Can Travel & Tourism save globalisation?

Interview with Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation at Oxford University

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As the debate around globalisation’s benefits and failings continues to rage, we speak to Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development at Oxford University and founding Director of the Oxford Martin School, about the future of a global, interconnected world, and the role of Travel & Tourism within it.

In your book ‘The Age of Discovery’, you mention that in aggregate terms, the human race has never had it so good. Does this mean globalisation has been successful?

Globalisation has worked for the majority for the world’s inhabitants to lift more people out of poverty more quickly than any other process in history. It has improved the health of many people and brought huge opportunities, from technologies, to vaccinations and new cures, to new goods and services and, crucially, jobs.

However, these improvements in global averages are due in large part to what has been achieved in emerging markets in terms of rising incomes, nutrition and so on. There is still a long way to go in two respects. First of all, in emerging markets there are still about a billion people living in dire poverty. In the developed world there are considerable numbers of people whose living standards have declined or who have not managed to escape poverty. For example, the life expectancy of white males in the USA is lower than 30 years ago.

Secondly, there is a growing recognition that growth and improvement comes at increasing cost to the environment — harming biodiversity, stress on natural resources and so on. The more people who have access to energy, the greater the contribution to climate change. The more people who have access to nutrition in the form of meat, the greater the impact on resources.

So if you look beneath the surface, the picture is slightly different. Globalisation has been both the source of opportunity and the risks.

Is there a future for globalisation?

Globalisation has been very powerful, so we need to defend it and improve on it.

Inequality is not the result of too much globalisation but not enough. When things change quickly, as we have seen over the past century, people get left behind quicker. North Korea is the most extreme example of this, but there are also cases of failed states in Africa, and examples where the digital divide is exacerbating the situation. In Europe and the USA, where we are seeing a backlash against globalisation is where change is not happening fast enough. People want to feel the benefits of globalisation and change and not enough people are benefiting.

We now need to focus on the quality of improvement and rebalance our achievements to make them more sustainable, especially for the people who have to climb the energy and nutrition curve.

The tension we are seeing between global systems and national politics is increasing the risk. Governments have more responsibility to make globalisation more flexible, and we need more coordination across governments managing the systemic risks associated with greater connectivity and the spill-overs of success, such as climate change and resource depletion and degradation.

What role does Travel & Tourism play in this future?

Travel & Tourism is absolutely vital across multiple dimensions. It is a connector between countries and helps different nations understand each other, it is a bridge between businesses, allowing people to share technologies and ideas, and it creates a significant proportion of domestic jobs — in many countries 10% or higher. As more and more jobs are threatened by robotics and machine intelligence, Travel & Tourism and other service sector jobs become more significant as a stabiliser of domestic incomes, tax, employment and the derived benefits.

The geographical spread of Travel & Tourism jobs, both across and within countries, is also critical and itself goes to show the benefits of globalisation to communities around the world.

But with it comes responsibility and as in all aspects of globalisation, the sustainability and downside risks have to be managed. A responsible Travel & Tourism sector is part and parcel of responsible globalisation.

The sector needs to demonstrate that it is at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change and address issues such as money laundering, it needs to ensure best practice in employment conditions and pay workers living wages. It needs to ensure that it is the manifestation of globalisation’s positive attributes.

Is Travel & Tourism up to the challenge?

Broadly speaking the sector is taking its responsibility seriously, but it remains vulnerable. We are already seeing how the backlash against globalisation is impacting Travel & Tourism in the way of visa restrictions, the laptop ban and so on. The leading players are sensitive to this and doing the right things, but there is always more that can and should be done. There needs to be a constant focus on sustainability, it is not a box you tick but a process you have to commit to being in the forefront of. Complacency is the enemy of success.

One of the largest challenges facing Travel & Tourism is the sector’s huge diversity, not all companies have the same resources, owners or shareholders. The answer is to look at best practice and narrow the gap between that and the ‘average’, and to ensure that the laggards (both in terms of companies and countries) are improved. Peer pressure, industry norms, standards, regulations and mentoring are all important.

Travel & Tourism has a vital role to play. There is no other sector quite like it in terms of its global reach and local impact. As such it has an enormous responsibility to rise to the challenge.

Ian Goldin will be interviewed during a Meet the Experts session at the Global Summit in Bangkok, Thailand on 26 April 2017. You can watch the livestream of the session on the WTTC homepage or on our livestream page.

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