Eco-tourism in Germany already began 100 years ago in the Berchtesgaden Alps, on the emerald green waters of Königssee. Many tourists who want to discover the impressive national park landscape around the famous mountain lake in southeast Bavaria board pleasure boats for an environmentally friendly trip across the waters that reflect the mountain peaks of Jenner, Steinernes Meer and Watzmann. The vessels do not have noisy diesel engines or climate-damaging emissions that pollute the atmosphere. The Königsseeschifffahrt fleet of 18 electric boats uses gentle and quiet motors to transport some 500,000 tourists a year across the lake to visit sights like the world-famous Baroque pilgrimage church of St. Bartholomew.
Admittedly, when Prince Regent Luitpold of Bavaria scrapped the old fleet of rowing boats a century ago and decided in favour of ships with electric motors, he was not concerned about protecting the climate. Today, however, the Königssee fleet is an important element when it comes to ecological tourism and ethical mobility in one of Germany’s most popular tourist destinations. After all, the resorts of Berchtesgaden and Bad Reichenhall are strong supporters of sustainable tourism, which they underline through their membership of a prize-winning association.
Enlarge image (© dpa) They belong to Alpine Pearls, the partnership of 21 Alpine municipalities in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland that received the 2008 Ecotrophea international environmental award from the German Travel Association (DRV) for its exemplary commitment to environmental protection and tourism. A central element of the Alpine Pearls’ vacation philosophy is a contribution to nature conservation through sustainable mobility: tourists can travel to their destination by environmentally friendly means (by rail, for example), and get around the resort easily and cheaply with the aid of buses, shared taxis, trains or rented bicycles. Tourists can remain mobile in the Berchtesgaden region without a car because the “Kurkarte,” the card issued to overnight guests paying the local spa tax, entitles holders to travel free on regional trains.
The Alpine Pearls example shows that climate and environmental protection are becoming increasingly important in tourism and, according to the experts, Germany can act as an international role model in this area.
“Germany was one of the pioneers of the debate on sustainable tourism and should also assume this role with regard to climate change and tourism,” says Edgar Kreilkamp, professor of tourism management at Lüneburg University. He has initiated a research project to investigate the links between climate change and sustainable tourism. International tourism is a growth sector that currently accounts for roughly 5% of global emissions of carbon dioxide, the climate-damaging greenhouse gas.
The awareness of and readiness to use environmentally friendly travel is increasing in Germany. This is just one of the findings of WWF Germany in its study on the Tourist Climate Footprint 2009. A survey conducted for the study found that 43 percent of respondents said they intended to select a nearby holiday destination to reduce CO2 emissions in future or had in fact already done so.
Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/dpa) Why not visit Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania instead of Majorca? When you take into account travel, accommodation, food and activities at the tourist destination, Germans who spend a vacation on the Baltic Sea coast leave a climate footprint of 258 kilograms of CO2 per person. That is only a fifth of the greenhouse gas released by a trip to the Balearic island. Although Germans consider this a popular holiday destination, in fact, their number one tourist country is Germany. Some 31 percent of all holiday trips in 2008 took them to resorts in their own country, preferably in the south, in Bavaria, or in the north, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the state with 1,900 kilometres of Baltic Sea coastline, the regional tourism association has developed an original idea to allow tourists to enjoy a carbon-neutral holiday: so-called forest shares. Tourists can support the growth of the first German climate forest with the symbolic purchase of a tree. When you buy a forest share for ten Euro, a tree is planted that offsets the CO2 emissions produced by a four-person family during a two-week holiday. Tourists can also become active at tree plantings where they can plant the donated trees themselves. Some 7,500 forest shares have already been sold for six climate forests with a total area of 7.5 hectares.
A reorientation towards environmentally friendly tourism is also discernible among tour operators and hotels in Germany. A pioneering role has been assumed by the Feldberger Hof in the Black Forest, Germany’s first climate-neutral hotel. Its management is relying on prudent use of energy and water and has gradually equipped the entire hotel with energy-saving devices. The old oil-fired heating system was also replaced by a state-of-the-art combined heat and power unit. The ecological energy balance is extremely positive: 600 to 700 tonnes of CO2 and some 300,000 litres of heating oil can be saved every year.
Deutsche Bahn, the German rail company, has taken another route. Its Destination Nature offer takes passengers to 17 German national parks, bioreserves and nature parks from the Wadden Sea to the Alps. Jointly with large environmental organizations like Nabu and BUND, Deutsche Bahn promotes these protected nature areas by encouraging excursions, cycling and hiking.
The Viabono brand is another good example for sustainable tourism. Founded in 2001 on the initiative of the Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency, it brings together some 350 hotels, vacation apartments, conference centres, camping sites, hostels, restaurants nature parks and tourist resorts in Germany. They are promoting sustainable travel in conjunction with other organizations involved in consumer protection and the environmental and tourism sectors.
Some 140 tour operators, primarily in Germany, but also several based abroad, have joined together to form “forum anders reisen”, an association committed to sustainable forms of tourism. Together with Berlin-based company Atmosfair GmbH, the association enables tourists to offset the climate gases produced during a flight. The money they pay for an atmosfair certificate is invested in renewable energy projects in developing countries.
Similar activities are also carried out by Futouris, a sustainability initiative founded at the beginning of 2009 whose membership includes Germany’s largest travel groups, such as TUI and Thomas Cook. Whether it is the reafforestation of mangroves in Sri Lanka or support for wind energy in Turkey, Futouris is currently supporting 14 projects to promote nature conservation, environmental protection and biological diversity in tourist countries around the globe.
© Deutschland Magazine, By Oliver Sefrin