ESPON Peer Learning Workshop: Greening Tourism: Reimagining the Tourism Sector in Ireland


Online, registration link below

20 April 2021

Tourism is a leading and ever-growing economic sector outpacing the global economy with a 4% increase each year, according to the UNWTO Tourism Barometer 20191. Europe is the destination of choice for 51% of the world market with its rich cultural heritage and favourable socio-political environment. This trend was dramatically halted in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic2, with the whole tourism ecosystem being negatively impacted. The recovery perspective, largely driven by so-called proximity tourism, is expected to dominate summer 2021, with growing demand for open-air and nature-based tourism activities. Indeed, as detailed in the UNWTO Panel of Experts survey, most experts do not to see a return to pre-pandemic levels of international tourism happening before 20233.

In the current pandemic situation, while the impact on tourism and cultural sectors has largely been very adverse, some interesting questions arise out of a potential shift from international to domestic tourism. Before the COVID-19 global pandemic, the ‘over tourism’ phenomenon in some parts of the world – particularly in some World Heritage Sites – was becoming problematic. The reduction in pollution levels related to the decline in international travel, mobility of tourists and blockage of activities has certainly stemmed the degradation of the built environment and reduced the anthropic impact on the most sensitive sites. Now, as populations and policymakers attempt to simultaneously prop up public health and the economy, the challenge for tourism operators and hospitality providers will be to remain solvent during a crisis that restricts the movement of people.

This ESPON Peer Learning Workshop ‘Greening Tourism: Reimagining the Tourism Sector in Ireland as it Survives to Thrive’ will focus on the ongoing Irish debate about building new sustainable tourism strategy.

The objective is to show and discuss how ESPON knowledge can both inform and inspire the development of national policy instruments and to consider how national and regional stakeholders can make (better) use of trans-European knowledge and case studies from other countries.

Policymakers, regional stakeholders, and researchers will share their experiences and discuss selected issues related to Ireland’s emerging tourism strategy and the role of planning in enabling sustainable tourism practices and activities.

Some questions that will be discussed during the PLW include:

  • How can European cities and regions relaunch and implement sustainable tourism? How can the sector make full use of the geographical diversity economies, green innovation opportunities, and the need to move towards green new deal initiatives?
  • How should regions and cities cooperate to ensure cross-border policy coordination in tourism develop­ment and marketing, and adopt effective territorial governance models at wider geographic scales?
  • How can the sector reinforce sustainable tourism in multiple urban dimensions, with contradictory goals and planning complexities at urban and regional scales?
  • Who needs to be involved in the development and rollout of a sustainable tourism strategy for Ireland in post-COVID times?


The ESPON territorial evidence gathered in previous studies will serve as background and will nurture the discussions around these three questions.

The workshop addresses policymakers and key strategic stakeholders responsible for national and regional development strategies in Ireland and in European regions particularly affected by the pandemic in the tourism sector. Invitations are also extended to researchers and stakeholders that were involved in ESPON projects to reflect on how to better make use of, and bridge territorial evidence into, national and regional practice.

1 UNWTO (2019). UNWTO World Tourism Barometer and Statistical Annex, 17(2). Available at: [Access date: 20/08/2020]

2 By regions, Asia and the Pacific, the first region to suffer the impact of the pandemic, saw a 84% decrease in arrivals in 2020. The Middle East and Africa both recorded a 75% drop in arrivals. In Europe arrivals declined by 70% while the Americas saw a drop of 69%. UNWTO (2021). UNWTO World Tourism Barometer and Statistical Annex, 19(1). Info available at: [Access date: 11/03/2021]

3 In fact, while 43% of respondents point to 2023, 41% expect a return to 2019 levels in 2024 or later.


Other relevant events

Landscape heritage and sustainable tourism in the post-COVID period Peer Learning Workshop

Online Roundtable: Migration

Online Roundtable: Climate change adaptation

Refugees integration in Sweden virtual peer-learning workshop

ESPON Peer Learning Workshop - The Future of Cruise Tourism in the Adriatic Sea

ESPON Peer Learning Workshop - ESPON and the Territorial Agenda inspiring the ÖREK-2030 process in Austria

ESPON Conference - Tourism and Cultural Heritage for regional development

ESPON SDG benchmarking tool online workshop

ESPON Peer Learning Workshop: The Role of Marine Spatial Planning in reducing Marine Pollution in the Black Sea