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At midday on Wednesday, 9 November 2011, I will be interviewed by BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sackur at the World Travel Market as part of World Responsible Tourism Day.
To mark the event, my publisher is offering a special deal on my book The Final Call.
Anyone attending can purchase the book for the discounted price of £6, which includes free UK p&p. To order, please call 01206 255 800 and quote “WTM2011″.
A blog written for Comment is Free about Ed Miliband’s comments about how he will not act to curb aviation emissions because he doesn’t “want to have a situation where only rich people can afford to fly”…
Very interesting – and telling – words this week from Ed Miliband regarding the so-called “right to fly”. The climate change and energy secretary told the Guardian that he didn’t “want to have a situation where only rich people can afford to fly”, and would therefore not be seeking to include aviation within the government’s broad commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050.
“Where I disagree with other people on aviation is if you did 80% cuts across the board, as some people have called for on aviation, you would go back to 1974 levels of flying,” he said. Miliband picked out the airport within his own constituency, Doncaster Sheffield, as an example. “People in my constituency have benefited from being able to have foreign travel which, 40 years ago, the middle classes took for granted,” he said. “There are sacrifices and changes in lifestyle necessary. But the job of government is to facilitate them and understand people’s lives and what they value.”
What Miliband seems to be saying is that flying is now so important to people’s lives in the UK that it deserves to be treated as a special case. It should be largely immune to the tough targets and systematic transition that all other sectors are going to have to experience if exacting carbon reductions are ever to be achieved. So rather than have fair, across-the-board cuts, Miliband is firing the starter gun for every sector to throw up its hands and say that it too deserves special exemption. To take this to its logical conclusion, someone is going to have to make the decision about who deserves such favouritism.
If aviation is going to be allowed to grow and emit without restrictions, another sector is going to have to make up the shortfall. If we really love flying so much, who do we want this to be? The NHS? Universities? Local authorities? If we really want to start prioritising our most valued services and facilities in this manner, then we need to urgently have that discussion.
But I’m not comfortable whenever the class issue is thrown into the ring to support the aviation lobby’s argument. Miliband is the latest person to fall for this old chestnut. It has been a debating tool for years, but it never stands up to scrutiny.
Let’s look at Doncaster Sheffield airport, as Miliband is asking – even if it isn’t wholly representative. It accounted for less than half of 1% of the total number of UK passengers passing through our airports in 2007, according to the latest Civil Aviation Authority figures, but it does have the highest percentage – 94% – of so-called “leisure” travellers of all the UK airports. These are the types of passengers that come in for the most criticism when people are talking about the growth in discretionary flying over the past decade or so. (This category includes “visiting friends and relatives” – so-called VFRs – which is arguably the least discretionary of all the reasons to fly, but that often gets drowned out in this debate.)
What “class” are these passengers? And has there been a significant shift in their demographic profile over the years? ABC1-type analysis seems to largely ignored or viewed as inherently flawed these days, so let’s look at something most people understand – income. Civil Aviation Authority figures (pdf) for 2007/2008 say that the mean household income of leisure passengers using Doncaster Sheffield airport was £41,016. This compares to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, which state that the average UK household income in 2006/07 was £30,000. The mismatch doesn’t exactly lead you to shout “working class all aboard” – and this is for an airport you would consider to support Miliband’s argument given its higher-than-average volume of so-called “cheap flights”.
When the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University looked at the “socio-demographic characteristics of [UK] air passengers” in its 2006 report Predict and Provide (p29, pdf), it concluded that the “available evidence suggests that flying is largely undertaken by those in richer households, and that most of the growth in flying is coming from people in such households flying more often”. Again, it doesn’t exactly support Miliband’s argument that the skies are now awash with the working class, say, taking mini-breaks to Europe, or visiting their second homes abroad.
And all this in the week when the airline industry – already one of the most cosseted sectors in the world due to its advantageous tax breaks on fuel – is saying it is suffering an “annus horribilis“. Are we really going to fall for yet another well-orchestrated sob story from the world’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions?
Here’s interesting confirmation in the New Scientist of something I talk about at length in The Final Call – how high-rise resorts such as Benidorm in Spain could actually be considered among the ‘greener’ destinations in the world due to their relatively efficient use of resources such as water and power.
