Speaking this week at a World Routes 2016 Tourism Summit panel session addressing tourism in Chengdu, China, World Travel & Tourism Council, World Travel & Tourism Council president and chief executive David Scowsill said aviation, which accounts for around a third of the industry’s business, has been working hard to cut emissions.
However, he argued other aspects of the industry like hotels are yet to do so and must speed up the process to keep consumers on board.
Scowsill said: “The global travel industry is not struggling but what we have to prepare now for is the future.
“When we look at our industry there are three issues for the next 10 years.”
He said these include ensuring there is proper destination engagement to make sure everyone benefits from tourist activity and disruption, which can be either through natural disasters or terrorist activity.
But he put climate change at the top of the list, adding that aviation is already committing to cutting emissions.
However, Scowsill argued other parts of the business are being slower to meet the changes which could yet cause them to suffer financially.
He cited the example of a hotel chain that could find itself losing valuable MICE contracts unless it has proper environmental policies in place.
Scowsill said: “The UN has declared 2017 is the year of sustainable tourism. Has the world finally woken up?
“Hotels will change with consumer demand. Moving the agenda will be so important. The cruise industry is very focused on this and new builds are very sustainable. There is no hotel global association so we have to drive this forward.
“The year of sustainable tourism will get everyone focused.”
However, Dr Adam Wu, chief executive of CBN Travel & MICE and World Travel Online argued that compared to many other industries, travel and tourism have a relatively light impact on the environment.
In particular he said the process of industrialisation, which China is going through now, has been more harmful for the environment than travel and tourism.
He also argued travel helps build bridges between people and can help break down barriers, so preventing wars which can be far more harmful to the environment.
Wu said: “I look to the Ying and Yang philosophy. You can look at the negatives of tourism but also the positive. We don’t want to stop travelling. I am for sustainability but what is causing major damage is war and industrialisiation.
“We should worry about sustainability, but if tourism is helping to prevent another war we are on the winning side.”
Meanwhile both Tourism Australia managing director John O’Sullivan and Jamaica tourism minister Edmund Bartlett argued most travel businesses instinctively know that protecting the environment is in their own interests.
O’Sullivan said: “Tourism is the one industry that knows how to coexist with environment. Adventure tourism in places like Tazmania… has to coexist with environmental beauty.”
Bartlett added: “We are challenged ourselves. All island states, have to ensure coastal waters are pristine. We are benefitting from exploitation of ‘the blue economy’. The oceans of the Caribbean are basis of our economy. The environment is the product that we market.”