions were different people to those talking about new market and development opportunities for the sector. It’s hard to get all the consequences and considerations that flow from travel and tourism to be brought together for an overall judgement on what’s right and wrong.

A particular issue at the moment is the matter of the environmental impact of road traffic and specifically by coaches.

In some ways coach travel is one of the more eco-friendly modes, given the fact that people are sharing one vehicle rather than driving in lots of smaller ones, but the power systems of coaches have traditionally been the more dirty diesel engines and the sheer intensity of coach traffic at tourist honey-pots can be the cause of emissions breaching acceptable limits.

This problem can occur anywhere from around iconic landmarks, to the centres of top city destinations.

London is a particular example of a city with an air quality and emissions problem, which has led to the Mayor of London’s decision to extend the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) from Central to Greater London in October 2020.

ULEZ has already been confirmed to be introduced in April 2019 for Central London (the area of the congestion charge zone), but the extension will now cover many more hotels and attractions in Greater London within the M25.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has warned that groups may see an increase in coach hire rates following the requirements for coaches to meet new emission standards, or be liable for a daily charge of up to £300 if they do not.

The CPT reports there is insufficient supply to cater for demand, estimating only a fifth of the UK coach fleet will meet the required Euro VI standards.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that the industry is resisting its responsibilities to clean up its fleets, but the pace of change seems to be a real challenge – and cost – to the coach sector.

Clean air zones will not be unique to London, with other cities set to announce their own schemes as the government has passed responsibility for air quality to the local authorities concerned and coaches will be amongst their targets for action.

Interestingly, I was at a public transport exhibition in Paris at the beginning of June and was surprised to see for the first time an all-electric coach. There has been a progressive switch to electric buses in recent years, but one of the inhibitions and concerns has been the limited distances that such vehicles can travel on one charge.

For urban routes which are quite short and slow moving it’s an easier solution, but coaches have been regarded as unsuitable to go all electric. It was pointed out to me in Paris by the manufacturer in question however, that coaches on urban transfer and sightseeing duties do not rack up long periods on the move, or away from recharging points.

Putting in place the right solutions to ensure clean and non-intrusive visitor transport is just one of the challenges for the tourism sector. They are not going to be without cost, or the need for creative thinking to address them, and hopefully the industry will recognise its responsibilities and share them with customers rather than just arguing for ‘business as usual’.

This article was originally published in issue 281 (June / July 2018) of GTO magazine.