It was way back in 1972 that the UN held the first conference drawing attention to man’s reliance on the natural environment and promoting the concept of Sustainable Development. Every 10 years, the world’s nations have come together and passed more resolutions, fine words followed by too little action. In 2006 the Stern Report costed the action that needed to be taken and clearly demonstrated that the longer we delayed action the more expensive it would be, and the more disruptive it would be of our economies and way of life. We delayed action and now face two crises widely seen as existential: climate change and the loss of biodiversity.
The Responsible Tourism movement was started at a side event at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, with the first International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Cape Town. The 15th takes place in Helsinki in June this year. The problem with the concept of sustainable development is that it is an aspiration and had to define. Responsible Tourism is about taking responsibility to achieve sustainable development. It can be simply defined as making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit. It is based on the values of respect and transparency, creating meaningful and enjoyable experiences, minimising negative impacts and maximising positive impacts. Any form of tourism can be more responsible. The process is simple. Begin by identifying an issue in the destination, or destinations, where you operate. An issue which you can address through the way you do business or manage a destination, take action and tell customers and suppliers what you are doing and why, and remember to report, and take credit for, what you achieve.
Most issues are local; they may occur in many destinations globally, but not everywhere. Potable water is one such issue. Plastic and greenhouse gas emissions are genuinely global issues. Once plastic gets into salt or freshwater it will join the gyros of plastic waste in our oceans, climate change affects all of us, albeit in different ways, Ras Al Khaimah has had snow this year, in Moscow, with little more than snow flurries, artificial snow had to be brought into the city for New Year. Fossil fuelled travel makes a significant contribution to climate change and tourism is directly affected by fire, storms and flooding.
At ATM this year we have a panel on the opportunity of growing and decarbonising travel and tourism with speakers from Emaar Hospitality, Emirates Airlines and DP World. In 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day to sign the Paris climate agreement into force. Progress at COP 25 was disappointing; there will be very high expectations of progress at COP26 in November 2020. There is a host of things that can be done to reduce emissions, through design, retrofitting, renewables, new technology, demand-side management and operational practices. How can the sector grow travel and tourism in a responsible and low carbon way as an economic diversification strategy, helping to transform economies away from hydrocarbons? The UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and others are developing their tourism industry as they reduce reliance on the oil industry. There has been considerable progress in the region in reducing carbon emissions from accommodation, ground transportation and flights and there are some world-leading examples in the MENA countries.
Feynan Ecolodge, from Jordan, won Gold in the reducing carbon category in the World Responsible Tourism Awards presented at WTM, London last year. They also won the overall award. They will be speaking on the decarbonising panel and at the launch of the ATM Responsible Tourism Awards on Responsible Tourism Day at ATM, on Earth Day, April 22nd. Along with Village Ways from India, they will be talking about what winning awards means to them and why it matters. We shall be announcing the categories for the ATM Responsible Tourism Awards which will open later in the year and be presented for the first time at ATM in 2021.
The Red Sea Development Company is sponsoring the Responsible Tourism Day and they will be keynote speakers on the first panel of the day on Setting New Standards in Sustainable Development. As Saudi Arabia develops new sites for tourism development, there is a rare opportunity to ensure from the outset that they are sustainable and that they will make a significant contribution to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage. The Red Sea Project has developed a smart destination management system that will monitor the environmental impact of their operations, facilitate the management of visitor movement to avoid overtourism and provide high quality, personalised, guest experiences of the local culture and of the Red Sea, mountains and desert.
The development of new destinations in Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea and at Neom, Amaala and Alula creates an opportunity to take responsibility from the outset to create sustainable destinations conserving ecosystems, species and culture and making it accessible to visitors. The 2020 Expo in Dubai has provided a valuable opportunity to showcase some of the leading new sustainable approaches and the Expo has taken its responsibility to showcase the best. Expo 2020 Dubai will be the world’s greatest showcase of human brilliance and achievement in terms of sustainability solutions. 200 pavilions from over 192 countries, corporations, educational establishments and multilateral organisations will be filled to the brim with innovations to advance sustainability, mobility and opportunity; and to foster new connections to create a better future for our planet and humanity. As a mega-event, sustainability is not only a theme that will be showcased by countries, but it is also a testbed for cutting edge solutions. Sustainability is deeply engrained in operations and design, and Expo is also funding sustainability solutions through Expo Live. Expo’s Sustainability Pavilion promises to be a great opportunity to see an integrated approach. Expo has 25 million visitor touchpoints to educate and inspire about sustainable living. If you come along to the panel discussion at ATM you will hear how this can be scaled and replicated globally and understand more about how this has been achieved?
At ATM we have been able to focus on the opportunities created by new initiatives to get it right from the beginning, to take responsibility and to ensure that the new developments are sustainable from the outset. At other WTM Portfolio shows, our focus is primarily on retrofitting. So the final session of Responsible Tourism Day at ATM focusses on the role of new technology in achieving sustainable travel & tourism. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is arriving now. Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum defines it as being “characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.” On the panel, we have three examples of how 4IR developments such as big data, AI, thej internet of things, and the cloud are contributing to making travel and tourism more sustainable? Which smart city solutions are enabling destinations to leapfrog towards more efficient resource use? How does this impact food production and water consumption?
There is a great deal of excellent practice in Responsible Tourism in Arabia and the MENA countries more generally. We hope that the ATM Responsible Tourism Awards will encourage people to come out and talk about what they are doing and the impact that they are having.
Harold Goodwin WTM Portfolio Responsible Tourism Advisor.