Travelling hopefully

OUR PLANET 10.1 - Tourism

Travelling hopefully


says that travel and tourism are changing in response to Agenda 21

Travel and tourism provided an insignificant element at the Rio Earth Summit. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) was one of only two travel industry organizations present, and the subject was only raised peripherally. What Agenda 21 said, however, was very perceptive - that this industry has a significant potential to contribute constructively to sustainable development around the world.

Our millennium vision is to realize that potential and to create wealth, jobs and social advancement in every country on Earth. Each country - even the poorest - has some unique comparative advantage in its cultural, historical or natural heritage, which is of interest to the immense, growing body of travellers.

In one sense it is not surprising that our sector was peripheral at Rio. As an industry, we only came of age in the last quarter of the 20th century, as borders opened, disposable income increased, technology made travel a mass phenomenon, people began to consider travel as normal rather than as a luxury and countries began to see its economic advantages. We were not an evident problem child - neither a smokestack nor an extractive industry - and there were bigger industrial issues to address. Moreover, the size of the economic phenomenon of tourism has traditionally been disguised by a perception that airlines, hotels, restaurants and the like are separate supply-side activities rather than collective components in the delivery of the massive, growing consumer demand for travel for both commerce and pleasure.

That perspective no longer prevails. In the past decade travel and tourism has gained recognition as the world's largest service sector activity. The demand for travel drives, directly and indirectly, more than 10 per cent of global GDP, jobs, capital investment, exports and tax revenues: the proportion is closer to 30 per cent in regions like the Caribbean that are particularly dependent on tourism. This demand is growing faster than the economy as a whole and is forecast to double every 10 to 15 years. The futurist John Naisbitt has identified travel and tourism as one of the three great drivers of the global 21st century service sector economy - along with telecommunications and information technology - and Bill Gates says that Microsoft considers it, healthcare and education to be its three primary growth targets.

So there is little dispute that travel and tourism is already playing a very significant role in the economic dimension of sustainability, and can play an even bigger one. It is increasingly understood that the influence of the demand for travel extends far beyond traditional tourism companies, into such upstream suppliers as aircraft builders or food producers and into such downstream servicers of travellers as retail shops.

boy with cans on beach

Catalyst for sustainability

There is also an increasing recognition by governments, industry and consumers that travel and tourism can also become the catalyst for ecological and social sustainability - as the framers of Agenda 21 foresaw. This applies to emerging markets just as it does to industrialized nations.

This is not to gloss over the evident impacts of an industry which moves millions of people every day, which houses, feeds and entertains them (and does so increasingly in places which have unique sensitive ecosystems), whose constructions change scenery and whose activities affect indigenous populations and local communities.

These impacts must be addressed. Much can be done through design, planning and wise use. We need to assess impacts, carry out environmental audits, manage capacity, optimize resources, invest in new technologies and educate suppliers, staff and customers. We need to recognize the stakes and the interests and responsibilities of the stakeholders - governments, industry and the public: this last category, of course, includes the travellers themselves and the people who live in the places they visit.

Major opportunities

The stakes are high. Travel and tourism creates jobs more readily than most sectors, a point of prime importance to industrialized states facing high unemployment. Rural tourism is one of the few evident substitutes in declining agricultural regions in many parts of the world: ecotourism offers the potential for development to small villages in Central America, India and Africa, and cultural tourism can sustain local crafts in emerging economies with little industrial base.

The common challenges we all share are to:

- Migrate from a culture of conspicuous consumption to one of wise growth.

- Balance economic and ecological impacts.

- Find common ground between the interests of visitors and the visited.

- Spread the benefits across society - particularly to the poorest and the disadvantaged.

Travel companies and their representative bodies have moved considerably to respond to the Rio imperatives over the last decade. Major initiatives have been undertaken by transport operators to control emissions and noise, by hoteliers to improve design or to reduce energy and water use, by travel agents to cut back on paper and by cruise operators to contain waste.