There has been a rush of “see it before it’s gone” tourism in recent years. The advent of “climate tourism“, and its close relative “extinction tourism“, has been reflected in (and encouraged by, no doubt) travel journalism.
In March, the Miami Herald ran a travel feature with the headline: Global warming: 10 destinations to see before it’s too late. Last year, the Observer ran a feature in its travel section headlined 10 wonders of the vanishing world which celebrated threatened destinations such as Mount Kilimanjaro and the Maldives – and then told you how to get to them (which attracted an angry reaction from some readers).
It is a worrying, if understandable, trend. I, too, would love to be able to see some of these places with my own eyes. Who wouldn’t? On the top of my list would be Antarctica. I grew up, like so many others, devouring the exploits of Amundsen, Shackleton, and Scott and it would surely be an extraordinary personal experience to be able to go there.
To learn that these destinations may, if not quite “vanish” (I think there’s a few years of Antarctica left yet), then at least be degraded or altered by climate change in coming decades, is all the more a spur to book the journey for some.
I can well understand the human desire driving this type of tourism – just as I can understand why we want to climb to the top of mountains or reach out into space. But, if it means speeding a destination’s decline by us being there as tourists, then we shouldn’t be given free rein to do so.
Antarctica is one place where I believe that this applies more than anywhere else. In fact, I believe it is the one place in the world where a “no tourism” rule should now be implemented.
It is far too environmentally fragile a place for the heavy feet of tourists to tread. (It is also unique in not having an indigenous population to argue it needs the tourism dollars.) That’s not just my view – that’s the view of many scientists based there, including ones from the British Antarctic Survey. The UN environment programme also expressed concern about tourism’s impact in Antarctica in its 2007 report called Global Outlook for Ice and Snow:
“The projected retreat of sea ice is likely to lead to an expansion of tourism activities, as more sites will become accessible by sea and the season will lengthen. This, in turn, is likely to increase the risk tourism presents to the marine environment, as well as to terrestrial ecosystems, as over 80% of the tourists land during their journeys. This will also present new challenges in maintaining the unique characteristics Antarctica presents for scientific monitoring and research on processes of global and regional importance … In order to address these challenges, a comprehensive regime on tourism should be developed, complementary to the Madrid protocol on environmental protection to the Antarctic treaty, which provides a regulatory framework for human activities in Antarctica.”
The Antarctic Treaty came into force on 23 June 1961 (and, a little worryingly, comes up for “renewal” on its 50th birthday in three years time) with the somewhat vague promise of ensuring the ice continent became a “natural reserve devoted to peace and science”. For decades, it has been host to just a few scientists (although the Americans have pushed the boundaries way too far with their grossly oversized settlement at McMurdo Station and at the South Pole, with its new all-weather, coast-to-pole road).
But in recent years, it has blossomed as a destination for cruise ships, buoyed by the relentless demand for “adventure tourism”. During the 2007-2008 season, almost 35,000 tourists were estimated to have stepped ashore from their cruise ships in Antarctica, according to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (a coalition of tour operators established in 1991 that follow “best practice self-regulation” when it comes to minimising their environmental impact).
By comparison, just 6,704 tourists went ashore in 1990. This probably isn’t the time to discuss the inadequacies of the Antarctic treaty, especially given the looming fight over seabed mining rights, but one positive thing that could come of the 2011 renewal discussions would, at the very least, be the introduction of exceptionally strict rules about how tourists are to interact with Antarctica, if they are allowed to at all.
At present, tourism isn’t even mentioned in the treaty’s wording. Earlier this year, Simon Jenkins wrote, with a sense of boyish glee, about how he is now the proud keeper of a walnut-sized pebble that he picked up when visiting Antarctica. He went on to argue that the continent shouldn’t be the exclusive preserve of scientists. I strongly disagree: I favour the precautionary principle in that we prove we can tread carefully enough as tourists elsewhere first – something we most certainly have not achieved yet – before we bespoil this pristine place.
Surely, we can show that as a species we don’t always have to “have” something just because we know it’s there, and as a result end up mishandling it. Surely, we can move away from the centuries-old attitude that mankind has dominion over nature. (And, no, I don’t agree with the view, so often argued, that you have to see these things with your own eyes to truly understand why they need protecting; I’ve never seen the Brazilian rainforest, but I understand why it shouldn’t be chopped down.)
