Environmental-economic impact of tourism sector studied

Just like all other sectors of the economy, the tourism industry exerts pressures on the environment, for example due to the production of waste and the consumption of water and energy. On the basis of research commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) has compiled a list of environmental and economic indicators which are specifically related to the tourism industry.

In the period 2010-2015, the Dutch tourism sector contributed around 3 percent on average to total value added in the Dutch economy and 5 percent to employment. However, tourism also accounts for 7 percent in net domestic energy consumption and 10 percent of total tap water consumption. Aviation is a major factor in energy consumption while recreation and the sector hotels and restaurants play an important part in tap water consumption.
On the other hand, the volume of waste produced in this sector is relatively small and heavy metal emissions into water are relatively low.

Share sector tourism in environmental-economic indicators relative to total economic activities in the Netherlands
Value added3
Water consumption10
Net energy consumption7
Greenhouse gas emissions7
Particulate matter emissions3
Biomass consumption2
Emissions heavy metals
into water
Waste supply1

Tourism accounts for higher greenhouse gas emissions

Per euro of value added, greenhouse gas emissions are relatively high in the tourism sector. Emissions grew by approximately 11 percent over the period 2010-2015. This is mainly related to an increase in aviation activities due to tourism, as the overall number of aircraft movements went up. The growth in greenhouse gas emissions is less significant than the growth of total value added
by the tourism sector over the same period (+21.5 %). There is a relative decoupling of economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions due to tourism. Emission-extensive activities such as travel agency services have grown faster than emission-intensive activities like aviation: obviously, airplanes account for higher emission levels than travel agencies.

Sector tourism: value added and greenhouse gas emissions
 Value added (volume)Greenhouse gas emissions

Waste production due to tourism is limited

The tourism sector covers a great variety of activities, such as hospitality, recreation and aviation. The pressures these activities exert on the environment and their levels of energy consumption also vary considerably. Environmental pressure per unit of value added of an economic activity may be different for each environmental theme. Emissions of nitrogen, phosphorus and heavy metals into water and waste production have a relatively limited impact on the environment compared to the rest of the economy.

Research explanation

In the study, the environmental pressure under each theme as well as tourism-related water and energy consumption are measured using the ‘production approach’. Environmental pressure is linked to the production of tourist goods and services by the private sector and institutions as part of the Dutch economy. These goods and services are consumed by both Dutch and foreign tourists.
(International) tourism is a source of revenue for the Dutch economy. This study contains an assessment of the extent of environmental pressure for each individual theme. There is no quantification of the environmental impact of Dutch tourists in either local or foreign destinations (the ‘consumption approach’).
This means for example that emissions produced by foreign airlines carrying Dutch or foreign tourists, irrespective of their destination, are not covered in this study. On the other hand, the study does include emissions produced by Dutch airlines, irrespective of destination or the nationality of tourists.