Organizations like the International Hotel & Restaurant Association, the International Hotels Environment Initiative, the Caribbean Hotel Association and the Pacific Asia Travel Association are all contributing to an acceleration of global, regional and national action. So are regional government bodies like the Caribbean Tourism Organization and governments themselves - as is epitomized by the new United Kingdom tourism strategy.

In WTTC we have set in place a multidimensional strategy to promote a culture of sustainable development and a dynamic structure to achieve it.

crowded beach

Initiatives under way

Firstly, in an effort to give global leadership, we have joined, as partners, with the World Tourism Organization, our public sector equivalent, and the Earth Council representing environmental interests, to translate Agenda 21 for the travel and tourism sector. This identifies ten priorities for industry and nine for governments (see box below).

The document was circulated extensively to industry, governments and non-governmental organizations in 1996 and has been the subject of a series of regional seminars over the past two years (Europe and Asia in 1997, Africa and the Caribbean in 1998). The seminars, which will continue, consider how to implement the strategy and identify additional points that are relevant to each region.

Recently, we introduced a major addition to the programme - the Alliance for Sustainable Tourism - to try to increase transparency of action and good practice. This invites all public and private sector travel and tourism organizations to record their activities based on Agenda 21 on a central website and to commit themselves to cooperate with all other partners. This is supported by WTTC's Internet-based information system ECONETT, which has been developed with support from the European Union. We are in the process of developing arrangements with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives to factor this work into local Agenda 21 initiatives so as to take this programme from global principles to community-based action.

Secondly, WTTC initiated an industry improvement programme, based on Agenda 21, in 1994, so as to underline the critical importance of moving from principle to practice. Green Globe started as an environmental management programme for travel companies, rapidly evolved into a Destination Management Programme, and then took one step further to incorporate certification, based on both ISO and Agenda 21 practices.

There are now 500 Green Globe members in some 100 countries dedicated to improving environmental practice. The first certification for hotels has just been completed: standards are being developed for other sectors of the industry. There are also some 20 programmes under development in tourist destinations around the world, with collaboration between the public and private sectors at their core.

Emphasis on education

Finally we are increasing attention on education and training. Educational cartoons telling children - and their parents - the importance of environmentally friendly behaviour on holiday will be shown in schools, on in-flight video screens, cruise videos and hotel television. They are based on a cartoon character, the dodo, which became extinct as a result of an environmental disaster in previous centuries - and will also target travel industry staff and suppliers.

In WTTC, we are firmly convinced that the only future for travel and tourism is one which has sustainable development at the core of corporate planning and action. Like all serious change, it will take time to work its way through the global system, but there can be no doubting its direction or that its scale, scope and pace will accelerate.

When the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development turns its attention to tourism this year it will not simply focus on the action of the major corporations. It will also reflect the initiatives and aspirations of the myriad of small and medium players that make up the bulk of the industry, and those of the travellers and the communities they visit. It will also address the interests of all countries that see travel and tourism as one of their priority development sectors.

We hope that this process will focus on the positive, rather than the negative, and will accentuate the good initiatives that have occurred since the Earth Summit, identify the gaps that remain as challenges, and support constructive collaborative actions to accelerate change. We are committed to playing our part in this.

Geoffrey Lipman is President of The World Travel & Tourism Council, United Kingdom.


For travel and tourism organizations

- Waste minimization, re-use, recycling.

- Energy efficiency, conservation, management.

- Management of freshwater resources.

- Wastewater management.

- Hazardous substances.

- Transport.

- Land-use planning and management.

- Involving staff, customers, communities in environmental issues.

- Design for sustainability.

- Partnerships for sustainable development.

For governments

- Assessing the regulatory framework.

- Considering the economic, social and ecological implications.

- Education, training and public awareness.

- Planning for sustainable tourism.

- Exchanging skills between developed and developing states.

- Including all sectors of society.

- Design of new products.

- Measuring progress at local level.

- Partnerships.

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