I fear, though, that this is a forlorn hope: this week, Gap Adventures, the company that saw its cruise ship, the MS Explorer, sink off Antarctica last November after striking an unidentified object, announced that it had secured a bigger ship to recommence expeditions from January 2009. The momentum of tourism is, at times, mightier than that of a glacier.
I was recently interviewed by Tom Heap for an episode of Radio 4′s environmental strand Costing the Earth which focused on the environmental impact of tourism. It was first broadcast on Thursday, May 15, but is now available on the BBC’s iPlayer here. The show also spawned a feature on the BBC News website’s Magazine.
Think of one of the world’s most derided tourist destinations. Now try to think of one of the world’s most environmentally sustainable tourist destinations.
It is unlikely that you came up with the same name for each, but the mayor of Benidorm was arguing this week that critics should stop mocking his city – which welcomes four million visitors a year, twice as many as Kenya – and realise that it is, in fact, a model for how popular destinations should manage precious resources such as fresh water and energy.
Ask someone who has never been to Benidorm what they think of it and they will typically speak in negative tones. Known as the “Manhattan of Spain” because of its long, thin strip of skyscraper hotels, Benidorm is also famous for its burger bars, British fish and chip shops, kiss-me-quick souvenir stands, karaoke nights and beer bellies on parade. The current ITV1 comedy about British tourists there reinforces most of these stereotypes for those who haven’t yet visited – and, to be honest, are unlikely ever to do so.
But Manuel Pérez Fenoll, the city’s mayor, is right to point out that the perception people have of his city is clouding their view about its environmental credentials. Most people assume that Benidorm is a horror show of over-development and environmental degradation. There is a lot of truth in this, of course, and Pérez is stretching his point slightly, but when set against the golf course-villa-pool-golf course-villa-pool template of tourism development that now runs for hundreds of miles along Spain’s costas, Benidorm is almost beacon of environmental best practice. (My heart sank this week when I read that Cuba now sees golf courses to be the best way to attract tourists.)
So how can the city be green? The reason is simple: Benidorm sustains the four million visitors it receives each year within just a few square miles, whereas when you spread the same number of visitors across a much wider area their per capita demands for water and energy increases massively. A tourist in Benidorm is using far fewer resources compared to, say, a tourist staying in a nearby villa that hugs a golf course and boasts a kidney-shaped pool.
When I visited Benidorm two years ago to investigate this subject for my book The Final Call, I sat in his plush office in city hall and interviewed Pérez. At the time he was – somewhat paradoxically, compared to his comments this week – boasting how the city had just built new golf courses and a water park to attract even more visitors, but he also stressed how well the city’s water system worked from an environmental perspective and how “the Israelis” had recently visited to see if they could learn anything from it. (In contrast to the golf course-peppered landscape that surrounds Benidorm, evaporation of its water, which is partly collected in rainwater reservoirs nearby, is greatly minimised by always keeping it underground in pipes; waste water is also recycled to replenish all the city’s public green spaces.)
A lot has changed politically in Spain since then with a fast-growing backlash against the country’s ill-conceived tourism developments. Part of the concern is the way they demand far too much of the nation’s imperilled and fast-diminishing fresh water supplies. Pérez’s views reflect this and his point shouldn’t be lost just because of many people’s prejudice about Benidorm and other destinations like it.
With the UN’s World Tourism Organisation predicting that the number of international tourists will have reached 1.6 billion a year by 2020 compared to 840 million in 2006, we are going to have to recognise that concentrating tourism in hubs such as Benidorm is one of the most environmentally effective ways of managing this increase.
But, crucially, these hubs must be well planned and managed. If not, they will make the same mistakes that Benidorm, Cancun, and others have made before them, ending up as bywords for over-development and, as a result, losing their appeal.
Benidorm’s first mayor – who died last week – said to me during my visit that one of his biggest regrets was seeing how his original plans for developing Benidorm in the 1950s were irresponsibly torn up and expanded during the 1970s and 1980s. If those that followed him had maintained a sense of foresight and discipline, he said, then Benidorm would not have developed the negative reputation it has today. Indeed, there are many lessons to be learned from Benidorm’s experience – both positive and negative – by those planning the tourism hubs of tomorrow.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I have flown with the “world’s first and only zero emissions airline”. But don’t get too excited: I’m not talking about a new paradigm in jet propulsion, or the revival of the airship. This airline still uses fossil fuels just like every other.
