“It’s not sustainable tourism…just tourism!”

How is the T&T sector responding to the actions required for a sustainable future? Thoughts from our Global Summit 2016

Travel & Tourism continues to be a growth sector. UNWTO forecasts 1.8 billion international arrivals per year by 2030, and WTTC’s economic data is predicting annual growth of 4.2% over the next decade. The question of whether or how this growth can be sustainable continues to be asked, and the need for Travel & Tourism to take responsibility for its impact in a world of shrinking resources was an ongoing theme throughout the Dallas Summit. The prominence of concerns around safety and security poses a risk to the sustainability agenda, as those in charge focus on the immediate challenge of terrorism rather than the long term solutions.

However, speakers at the Summit provided some stark reminders of why sustainability must not be forgotten:

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“We could lose half of all species on the planet in the next 70 years”: Jeremy Rifkin, Advisor to the European Union, President of the Foundation on Economic Trends, told delegates that we are in ‘real time’ climate change that is not a mere academic exercise. He reminded the audience that extreme weather events are already impacting Travel & Tourism across the world, and that the sector through its carbon emissions is a significant contributor to climate change.

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“Three rhinos will be illegally killed tonight in South Africa”: according to Simon Stobbs, from Wilderness Safaris, winner of the Tourism for Tomorrow Environment Award. Through its Botswana Rhino Conservation project, Wilderness is responsible for 1% of the world’s remaining black rhino population. The Honourable Walter Mzembi, Minister of Tourism of Zimbabwe also highlighted the risk of illegal poaching to Africa’s Travel & Tourism - 80% of which is reliant on wildlife, describing it as ‘a different type of security problem’.

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“100 million pounds of plastics go into the oceans every hour,” said aquanaut and filmmaker Fabien Cousteau. Humans depend on oceans for resources, transport, fresh water, medicine, and food — they are ‘an endless resource and a garbage can’.

The annual Tourism for Tomorrow Awards provided an insight into those who are leading the action on sustainability. Innovation Award winner, the Netherlands Travel Trade Association’s Carmacol Carbon Calculator, is one such example, enabling tour operators and customers to reduce their carbon emissions by choosing one destination, mode of transport, hotel or activity over another. Pioneering in its scope and accuracy, the carbon calculator has the potential to empower travel companies to measure the environmental impact of their holidays and inform consumers of their choices.

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Despite the impressive and inspirational stories from the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, there is still much work to be done and there were three clear calls to action for the sector:

  1. Jeremy Rifkin, called on Travel & Tourism to provide a roadmap for the future in the light of climate change.
  2. Erika Karp, CEO of Cornerstone Capital, called on the sector to increase financing for sustainability and urged companies to be transparent through Environmental, Social, and Governance reporting.
  3. Jeffrey Sachs, economist and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, urged Travel & Tourism to engage with and lead on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, where the sector has an important and urgent role to play.

Fabien Cousteau summed up the optimists’ point of view: “I look forward to the day that it is not called sustainable tourism, just tourism”. How the sector responds to these calls to action will determine how near or far that day is.

For an overview of the entire Global Summit, please read our Summit summary: Six ways Travel & Tourism can embrace the future.

For more about the Global Summit in Dallas, please visit our website.

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