As the world marks Earth Day on Tuesday, a think-tank of the biggest names in travel and tourism will evaluate just how far one of the most visible contributors to climate change has begun to make a difference.
The travel industry is on the cusp of change – and tomorrow’s Global Travel and Tourism Summit is where efforts will be spotlighted, analysed and used as templates for future initiatives.
“We are entering a historic moment in modern travel, as sustainable tourism practices are embraced by a growing number of businesses and destinations around the world, which has been driven by consumers’ consciousness,” says Jean-Claude Baumgarten, President of the World Travel and Tourism Council, which is organising the summit.
“The sustainable tourism bar is now being raised by innovative companies who are setting a higher standard for best practice and demonstrating that it can be done. The question is no longer, does sustainable tourism work – we are witnessing that it does – but rather just how far we can take it.”
Sustainability will join infrastructure and human resource problems facing the tourism industry as the key themes addressed at the summit, which runs until Tuesday at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.
Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, it serves to remind people of the industry’s potential in terms of employment, wealth and cultural understanding.
“Rather than formal speeches, the overarching aim is to generate engaging discussions and show collective commitment between government and industry leaders to act as responsible global citizens or World Citizens, which is the theme of this year’s summit,” Baumgarten told Emirates Business.
“The location of this year’s summit is no coincidence and the symbolism of Dubai is an example of government and industry working collectively to embrace the benefits of travel and tourism,” he added.
A new era But this is no sales or marketing conference. The agenda is a rigorous assessment of the impact of travel and tourism on the world.
Over three days of discussion in its signature format – The Round – an action plan for the industry will be set out. Invited participants include the chairs and chief executives of the travel and tourism industry, heads of government, international experts and global media.
“We are at a huge turning point,” says Baumgarten, speaking of the challenges facing the industry today.He points to infrastructure, human resources and the environment as the headline issues.
“There is great concern for many countries, especially governments, that current infrastructure will not be able to cope with the demand or with management of flow. Secondly, an increasing shortage of skilled people is affecting the industry’s ability to grow effectively and a concerted effort between government and industry, embracing education, training and corporate social responsibility, will be addressed at the summit.
“The third challenge is the environment. Travel and tourism recognises it is part of the problem, but it is also committed to be part of the solution and many companies are changing their operations dramatically to meet this concern,” he says, adding that all three issues go hand-in-hand.
“We need better infrastructure to improve the environment; we need the work force to embrace and adapt to environmental concerns and consumers’ needs, and innovation and technology play an important role.”
In the Middle East particularly, he says, governments and the private sector must lay out a long-term vision rather than be lured by short-term gains, so as to create a sustainable and solid travel and tourism economy.
“Having infrastructure in place will help to harness the growth the region is experiencing,” he says, adding that there is a strong need to develop products that will respect the local culture and be sustainable while staying dynamic.
“Like many countries around the world, the Middle East also faces challenges when it comes to sustainability and the environment but it is also showing a commitment as World Citizens; there is also a strong effort led by the government to preserve the cultural identity as culture and nature become greater demand among consumers.
There is also an increasing awareness among travellers who want the vacation of the lifetime, but that helps protect the natural and cultural heritage.”
He says that while it is now generally accepted that the use of carbon should be priced into the use of a product, tourism cannot be made the preserve of the elite by adopting merely fiscal tools, such as taxes or emissions trading, to restrict its use.
Continued growth In its annual forecast for the next decade, put out earlier this year, the WTTC suggested that Middle Eastern travel and tourism will enjoy a healthy and stable growth rate over the next decade.
And while growth is expected to decline from seven per cent at the moment to 3.9 per cent in 2018, Baumgarten says this is nonetheless very impressive. “It is a common practice that later stages of development grow at slower rates; however, this does not mean that things are going poorly,” he says.
“The correlation between GDP per capita and travel and tourism is a long-term established relationship. With a surge in per capita income in the entire region, it is no surprise that the economy is experiencing this impressive growth.
“The level of services and the good value for attracting international visitors is also a driver.” According to WTTC research, export earnings from international visitors and tourism goods are expected to generate 13.3 per cent of total exports ($118.9bn) in 2008, growing in nominal terms to $203.8bn (15 per cent of total) in 2018.
And despite the global economic slowdown, it appears that certain developing regions – the Middle East predominant among them – are “immune”. Around the world, while the economic slowdown is adversely affecting the industry, this effect is often exaggerated, he says.
“Primarily WTTC research suggests we are entering a period of economic slowdown, rather than a full recession. GDP growth rates are low, but they are not negative as they were after 9/11.
“Further, the shortcomings of the global financial sector are being offset by corporate profits as well as the strong performance of emerging economies.
The old saying, ‘When America sneezes Europe catches a cold and the rest of the world dies of pneumonia’, should be re-written to, ‘When America sneezes Europe catches a cold and the rest of the world goes shopping’.”
The council’s global forecast for 2018 demonstrates the industry’s sustained resilience in the face of a slowdown: worldwide, travel and tourism is expected to increase 3.3 per cent in 2008, rising to 4.4 per cent annually, providing 238 million jobs.
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This year’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards are being handed out on the sidelines of the Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Dubai this week.
Awarded by the World Travel and Tourism Council, the awards are given to the world’s leading examples of sustainable practices in tourism.
Responsible tourism management no longer just caters to a niche market but is a catalyst for successful development and improvement of quality of life in many destinations.
Twelve finalists are competing for four awards, namely the Destination Award, Conservation Award, Investor In People Award and Global Tourism Business Award.
A jury of 12 experts, led by the internationally recognised leader in sustainable tourism Costas Christ, will make the final decision.
Sustainable tourism practices are ramping up to a new level, as the tourism industry moves beyond the introduction of basic programmes. More information is available at www.tourismfortomorrow.com
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum
President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports and Chairman and CEO of the Emirates Group
Chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and Tourism and
Development Investment Company
Director General, Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing
Chairman, Dubai World, Nakheel
Executive Chairman, Jumeirah Group
Executive Vice-Chairman, Emirates airline and Group
Minister for Environment Wildlife and Tourism of Botswana
Chairman World Travel and Tourism Council,
Chairman and CEO, Abercrombie and Kent
Minister of Tourism and Environment, Montenegro
Chairman, China National Tourism Administration
Chairman, South Africa Tourism and Group Chief Executive,
Tsogo Sun and Southern Sun Hotels
Chief Executive, Whitbread
President and CEO, Space Adventures
Chairman, President and CEO, Wyndham Worldwide Corp
CBE, Chairman, VisitBritain
Chairman and CEO, Marriott International
Global CEO, Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels
Chief Economist, Deutsche Bank Group and CEO,
Deutsche Bank Research
Travel sector to evaluate its efforts to save environment