In the summer of 2006, while conducting interviews for my book The Final Call: In Search of the True Cost of Our Holidays, I took a short flight from Punta Islita on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast to the capital San Jose. I joined a dozen or so other passengers aboard one of NatureAir‘s de Havilland Twin Otters, thereby avoiding the best part of a day’s travel on Costa Rica’s notoriously bad roads. The flight was memorable for me because it carried us over some stunning rainforests and mangroves at a low enough altitude that you could appreciate some of the detail below.
What I didn’t know at the time – most other airlines would be ramming such marketing gold dust down your throat at any given opportunity – was that the airline supports a range of local projects in Costa Rica aimed at reducing emissions. The most notable of which is a scheme whereby 200 hectares of rainforest on the Osa Peninsula have been protected from loggers. This, the airline calculates, compensates for roughly 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide that it has emitted into the atmosphere since 2004.
I’m highly sceptical about carbon offset schemes – and NatureAir’s actions are no different really from those of any firm offering offsetting – principally because they often make decidedly dubious claims, they don’t encourage us to address our polluting ways but only disguise them, they lack independent verification, and rarely can they demonstrate “additionality” (that these actions wouldn’t have been undertaken without the offset scheme). But I am in favour of remedial environment projects that are located close to the problem. It makes sense for a Costa Rican airline seeking to atone for its carbon sins to fund and nurture environmental projects in its own backyard – even if I don’t buy the claim that the airline’s emissions can be said to be “zero” as a result. Nonetheless, the projects still appear to be worthwhile in their own right.
When I watch the tourism industry racing to paint itself green, I do wonder why more within the industry don’t try to play the “local” card, as you see happening so much within the food industry. I’m sure it would lead to a lot less cynicism about the true motivations and usefulness of offsetting. Rather than pay a sum to a faceless offset scheme, as most airlines now offer their customers the chance to do, I’m sure passengers would much rather know that this money was being spent on projects at the destination, thereby helping to improve the often strained relationship between the visitor and the visited. Perhaps a visit to such projects could be part of the trip?
The fundamental point is that we like to know where our money is being spent – and that it is being spent well. For example, there are very few fans of Advanced Passenger Duty (APD), the departure tax levied on the UK’s outbound passengers, outside of the Treasury, even though it claims to be an environmentally motivated tax. But if the £2bn revenue it raises each year was ring-fenced for certifiable and visible environmental projects, then it would instantly achieve much more support from travellers.
A fast-growing number of us appreciate that we must start paying the true environmental cost of our travel, but we are only ever likely to support the necessary green taxes that would curb the current runaway growth in emissions if we know and can see they are directly funding projects that also reduce or mitigate these rising emissions.
In Costa Rica, NatureAir is able to achieve a lot of “buy in” in relation to its offsetting initiative with its customers because passengers can look down and see the very thing that is worth saving below them. Just how you achieve that on, say, a mundane transatlantic flight is certainly a challenge, but the fundamental point remains: travellers must see that the tax hikes that will inevitably affect air travel in the coming years are truly benefiting the environment they have been introduced to protect.
Thousands of representatives from the world’s tourism industry descended on east London this week to attend the World Travel Market, a giant trade fair held each November in the cavernous ExCel centre in Docklands. As someone who has attended WTM in the two previous years, I can report that it is quite a spectacle. Pretty much every country on the planet – 202 countries this year – sends a delegation to staff a stand in order to try to court the industry’s key decision-makers to persuade them to send as many tourists as possible their way over the next 12 months. It’s like speed dating – but on a grand scale.
For anyone wanting to see where the power lies in what some claim to be the world’s largest industry, they only need to stand on one of the balconies overlooking the main floor and look at how the countries are spaced out. In the centre of the room, boasting stands that have probably cost tens of thousands of pounds to construct, are the industry’s most important destinations – the US, France, the UK, Spain, Dubai etc. On the fringes are those looking, hoping, to join the party. And countries such as Burundi quite literally have little more than a trestle table holding a few leaflets and are positioned far away from the main thoroughfares.
