Welcome to the green holidays of the future

A new report shows that exotic travel produces far more carbon than spending a fortnight in Spain.

Giant airships, man-made mobile islands and intelligent hotel rooms will redefine the way millions of Britons holiday in the future, according to a new report released tomorrow.

Sustainability will have to be a "genuine and integral part of every holiday by 2030", according to researchers at the Future Laboratory, a trend-forecasting consultancy. In their report, Sustainable Holiday Futures, they claim that mass-market tourism, "rather than exclusive resorts for the few, will hold the key to sustainable travel".

British travellers will agree to pay for the water they use on holiday, the report says, which suggests they should opt for mainstream resorts over exotic eco-destinations. In what it calls "the Benidorm effect", relatively affluent travellers will increasingly come to accept that a two-week family holiday to Spain is greener than an "eco-trip" to an exotic destination, producing about 2.2 tons of carbon compared to 11.9 tons for a fortnight's sailing trip in the Caribbean or 15.8 tons for a hiking holiday in Chile.

Among the more fanciful notions in the report, commissioned by a large British holiday firm, is the idea of artificial islands that produce their own food and water: "By 2030, zero-impact travel involving floating islands that leave no environmental trace will be what the public demands."

Closer to reality, the report details how hotel rooms will become shrines to energy efficiency, with intelligent "climate control" to reduce air conditioning and heating by detecting the optimum temperature. Low-energy lighting will be powered by wind turbines and solar panels, and bathrooms will include a Waterpebble – a small device in the shower that glows red when too much water is used. Water used in the sink and shower will be recycled to flush the toilet.

Tony Juniper, the former head of Friends of the Earth, said: "I welcome the extent to which a mainstream tour operator is taking sustainability seriously. At the moment a lot of green tourism is far too niche market, and to reduce emissions and other environmental impacts on the scale that is needed we need the mainstream to embrace sustainable tourism."

Professor Rhodri Thomas, of the Institute for Travel and Tourism, said: "Businesses are beginning to come up with more creative strategies than simply 'greenwashing' everything. Fundamental change is on the way, and the more innovative operators are on to that."

A new approach is needed, said Jane Ashton, the head of sustainable development at Thomson Holidays: "We need to create a new 'tourist etiquette' where people act as sustainably on holiday as they do at home."

There are signs this is happening already, with 74 per cent of holidaymakers committed to acting more sustainably when they are away. Nearly a third monitor their water and energy usage when on holiday, according to a survey of more than 1,000 people conducted for the report.

But the report brushes over the impact of tourism on local people, said Rachel Noble, from Tourism Concern. "It is ultimately premised on the right of people to travel, which is all well and good, but this has to be balanced with the rights of communities living in tourist destinations."

And Joshua Steiner, from Action for Sustainable Living, said: "We would urge considering an even less carbon-intensive way of holidaying: staying within the UK or even a 'staycation' at home."