Assessing tourism's global environmental impact 1900–2050

S. Gössling, PM Peeters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

380 Citations (Scopus)


This paper pioneers the assessment of tourism's total global resource use, including its fossil fuel consumption, associated CO2 emissions, fresh water, land, and food use. As tourism is a dynamic growth system, characterized by rapidly increasing tourist numbers, understanding its past, current, and future contributions to global resource use is a central requirement for sustainable tourism assessments. The paper introduces the concept of resource use intensities (RUIs), which represent tourism's resource needs per unit of consumption (e.g. energy per guest night). Based on estimates of RUIs, a first assessment of tourism's global resource use and emissions is provided for the period 1900–2050, utilizing the Peeters Global Tourism Transport Model. Results indicate that the current (2010) global tourism system may require c.16,700 PJ of energy, 138 km3 of fresh water, 62,000 km2 of land, and 39.4 Mt of food, also causing emissions of 1.12 Gt CO2. Despite efforts to implement more sustainable forms of tourism, analysis indicates that tourism's overall resource consumption may grow by between 92% (water) and 189% (land use) in the period 2010–2050. To maintain the global tourism system consequently requires rapidly growing resource inputs, while the system is simultaneously becoming increasingly vulnerable to disruptions in resource flows.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)639-659
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Sustainable Tourism
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Energy
  • Food
  • Fresh water
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Land use
  • Scenarios
  • Tourism


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