As I walked among the stands last year, listening in and watching deals being struck, I couldn’t help but wonder what WTM would look like in a few decades’ time. Would the same countries be dominating proceedings? Would WTM still even be operating? The trigger for these thoughts was that the Great Issue of Our Age (TM) – climate change – was a concept that had evidently been blocked from entering the hall by security. If one industry has dragged its heels over confronting climate change it is the tourism industry. This is a very strange response given that it, arguably, has the most to lose.
But that was last year. I was pleased to learn earlier this year that up to 100 tourism ministers from across the globe would be meeting at this year’s event to discuss how the tourism industry should address climate change. The UN’s World Tourism Organisation was to meet formally at WTM and discuss how it should approach the forthcoming UN climate summit being held in Bali in December. (Back in October it had drafted the “Davos Declaration“, which sets out the industry’s stance on climate change.) At last, I thought, sleeves are being rolled up. The industry is finally going to work out how to square the fact that it is a significant and fast-growing emitter of greenhouses gases, as well as also being extremely vulnerable to climate change.
Sadly, though, all the reports coming out of WTM this week suggest that while there’s been a lot of talk about the issue, there has been very little commitment to act in any meaningful way. For example, this is what Margaret Hodge, the UK’s tourism minister had to say:
“It is not for the government to deny people the right to travel. Or to deny the industry the right to respond to the demand for travel. It is a difficult task to try to square the circle of the desire to travel and the use of aviation and its growth… The tourism industry fuels around 5% of global CO2 emissions. But for every negative there should be a positive. There is a lot being done by tourism and aviation industries to reduce greenhouse emissions. There are strong grounds for us to be optimistic.”
This is little more than a rubber stamp for the industry’s “business as usual” stance, as far as I can tell. One of the major problems, I feel, is that tourism is so poorly represented, if at all, at cabinet level in most of the world’s governments. For example, Margaret Hodge is hardly what we might call at the heart of government, despite the fact that tourism is acknowledged as the capital city’s second largest industry. Just when the tourism industry needs a big prod by governments to move it in the right direction on this issue – yes, I mean far tighter regulation – it knows it will be treated with kid gloves.
There were some dissenting voices, however. To his credit, the ebullient and high-pitched CNN business travel reporter and anchor Richard Quest stood up and slammed the attendees for their inaction and mealy words:
“How many of you have a car waiting for you? How many have requested your hotel not to change your sheets and towels tonight? How many of you travelled here economy class? The business class seat is the most environmentally unfriendly on the aircraft. It takes more space, has greater weight and higher fuel burn… I have read the Davos Declaration in detail. I am none the wiser about what’s going to be done. I suggest and respectfully submit that more work needs to be done on changing the mindset rather than producing pamphlets of fine-sounding language… Ultimately, we have to change the mindset of the tourist, whether it is the business traveller or the vacationer. We are in this sinking boat together and we need to offer them realistic possibilities and procedures to help bale us out of it.”
Such an intervention is welcome, but I do wonder how long it will take for this industry to shake off this paralysis. Last week, Greenpeace in Spain released some mocked-up images of how some of the countries most popular resorts might look if sea levels rise as some predict. Each year, ski resorts report ever reduced snow levels. And just this week, the world’s small island states met in the Maldives – one of the UK’s most popular “winter sun” destinations – to discuss the impact of climate change.
When will this mighty industry properly face up to this ever-looming challenge?
