When it comes to sustainable tourism, the commercial aviation sector finds itself on a bit of a tightrope. The industry delivers tourists to destinations which, if managed properly and effectively, changes the lives both of the visitors and those living in resort for the better. Visitors can see stunning scenery and wildlife or simply enjoy the benefits of a clean beach to relax on. Meanwhile, the industry provides both direct and indirect employment for those living in destinations, ensuring they can earn a living in a place that can often provide few opportunities for other gainful employment.
However, we also know that mishandled destinations can cause more problems than they solve. Furthermore, the carbon emissions created by the aviation industry are a pollutant of the planet, which is why concerted efforts are being made to limit the damage done.
This is why this year’s World Routes official charity partner is the Travel Foundation, which helps destinations minimise the negative impact of tourism. Nor is the foundation limited to a passive charitable role. Head of communications Ben Lynam said it will also be curating a series of presentations and other live content for delegates under the theme of “growing the value of tourism”.
While his expertise may be more closely aligned to working with destinations, he believes aviation must take responsibility for its own actions to ensure travel and tourism has a sustainable future.
Lynam says: “From our perspective, we are still focused on the impact that tourism is having on a destination. We do need to think about how we are arriving at the destination and is there a lower carbon alternative that should be taken.”
He is urging airlines to consider a number of measures that would make the sector greener. This includes more point-to-point flights, secondary airports will be pleased to hear, to avoid the increased fuel burn the additional take-off requires.
He adds more effective air traffic control can time an aircraft’s arrival at the airport with minimal waiting time before landing, while getting rid of certain no-fly zones imposed by some countries would lead to more direct and cleaner flights.
Inside the cabin, Lynam believes airlines could do more on the recycling front while the space given to customers flying first class may be luxurious, it is not terribly green. Nor is a half-full aircraft, he adds.
But this does not mean he is singling out aviation, which he recognises is mostly essential in getting holidaymakers to their chosen destination. Instead Lynam adds: “We all need to fly and we all want to fly; it is not about scapegoating aviation. It needs to be a bigger concern for the whole of travel and tourism.”
Nor does he believe airlines should let consumers take the lead on this, as he recognises no matter how well educated they might be about the dangers of not curbing emissions, many still equate using the greenest airlines with paying more.
Lynam adds: “The reality is for a lot of people it comes down to price. People want to minimalise the damage they do and are trying to be conscious consumers but at the same time the real challenge has to happen at the corporate level.”
And Lynam believes this process is already under way. More efficient aircraft not only tick the sustainable box but are cheaper to run, while half-empty flights don’t fill the airlines’ pockets. He agrees the industry is making steps in both these areas with new aircraft design and better seat-selling strategies and believes the introduction of the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation in 2020 will further drive standards.
He is also confident that airlines are recognising the need for the destinations they fly to to be sustainable, too. Lynam says: “You don’t want to invest in routes to areas where there are infrastructure issues or unhappy residents that are not giving a warm welcome to the visitors. You don’t want tourism that is taking resources from the local population or causing any damage that doesn’t make sense from a business perspective. You don’t need to be a tree hugger for that to make sense.”
This is why Lynam will also be using World Routes to speak to as many tourism boards as possible in the hope of building new relationships.
He adds: “It is hopefully a perfect time to have a conversation about what sort of impacts they might have and what they want to achieve from welcoming tourism to their shores. Whether you are investing in a destination or you see yourself as a tourism organisation or not, everyone has a stake in destinations thriving.”
In particular, Lynam argues tourist boards should reflect on the type of customers they are targeting to ensure they have a good mix to benefit those living in resort as much as possible. He says: “Is the type of tourist that you are bringing in going to be interested in staying for a week or two weeks; are they going to be adventurous and go out and about more; or do they want to move around the destination? Are they more used to an all-inclusive package or are they backpackers? You need to have a mix of tourists but what the ultimate mix is is yet to be fully understood.”
Most importantly though, Lynam will be banging the drum for tourism, which he maintains is an important global industry, no matter how difficult negotiating its tightrope might be.
He adds: “Tourism is a massive opportunity and that’s why we are here. What other industry can you think of that involves beautiful landscapes and amazing wildlife in the same way. In addition for many of these amazing places tourism goes to, there aren’t many other options for making money or creating jobs.
“If you just stopped flying, what then? If the tourism sector collapsed would they have alternative opportunities and what would those alternatives be? Tourism at its best can conserve these precious environments that are potentially quite fragile because they are valuable destinations.”
An uneasy balancing act indeed but one worth persevering with for the sake of all our businesses.
The Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is an agreement signed by the 191 member states of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
The agreement will require aircraft operators to purchase offsets for the growth of carbon dioxide emissions covered by the scheme, which will be set at 2020 levels.
During the initial phase of its introduction – from 2021 to 2026 – the scheme will be voluntary before becoming mandatory for all member states in 2027.
Following the signing of the agreement on October 2016, IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said: “The historic significance of this agreement cannot be overestimated.
“CORSIA is the first global scheme covering an entire industrial sector. The CORSIA agreement has turned years of preparation into an effective solution for airlines to manage their carbon footprint.
“Aviation is a catalytic driver of social development and economic prosperity – it is the business of freedom making our world a better place.”
Since its creation in 2003, the Travel Foundation has worked in 25 different countries and is currently operating projects in a number of destinations including Cape Verde, St Lucia and Turkey.
The charity was set up to work in partnership with tourism organisations to improve the impact of tourism on destinations to ensure it not only survives but thrives.
The foundation does this through a combination of research and impact assessment, local product development, environmental protection and introducing sustainable ways of working.
The longer-term impacts of the Travel Foundation’s work include secure, resilient and diverse tourism employment, better environmental management and the creation of thriving destinations that tourists will want to return to.
Steven Small, brand director of Routes, says: “We are really proud to be working with the Travel Foundation, particularly during the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
“This partnership reflects UBM’s commitment to sustainability. It highlights the increasing demand from our delegates for discourse around the future impact of tourism and the role aviation plays when developing and investing in destinations.”
Travel Foundation CEO Salli Felton adds: “This is an exciting new opportunity for us to engage with senior decision-makers at a time when they are growing or changing the nature of tourism, and planning for the future.
“Our programme of live content will explore how to manage the impact of these changes for the benefit of businesses, the economy, communities and the environment.”