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How does the health crisis encourage sustainable tourism?

While the world is facing an unprecedented health emergency, tourism is among the sectors most affected. Beyond the economic and social impacts generated by this crisis, new modes of consumption are developing with a more local and experiential tourism.

How does the health crisis encourage sustainable tourism?

Beyond the economic and social impacts generated by this crisis, new modes of consumption are developing with a more local and experiential tourism. However, this trend, which follows an unprecedented situation, is created under duress. To what extent can territories seize this unprecedented trend of sustainable tourism and ensure its development and sustainability?

The health crisis: revealing the environmental impact of tourism

In France, the pandemic has led to a loss of more than 60 billion euros in tourism-related revenue in 2020. Only in Île-de-France, a historic drop in attendance was recorded with a drop of more than 33 million tourists compared to 2019.

While the economic impacts have been largely quantified, the positive environmental impacts associated with the slowdown in tourism, a sector responsible for 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, remain difficult to assess.

It is true that the health crisis has led to a 20 to 30% improvement in air quality in the Paris region, and we have seen several regains in biodiversity in places where water and soil pollution has declined following the cessation of our activities. But above all, this shows the direct impact we have on biodiversity, and how unbalanced the balance of power is. 

In the Mediterranean Sea, 52% of litter would be linked to beach tourism according to a report by the WWF association published in 2019. In addition, 80% of plastic waste in the ocean is transported there by rivers. Indeed, the Rhone is the main river responsible for marine pollution in the Mediterranean.

In addition, approximately 100 to 200 tons of plastic waste are transported in the Seine every year according to the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

More responsible tourism on the move in 2021: voluntary or forced?

More and more French people are choosing alternative tourism, also called slow tourism, as opposed to mass tourism. This movement, centered around the quality of the experience, immersion in the destination as well as environmental preservation, attracts certain territories that see this trend as a way to highlight their assets. In 2018, 55% of French people believe that it is the responsibility of tourism professionals to help protect the heritage of local cultures. 

Thus, several aspects of tourism are being disrupted by the slow tourism trend: 

  • The way of travelling: with the development of phenomena such as the Flygskam, travellers are turning more and more to soft mobility such as the train, the bicycle or carpooling
  • The relocation of tourist destinations: for the past two years, a "relocation of tourism" has been observed, particularly in regional capitals, as noted by the KPMG firm. The French are increasingly favoring the experience over the exotic. The startup Staycation has succeeded in transforming overnight stays into real local experiences to escape for a weekend close to your city(Forbes, 2021)
  • Ultra proximity as a new mode of consumption: we are also seeing the concept of micro-adventure develop, with notably the platform Chilowé, created in 2017, which offers, for example, self-sufficiency weekends in the Gâtinais Natural Park, mountain biking and bivouacking in the Yvelines, or canoeing and hiking in the Vexin Natural Park. The Enlarge Your Paris website also lists many micro-adventures and "archival" routes to do around Paris.

These trends have been accentuated by the health crisis under the constraints of travel limits. Once these constraints are over, will these trends continue or even be reinforced?

A sustainable mode of transport to visit Mont Saint-Michel

The 4 levers of the territories to perpetuate and deploy sustainable tourism

Thanks to their knowledge of local economic actors and characteristics, public actors have a key role to play as catalysts for the establishment of an ecosystem favorable to the perpetuation and development of sustainable tourism. Four main levers of action are available to them. 

First lever

Legislating for sustainable tourism:

According to Camille Simon, co-founder ofEcocircular, "legislation and certifications are among the main drivers for the transition of hotels or restaurants to a more sustainable economy. "National legislation is an essential lever to push economic actors to commit to the ecological transition. Local authorities also have a role to play in the implementation of these new measures. For example, the territories of the Paris region are now taking into account circular economy issues in their economic development strategy

Second lever

Highlighting local initiatives:

In addition to promoting certain responsible tourism initiatives to travelers, public authorities can support and federate local actors in the sector in their conversion towards more sustainable models. Thus, initiatives such as We Go Green'R, incubated at the Welcome City Lab, or Ecotable are developing and allow more and more tourists to make informed choices.

Third lever

Training economic actors in sustainability:

In collaboration with the MTE, Betterfly Tourisme has chosen to train through certification by developing an environmental label delivered with awareness training on the environmental impact of the tourism sector.

Fourth lever

Allocate funds for the deployment of a sustainable value chain for tourism:

As shown by the 50M€ Sustainable Tourism Fund launched by the government through the France Relance plan, the ecological transition is not possible without significant financial support to help economic actors invest in training, infrastructure or sustainable certifications. This plan aims to facilitate access to an environmental diagnosis and the design of an action plan for restaurateurs and hosts. 


While the health crisis has brought about unprecedented socio-economic transformations, it has also led to an increased awareness of the environmental and societal issues related to our consumption patterns. At a time when the tourism sector is beginning a gradual recovery, this crisis will have allowed professionals in the sector to take a step back for a more sustainable post-Covid tourism. This transition will be done in a systemic way, by getting closer to the actors of the territory in order to reach the objectives of proximity expected by the consumers. Thanks to their knowledge of the territorial network, local specificities, and their close link with the government, local authorities have a key role to play in catalyzing this transition and ensuring that the 2020s mark the beginning of a sustainable tourism accessible to all.

References to go further

Reports, studies and surveys :

Report "Stop the plastic torrent", WWF (2019

"National strategies for tourism and climate", Ministry of Ecological Transition (2010

Survey - "9 predictions about the future of travel", (2020) 

"The tourism function of territories: pressure factor or environmental preservation?", MTE (2017) 

Survey - "French people's opinion on the responsibility of professionals on eco-tourism 2018", Statista (2018)

Study on "The French hotel industry in 2020", KPMG (2020

"The challenges of the circular economy: the territories of Ile-de-France are committed", DRIEAT (2021)

Help from ADEME - "Fonds Tourisme Durable - restaurateurs et hébergeurs, accélerrez votre transition écologique", ADEME (2021)

"Recommendations for the tourism sector to continue taking action on plastic pollution during COVID-19 recovery", Global Tourism Plastics Initiative (2020


Articles :

Tourism: an unprecedented crisis, Vie Publique (2021) 

Air pollution and COVID-19 : Focus Santé de l'ORS d'Île-de-France, Airparif (2020) 

Containment: a revival of biodiversity in the Calanques Park, GOMET (2020

Plastic waste that pollutes our rivers, Statista (2021)


The Seine, a waste trap and plastic fragmenting "factory", LEESU (2021

The Flygskam phenomenon, Novethic (2020)

The "micro-adventure": the rising trend, L'Obs (2020) 

Structures and initiatives cited :

Staycation, the start-up that designs the hotel industry of tomorrow

Chilowé, reference platform for microadventures

The map of microadventure in Greater Paris, by Enlarge Your City

Archival routes to explore the landscapes and heritage of Grand-Paris

Ecocircular, an association that went on a European tour to meet sustainable hotel innovations 

Welcome City Lab, incubator dedicated to the tourism sector created by Paris&Co