To comment, click through to the Guardian’s website here…
So the big bird has finally flown. The first commercial flight of the new A380 took off from Singapore this morning headed for Sydney, with a belly full of eager-eyed passengers, some donating up to $10,000 to charity for their place in aviation history. There has been so much fanfare accompanying this new superjumbo from Airbus that, to be honest, it’s a relief that she has at last pulled away from the departure gate with her first paying passengers. If this really was a paradigm shift in flying then it might warrant all this attention, but in reality it illustrates to me just how little we’ve travelled in terms of aviation innovation since 1970 when the Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jet” first took to the air. It hardly compares to the “leap forward” made by Concorde’s first commercial flight just a few years later. I’m sure there will be many who marvel at this new plane’s engineering prowess, but the thing that really counts today is can this plane get as many people from A to B using as little fuel as possible? Much has been made about the A380′s green credentials and most of it, sadly, has been vastly overblown. The plane’s basic principle is sound – if something is going to take to the air it might as well have as many people on board as possible to maximise the fuel used. But on closer inspection the Airbus claims lose a lot of their lustre. Airbus’s website says that the plane will burn 2.9 litres of fuel per passenger for every 100km travelled, or, put another way, it will emit 75 grammes of carbon dioxide per passenger kilometre. This, says Airbus, is a better fuel efficiency than a hybrid car. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But how did it arrive at that figure? Well, I couldn’t find an explanation on the website, and I called the UK office but no one returned my call. So I’m reliant on the National Center for Public Policy Research in the US, who did manage to extract the details from Airbus. Airbus told them that the measurements were based on the A380 carrying 555 passengers at a cruising speed of 900km – but with no luggage or cargo on board. Singapore Airlines has said that its A380s will be set up in the traditional three-class configuration, but will be carrying “less than 480 passengers”. This is because it wants to give passengers more space – including those paying big bucks to travel in its much-heralded “12 ultra-luxurious suites”. (The A380 can, in theory, carry 853 passengers, but it is highly unlikely that any airline will utilise this, except perhaps on some short-range internal routes in, say, China and Japan.) Given that most of these passengers will have hand luggage and a suitcase or two, you can safely assume that the quoted fuel efficiency is going to be less impressive than it first appears. And don’t forget that it is rare for a passenger flight to take off without cramming commercial cargo on board too – or that carrying capacity among the so-called legacy carriers who are ordering up these planes (not in the quantity that Airbus had hoped for) is lucky to ever break through the 80% barrier. This could seem to be unnecessary nitpicking, but the far bigger concern for me is that Airbus predicts these planes will be in service for 40-50 years. With other airlines also investing heavily in Boeing’s rival Dreamliner, which has its own much-puffed “eco” claims, we can safely assume that these two planes will be the principal workhorses of the skies for the next several decades. These are the planes that will serve the huge growth that is predicted for the aviation industry over this period – and is what has triggered the huge concern about aviation’s fast-increasing environmental impact. This goes a long way to quashing any realistic talk of some huge techno fix laying just around the corner – blended-wing designs, hydrogen fuel cells etc – that would mean we would be able fly without a thought for the atmosphere that our plane carves through. Are airlines which have just spent billions of dollars on new planes really going to be in the market for experimental planes in the near future? Also, look just how long it has taken for the A380 to come to market. Aviation innovation takes decades to literally get off the ground – and so does fuel design – for the simple reason that regulators don’t like to take risks when hundreds of people are being flown at 30,000ft. Therefore, all this talk of biofuels for planes is fanciful in the short- to medium-term – and just look at all the hubbub that biofuels are already causing when it comes to verifying their true environmental credentials. The plain truth is that while these tweaks in efficiency are obviously welcome don’t believe the hype that they are anything more than just tweaks. That flight from London-Sydney, or wherever, will still come at a considerable carbon cost, whichever plane you are travelling in. Somehow getting fewer people into the skies is the key, not beckoning people onboard with inflated eco claims.
To comment, click through to the Guardian’s website here …
This Saturday (October 13) I’m taking part in a debate at Tourism Concern‘s AGM entitled, ‘Is it the Final Call for Tourism?’ It is taking place inside the Graduate Centre at the Tower Building, London Metropolitan University. Yes, I know it clashes with some important football match or other, but it promises to be an interesting and lively afternoon. The debate ‘kicks off’ at 2.45pm. Here’s how Travelmole is billing it (although I would add that I have never said that “tourism will indeed ruin the world!”, but we can certainly debate that notion on Saturday)…
Leo Hickman, author of the Final Call meets with Frances Tuke of ABTA to discuss whether it really is the final call for tourism – Tourism Concern, Saturday 13 October at London Metropolitan University.
Leo Hickman, journalist and author of the recent controversial book “The Final Call”, ABTA’s Press Officer, Frances Tuke, Lamin Bojan from Gambia Tourism Concern and Peter DeBrine, Deputy Director of the International Tourism Partnership will be discussing whether it really is the final call for tourism. The discussion is hosted by Tourism Concern and will be chaired by journalist and broadcaster Alison Rice
The discussion, which is bound to be lively, will focus on the impact of travel, and whether, as Leo Hickman claims in his book, tourism will indeed ruin the world!
