Sustainable Tourism, Road Safety and Post-COVID development

Active Travel and Healthy Streets, Georgia, Greece, News

In April 2019 at the Sixth Global Meeting of the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety in Chania, Crete, we launched this ground breaking report on tourists’ perceptions of road safety in Greece based on a survey of almost 1,500 international tourists visiting Athens, Chania, and Thessaloniki in 2018. The work is a collaboration between Make Roads Safe Hellas, the National Technical University of Athens, the University of Macedonia, the University of the Aegean, the Hellenic Open University and EASST to examine the relationship between tourism and road risk.

The study revealed that almost one in five visitors experienced a safety critical incident on the roads during their stay in Greece. Moreover, two in five tourists surveyed admitted to feeling less inclined to follow the traffic code while driving in Greece, and 1 in 8 drivers admitting to drink-driving during their stay. Most shockingly, this number increased to 1 in 5 (20%) for drivers under the age of 25. Road infrastructure and accessibility was another issue, with more than half of all tourists believing that pedestrian infrastructure was unsafe, and particularly unsuitable for people with disabilities.

Tourism in Greece is very important to the local economy but, as the report shows, tourists visiting Greece are more at risk on the roads compared to the local population. In many cases their perceptions of road safety have a negative impact on their overall travel experience.

The report sets out recommendations for enhancing safe and accessible tourism. The recommendations are proposed as a basis for consultation with stakeholders at all levels – including international bodies such as the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, national and local government, tourist agencies, hoteliers, transport providers and tourists themselves taking personal responsibility.

At the end of last year, we initiated a new project to conduct a similar study in Georgia with EASST partner, Partnership for Road Safety. 

Tourism is one of the driving forces behind the Georgian economy and one of the fastest growing industries in the country, accounting for 11.5 per cent GDP in 2019. Georgia’s Tourism Strategy 2025 (launched in 2015) aims to double the number of visitors to the country by 2025. Road crashes are a leading cause of death for tourists in every world region, yet until now road safety has received comparatively little attention from the tourism industry when it comes to advice and mitigating actions.

Unfortunately, data related to road fatalities and serious injuries among tourists in Georgia does not currently exist at either a local or national level. But the general rate of road safety in the country is sharply lower than the indicators of advanced countries. According to official statistics, 481 people were killed and 7921 injured in road crashes in Georgia in 2019.[1] Road fatality and injury rates are particularly high in popular tourist destinations. To ensure sustainable tourism and to protect the safety and security of visitors, as well as local residents, urgent action is needed at all levels.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia set itself the goal of becoming the first country to open its doors to international tourists and welcome travellers with a new image: ‘Georgia – Safe Destination!’

Critical to achieving this will be the improvement of road transport safety and related infrastructure to meet the needs of visitors, especially in tourist-friendly destinations and cities. The development of eco-friendly transport has been recognised as an important way to increase tourism potential, as well as safety, and is now one of the top priorities of the Georgian government.

Partnership for Road Safety have wasted no time in harnessing this momentum, establishing a local Network for Tourists’ Road Safety involving the Georgian National Tourism Administration, Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, Information-Analytical Department of Ministry of Internal Affairs, Roads Department of the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure, Tbilisi City Hall, Georgian Association of Guides, Georgian Association of Young Guides, IRC Holding and other regional centres of tourism and travel companies.

They have appeared on numerous TV and radio shows discussing the importance of road safety for sustainable tourism, and have begun to conduct a survey of international tourists’ perceptions of road safety in the country. The survey will continue throughout the summer, and will be analysed with the context of COVID-19 in mind. The results of the survey are expected to highlight potential needs and future areas of improvement at national and regional level, while simultaneously supporting the development of policy and industry-wide recommendations towards increasing international tourism and road safety in Georgia.

Despite the current situation, tourism is still a priority for Georgia. There is still a need therefore for active and systematic cooperation to reduce road casualties and ensure sustainable tourism development. There is an opportunity now to build back better, and all countries should think about investing in safe and sustainable transport as part of their post-COVID tourism development.

[1] Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia