Towards sustainable tourism
By Spyros Skiadopoulos
Undoubtedly, tourism is Greece's biggest industry, with Corfu, Paxos, and the Ionian Islands among the most popular tourist areas in the country, attracting millions of visitors during the summer months.
In 2022, 27.8 million tourists visited Greece. Crete, Rhodes, and Corfu welcomed almost 6.5 million international air arrivals out of a total of 21.4 million. Corfu, on average, receives at least 2 million visitors each tourist season, with more than 30 flights daily during peak periods and multiple entries and exits of ships and private boats.
Tourism has a positive impact on the economy of the local community, but it also has significant environmental consequences. The production of pollution and waste from transportation, tourism, health, and commercial activities increases during the tourist season, while polluting emissions from transportation and facilities are also high.
Airplanes emit various pollutants into the atmosphere (e.g. carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur gases) and particles (e.g. fuels, metals, sand). According to the European Environment Agency, a medium-sized airplane can produce large amounts of atmospheric pollution within a radius of approximately 16 kilometers around the airport where it lands, emitting about 53 kg of CO2 per passenger for a 1,000 km flight.
According to a research conducted in Greece by the research team of the "Mediterranean Tourism: Exploring the Future of the Mediterranean Basin" programme in seven seaside resorts in Greece in 2008, the average tourist in Europe produces about 1 kg of waste per day, including recyclable and non-recyclable materials (packaging, plastic bottles, etc.).
Similar research in Southern California (Journal of Travel Research 2015) and Mallorca (Waste Management & Research 2008) concludes in similar numbers of approximately 1.2-2 kg of waste per day. However, this number may vary depending on the destination and type of tourism.
All of the above factors negatively affect the environment of the tourist area and can cause problems such as pollution, excessive consumption of resources, and permanent damage to biodiversity. This is not unknown.
A known report by the European Parliament Committee already highlights that the Ionian Islands are at risk of suffering directly from the consequences of overtourism and are on the amber to red level. (https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2018/629184/IPOL_STU(2018)629184_EN.pdf).
Overall, environmental protection in Corfu is important to ensure the health of residents and the sustainability of tourism. By taking specific measures and involving all parties involved, organisations and individuals, we can ensure that the tourism industry operates sustainably and remains balanced with the environment and residents.
To calculate the environmental footprint of tourism in Corfu, we need to consider energy and water consumption, waste production, greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss. The preparation of environmental impact reports with the participation of relevant authorities, individuals, and residents will help to form a comprehensive picture of the island's environmental condition and to take corresponding measures.
Education and information for tourists are equally important. Tourists can learn about the environmental impacts of their travels and learn best practices for waste reduction, energy and water conservation, as well as the preservation of natural landscapes and biodiversity.
Authorities can provide incentives and guidance to tourism businesses to adopt more sustainable practices for managing pollution and waste and promote sustainable products and services for tourists.
On an overall level, the tourism industry has significant environmental impacts on Corfu and other similar tourist destinations. Climate change is not as far away as we pretend it is. The European Union and individual countries have already made plans to reduce pollution. It is important to recognise these impacts and take specific measures to protect the environment.
Only by acknowledging and addressing the problem can we preserve the natural world and ensure sustainable tourism development that respects the environment and people. Responsibility for environmental protection is a human duty, and it is important to realise that our behaviour is not futile and greatly affects the environment in which we live.