Focusing on the excesses of tourism and its unsustainable growth, Hickman covers Dubai and its ultimate homage to consumerism, Thailand and sex tourism, climate change, China’s phenomenal tourism growth, the receding glaciers in Switzerland, countries that greenwash their tourism as a marketing tool, developers that pay no heed to the rights of their workforce and the fact that there are no checks and balances and no moves towards any regulation.
Tourism Concern would welcome the presence of those working in the tourism industry to contribute to the discussion. The audience will be encouraged to have its say. There has already been some strong debate between Hickman and Jeremy Skidmore in Travel Mole. Saturday, 13th October is the opportunity for others to join in.
The Guardian published a comment piece by me on Saturday to tie in with the Climate Camp protests taking place this week at Heathrow. The piece looks at how much of the money we spend on holiday actually ‘sticks’ to the destination.
It will be a case of “heads down and don’t look up” for holidaymakers flying from Heathrow next week, if they want to avoid catching the disapproving eye of climate camp protesters gathered at the perimeter fence. But expect some of the tourists to reject the niggling twinge of eco-guilt – a twinge 93% of us now experience when travelling by plane, according to a survey by Lonely Planet this week – as they pass along this most modern walk of shame by offering the following soundbite to TV news crews: “If we all stopped flying abroad, it would destroy their economies, wouldn’t it?” It’s a popular refrain among those defending aviation’s right to unrestricted growth, but do we really sprinkle gold dust on each destination we visit?… continues
[Hickman's] latest book, The Final Call: In Search of the True Cost of Our Holidays, is an excellent and thoroughly compelling analysis of flight-related tourism…[It] deserves to be read by those of us lucky enough to be able to fly on a regular basis. As Hickman points out, flying is not a necessity; it’s a luxury. Only five per cent of the world’s population have ever travelled by plane. Being an international tourist is a rare privilege, and Hickman’s book is a sobering, thoughtful and intelligent reminder that it is a privilege we need to be forcefully reminded not to take for granted.
As a result of the article, I’ve been asked to speak about the book on RTE Radio 1′s Today with Tom McGurk on the morning of Wednesday, August 1.
I’m taking part in an on-going Q&A on the forum at Planeta.com. Please post any questions you have and I will try my best to answer them…
Thanks to Graham McKenzie, the MD of Travelmole, for asking me to respond to Jeremy Skidmore’s recent comment piece on the site. I take back my earlier comment about Travelmole not being open to alternative viewpoints. In case you’re not a registered Travelmole user, here’s my response in full…
“If, like me, you will not give a second thought about the impact on the environment of your holiday…” Give him his dues, Jeremy Skidmore certainly knows how to kick off a polemic. It got my attention, anyway, and judging by some of the reaction from Travelmole readers it ruffled the feathers of others, too.
But while it’s always fun to play the contrarian, I have to say – and I do actually agree with some of his points about APD and LiveEarth – that Jeremy’s comment piece left me stone cold.
Is his take on climate change really a representative view of the travel industry? After all, Jeremy is a former editor of Travel Weekly and a prominent industry spokesperson.
I speak as an outsider to this industry, but someone who has spent the past year observing it and investigating the various environmental, social and economics impacts – both good and bad – of the global tourism industry for my book The Final Call.
I have interviewed many dozens of representatives from your industry around the world, from chambermaids to CEOs, to gauge their views on not just tourism’s impacts on climate change, but also a range of other important but often muffled issues such as exploitative low pay, natural resource depletion, ecological degradation and sex tourism.
It saddens me to say that I was not greatly encouraged by my findings – I came across a lot of Jeremys on my travels. In truth, I think the travel and tourism industry is a long, long way from truly grasping the scale of the problems that lay before it – in some ways it reminds me of where the tobacco industry was about 40 years ago.
The scent of denial is thick in the air. I can’t think of any other global industry – you work for the world’s largest service industry, no less – which seemingly plays such a dangerous game with its key assets – the mountains, the coral reefs, the tropical islands, the rainforests etc. Once they’re gone, or at least tarnished beyond repair, then so is your industry.
Just from a position of self-interest, you would assume everyone in the industry would be doubling over backwards to protect and nurture these assets, if only to secure long-term business. Where exactly are you going to be sending today’s children on holiday once they reach adulthood?
