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The future of Travel in Europe: How to make travel more sustainable after the pandemic?

Traveling the world seemed to be just self-explanatory when suddenly, the Covid-19 Pandemic posed as an unexpected moment for reflecting the future of more sustainable tourism. On Tuesday the 29th of June, Greener EU, in collaboration with BETA Italia, organized a European roundtable event discussing “The future of Travel in Europe: How to make travel more sustainable after the pandemic?”. This event was held under the high patronage of the Via Romea Germanica, covering more than 20 regions, cities, and associations throughout middle Europe.

In 2020, the covid-19 pandemic hit the tourism and travel industry greatly: locking everyone in their homes, putting hundreds of planes to the ground, and closing many companies, some of which had to close for good. Now the vaccination strategy is at full speed in Europe and borders are opening again, a resurgence of travel is to be expected in the next months and years. However, tourism hasn’t always been a favorable sector, especially considering the environmental and social consequences of travel. In our second Virtual Roundtable event on the 29th of June, we discussed how European tourism can restart sustainably after the pandemic.

Sustainable Travel in the European Year of the Rail

Tourism is a blessing and a curse at the same time. On one hand, it opens opportunities for people to visit other countries, experience cultural heritage, and broaden their horizons. On the other hand, it often results in small and big externalities in the local, regional and global society, as well as contributing to climate change. One of the main contributors to environmental change, is travel to and from the holiday destination, especially if this happens through air travel. We discussed if and how air travel could be complemented and/or replaced by railroad travel.

Everyone agreed that there is still a lot of work to do if rail travel is to be a viable alternative to flying. The problems with traveling by train were established by MEP Dorien Rookmaker (TRAN): “traveling by train is slow, expensive, and difficult”. The discussion went on to include necessary changes in both the political and economic fields, mentioning the cost of aviation, but also reminding people that rail travel is an option, and increasing the efficiency of this type of travel. Participants rightly mentioned that the 2021 European Year of the Rail is, unfortunately, being hindered by the lingering pandemic, upon which the MEP’s confirmed that a request to extend the Year of the Rail into 2022 had already been sent to the European Commission.

Tourism as a part of a wider social system

After the break, we went on to discuss the social side of sustainable tourism, including topics like positive economies, innovation, digitalization, and cultural heritage. The debate opened with the mention of overtourism, and how to divide tourists among destinations. It was generally agreed that there was a need for a system response, from multiple actors on different levels, to resolve these problems. The debate also touched upon accessibility to tourism, and both guests and participants agreed that it is not necessarily a problem that people need to save in order to visit their dream destination.

The debate then evolved towards innovation and digitalization within travel and tourism, mentioning several interesting tools and possibilities to facilitate public transport, nudge people into more sustainable behavior, and introduce sustainable energy for digitalization of the tourism sector. Furthermore, the speakers agreed that tourism should not be considered a separate ‘island’ sector, but rather a part of the bigger picture. This creates opportunities to develop a destination also on other levels than tourism, and with a clear benefit for both residents and tourists. It also invites creative thinking on a political and business level, especially for the cultural dimension of tourism. In conclusion, tourism is a multidisciplinary field, that includes energy, transport, cultural heritage, digitalization, innovation, and much more, and consequently fits into a wider social and economic system.


This event is part of a series of roundtable events on Sustainability and the Future of Europe. In these events, Greener EU and BETA Italia want to bring together politicians, experts, and participants of the public to discuss important topics surrounding the European Green Deal, Next Generation EU, and the Sustainable Future of the European Union. Addressing the potentials of more sustainable tourism, this panel was joined by an international and interdisciplinary panel from politics, economics, and science. From the European Parliament, MEPs Ismail Ertug (S&D) and Dorien Rookmaker (NI), emphasizing the European Year of the Railroad 2021/22. Furthermore, various researchers from Sweden to New Zealand contributed to that debate, namely Prof. Dr. Ing Paul Peeters (Breda University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands), Dr. Marianna Strzelecka (Linnaeus University, Sweden), Dr. Ingrid Molderez (KU Leuven, Belgium), and Dr. Michael Hall (University of Canterbury, New Zealand). Eventually, Dr. Marcella Morandini from the autonomous province of Bolzano shared her practical experience.

Building upon this diverse and rich panel, the conclusion can be found in finding alternatives to flights by promoting more sustainable ways of traveling with a special focus on railroads. This includes quality tourism instead of fast travel tourism, as well as discovering and enjoying local culture and cultural heritage. Promoting traveling by train, Greener EU invites you to become a star of sustainability, following the cultural maps of famous movies shot in Berlin, Venice, and other places.

For more information on these events, please visit our landing page.

For more information and the opportunity to collaborate with us on this or another project, apply here.

Authors: Marisa De Schepper, Stephan Raab


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