What’s the problem?

So what is the problem that needs tackling?

…or maybe, what are the problems, and/or what are the opportiunities that might be missed unless we recognise them and prepare?

This site is mainly focussed on decarbonisation – so we start by diving into that by looking at evidence of the carbon implications of how visitors travel and put this into the context of required scales of reduction to meet the UKs Paris obligations.

Secondly, we turn to the visitors. Who is currently being excluded because of the existing architecture of access, and what needs doing to make rural visitor destinations future-ready for the travel norms of the next generations of visitors? How will they choose to travel, how should destinations prepare for this, and how does this align with decarbonisation? (spoiler alert – it aligns well). Related to this is the existing appetite for travelling differently; is this acknowledged among decision makers and how might it provide confidence to nurture and inform more transformative development?

It is acknowledged that there are a wide range of other issues relating to visitor travel. These include social exclusion, landscape & ecological damage, impacts on liveability etc. These are not tackled explicitly here, but implicitly as co-benefits of decarbonised solutions to transport and access.


The carbon problem of visitor travel

A big slice of carbon emissions of rural visitor destinations is from visitor travel.

The emissions budget for the Lake District is typical for many rural visitor destinations such as national parks: visitor travel accounts for nearly half of the national park’s total GHG emissions, and the emissions of travel to & from the Lake District by visitors far outweighs their travel around.

Consumption-based GHG emissions for the Lake District’s Residents and Visitors (courtesy of Small World Consulting)

Whilst the proportion of emissions related to visitor travel is different for different destinations, it is always a significant proportion of a destination’s total emissions.

Travel emissions as proportions of total carbon budgets for various UK national parks & national landscapes (Analysis by Small World Consulting via National Parks Partnership programme, 2023)


How people intend to travel around a destination influences how they travel to it and vice versa.

This is important to acknowledge – in that the the solution to either of these lies at least partly in tackling the other. To make significant reductions in destination carbon emissions, we need to break this link in ways that:

  • make for great visitor experiences
  • are equitable
  • are good for local businesses
  • contribute to resident community vibrancy


More generally, leisure travel for UK’s residents represents a significant proportion (c. 35%) of total miles driven by individuals in the UK. Whilst there is a trend for total miles driven reducing (known as “peak car“), driving for leisure remains stubbornly high.

Trend of proportion of miles driven for leisure in England (Department for Transport / National Travel Survey)

This is frustrating when evidence suggests that when people are at leisure and out of day-to-day routines, they are far more open to travelling differently; evidence is presented below that there is real appetite for change among visitors. It might be explained by a vacuum of responsibility (for changing how people travel for leisure) as explored in the blog Mind the gap: who owns carbon emissions from visitor travel?

Scale and rate

Obligations under the Paris agreement mean that the UK must reach net zero by 2050, with an interim goal of 68% reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. The Tyndall Centre has translated this to a required reduction in emissions at local authority scale of about 12% per year from 2020. Current trajectories and analysis of policy suggest that these targets will be missed and emissions from the transport sector are stubbornly not reducing, attributed to “Government policies, such as scrapping high-speed rail projects, building more roads and failing to ensure that rail travel is as reliable and affordable as driving

Translating this to the transport sector not only means widespread adoption of zero emission vehicles, but also (i) reducing the need to travel and (ii) changing how we travel. Detailed research (such as by Transport for Quality of Life) has explored how this translates to the UK.

The bottom line is that implementing all interventions together (tech, behaviour change etc) at full scale is required, but even this might no longer keep warming to within the target 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

There is a risk of being overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, and worse – the scale being so large it isn’t really worth starting to consider change. Low Carbon Destinations is all about showing – using examples of real destinations – that low carbon visitor travel makes for better visitor experiences, places & economies, with associated benefits to resident communities, of health & wellbeing, on reduced landscape impact etc… so what’s the reason not to act?

What is in scope?

Carbon accounting makes reference to three scopes

Scopes 1 (direct), 2 (upstream) and 3 (downstream) contributions to carbon emissions (from Greenhouse Gas Protocol)

This provides a useful framework for making sense of transport emissions related to a destination (rather than “reporting company”):

  • scope 1 being (travel around) the destination
  • scope 2 upstream being the journey to the destination.


Low Carbon Destinations focuses mainly on

  • changing how visitors travel, with some emphasis on reducing travel (e.g. via longer/fewer stays and prioritising domenstic marketing over international). It does not focus explicitly on vehicle emissions and a shift to low/zero emission vehicles; it is assumed that this will or should happen across vehicle fleets.
  • carbon reduction, but with deliberate awareness of co-benefits and impacts (visitor experience, prosperity, imapcts on resident communities, impacts on landscapes etc).



Making visitor economies future-ready

Who visits rural destinations and why they visit is changing. Flip this around – who doesn’t visit, who can’t visit and why not? What are the implications of these missing markets on future visitor economies?

Visit England’s 2017 The Future Travel Journey sets out the types of experiences and hence products and services that (near) future travellers will be (increasingly) demanding. Authenticity, connectedness & integration and the rise of solo travel are key trends.

But we need to look into the transport sector to fully understand the likely travel behaviours of the next generations of visitors. All Change? The future of travel demand and the implications for policy and planning (2018) shows – for instance – that people are driving less:

This is especially the case for younger people (the next visitor market generation) as the next chart shows (with thanks to Kiron Chatterjee):

There is a consistent decline in numbers of younger people with driving licenses; a significant part of the evidence is that unlike previous generations, there is a younger adults are tending not to learn to drive as they age.

And “Owning a car is no longer a priority for 18-year-olds, who now prefer car sharing and more sustainable mobility practices” and “Only 10 years ago, cars registered to young people under 29 years of age were 15 percent of the total, today they are 8 percent “ (Vergnani 2019). The relationship between younger adults’ attitudes to car ownership and peak car is explored in Britain has hit peak car as young shun first set of wheels.


So what does this mean for how the next generations of visitors get to and around rural destinations? As their leisure and tourism habits develop, might places that require a car to visit just not figure? What can – and should – rural destinations be doing to make sure that they attract the next generations of visitors – who are generally less hooked on car dependency and where environmental behaviours are far more embedded in their values and decision-making?

Visitors want change

Evidence from a variety of sources is building that indicates that visitors not only accept that how they travel needs to change, but the are wanting change.

  • the fairly extensive enforcement of verge parking coupled with enhahnced access bus services at Pen y Pass (Snowdonia / Yr Wyddfa) was accepted by the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area; there was a deafening silence in response to its implementation in 2020.
  • Research recently undertaken in the Lake District revealed similar appetite across types of people (residents, visitors, younger, older etc) for change as indicated in the graphic.

Public appetite for visitor access and transport in the Lake District (2023): what should be prioritised and what the respondent would prefer for themselves

This is important as a counter to more dogmatic assumptions that people are chained to their own car use.