Time for Travel & Tourism leaders to stand up and be counted

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David Cameron speaking to the Global Summit delegates in Bangkok, Thailand 26 April 2017

‘Transforming our World’ was the theme of WTTC’s Global Summit last month in Bangkok. Taking as its reference point the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030, the Summit set out to find out what it will take for Travel & Tourism to actively engage in and maximise its contribution to sustainable development.

One clear message emerging from the discussions was that for transformation to occur, Travel & Tourism leaders need to stand up and be counted, and should take personal responsibility for making the world a better place.

WTTC President & CEO, David Scowsill, opened the Summit with a stark call to action, “Is it too much to ask that Travel & Tourism leads the way?” He called on delegates, be they CEOs, Ministers, or global thinkers to make a simple pledge to travel differently, to be aware of their impact, and to demand a more sustainable product. As leaders and as individuals, not as businesses, departments, or organisations. In other words, leadership by personal example.

Former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, explained that government change does not happen automatically, it is only when leaders get personally involved — such as he did with the Britain is GREAT campaign — that important areas can progress when they need to.

Keith Tuffley, CEO of the B-Team, highlighted the need for CEOs to stand up to the short term, profit-focused interests of investors and shareholders and push for a more longterm perspective.

Summit host, Her Excellency Mrs. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Minister of Tourism and Sports of Thailand, concluded the Summit with perhaps the most powerful expression of this theme, calling on her belief in people who have passion and do their best. Making the world a better place is not something that happens overnight. It is a daily — and personal — responsibility.

And Travel & Tourism leaders have a very particular responsibility. The sector was widely recognised as one of enormous importance and opportunity as the world strives to meet the UN’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, reminded delegates of the words of new UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, “The world can and must harness the power of tourism” and added that “the right to travel, right to enjoy the world, to do business, to cross borders … has now become a human right.” Expectations of the sector are high, and these words were reinforced by both the Thai Prime Minister and David Cameron.

Throughout the two days, industry leaders set out their vision for individual Sustainable Development Goals, how their companies and Travel & Tourism in general can play a role in achieving them.

Such change can be started in small steps, but it takes someone to take that first step. Gary Chapman, President Group Services & DNATA, Emirates, gave the example of leading with his executive team in a switch to hybrid cars. Philippe Gombert, President International and Chairman of the Board, Relais & Châteaux, pointed out that leadership can come from more non-traditional leaders as well. Working with top chefs, for example, allows them to use their menu choices and reputations to influence consumer choices, such as stopping the consumption of endangered species.

The clear message was that leaders themselves cannot be complacent about their own role in reaching the goals that are needed for a sustainable future. As Desirée Bollier, Chair of Value Retail put it most succinctly, ‘we can be as optimistic as the leadership we choose to have.’

It is time for Travel & Tourism leaders to stand up and be counted.

For a general summary of the Global Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, read this: Is It Too Much To Ask? Five Things Travel & Tourism Needs to Do to Secure Its Future

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