And don’t forget just how much more pressurised the resources of each destinations will be once the tens of millions of tourists start arriving from places such as China and India, as the World Tourism Organisation is predicting.
Your industry should be leading on these issues, not be dragged kicking and screaming into this debate like a spoilt child which is used to getting its own way.
After all, it could be argued that you have the most to lose in the long term. Anyone who carries on with a business-as-usual attitude will surely be out of business in the not-too-distant future, not least because consumer attitudes – despite questionable surveys that suggest otherwise – are surely moving in only one direction when it comes to these issues.
I would love for your industry to prove me wrong – and some of the reaction to Jeremy’s comment piece gives me hope that his kind of viewpoint could soon become isolated – but I fear that too many of you are simply dancing around these issues.
For example, please don’t keep saying that carbon offsetting is the way to mitigate your industry’s climate-change impacts – it is a nothing less than a sticky plaster shielding a festering wound.
Easy answers are rarely the right answers. Sun-drenched beaches are wonderful places to stick your head in the sand, aren’t they?
Leo Hickman is a features journalist and editor at the Guardian. His latest book ‘The Final Call: In Search of the True Cost of Our Holidays’ is published by Transworld. http://www.leohickman.co.uk
First, sorry for the silence. I’ve just moved house from London to Cornwall which has taken up just about every second of the past week. Still settling in, but I’ve managed to find time – once my broadband was finally set up – to spot these links…
I don’t have the time right now to comment on these, but “exasperation” is probably the most apt word if you seek a snap shot of my collective view…
Following closely on the heels of the Forbes article mentioned below, the World Monuments Fund has just published its biennial list of the most “endangered architectural and cultural sites around the world”. For the first time it has included sites threatened by climate change…
- Herschel Island, Canada, home to ancient Inuit sites and a historic whaling town at the edge of the Yukon that are being lost to the rising sea and melting permafrost in this fastest-warming part of the world.
- Scott’s Hut, Antarctica, a time-capsule of early twentieth-century exploration. Ironically, it is being engulfed by vastly increased snowfall thought to be a result of changes in the weather, changes the station was built to monitor.
- Chinguetti Mosque, Mauritania, located in one of Islam’s seven holy cities and one of many sites in West Africa endangered by the encroaching desert.
- Sonargaon-Panam City, Bangladesh, a former medieval trading hub and crossroads of culture, whose long-neglected and deteriorating architecture is increasingly threatened by flooding in this low-lying country, one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.
- Leh Old Town, Ladakh, India, a rare intact medieval city in the Himalayan region, now trying to balance development and modernization with sustainability as its traditional architecture faces changing weather patterns, including heavy rains, that it was not built to withstand.
- New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, whose historic neighborhoods, already pummeled by Hurricane Katrina, are now struggling to restore homes while also preparing for future challenges posed by rising sea levels and the likelihood of stronger storms.
There are so many potential strands to dissect from this story in the International Herald Tribune about Greece’s latest plans to (literally, it seems) cement its tourism industry’s future – which employs one in five workers – but this extract provides a snap summary…
The government’s “land zoning” plan foresees the creation of luxury tourism complexes, including holiday homes for long-term lease or sale as well as golf courses and spas. Two such complexes, on Crete and in the western Peloponnese, are already in the works. The environment and public works minister, Giorgos Souflias, who presented the plan this month, envisions “one million Europeans interested in acquiring a second residence in Greece.” But there has been a mixed reception for the plan, which offers incentives for construction in less developed areas and allows building up to 50 meters, or 165 feet, from the coastline, in areas protected by the EU program Natura and on uninhabited islets…The Technical Chamber of Greece, an association of civil engineers, has condemned the plan, and environmental and conservation groups have warned against coastal “concretization” that has marred the Spanish coast. They also object to the creation of water-guzzling golf courses when much of Greece is on red alert for drought this summer. “The authorities are desperate to sell off prime pieces of coastal land for hotels,” said Nikos Charalambides, executive director of Greenpeace Greece. “This might bring in short-term financial gains, but in the long-term it will downgrade these areas, as we have seen in Spain.” But Palli-Petralia, the tourism minister, dismisses such fears. “We are not going to turn Greece into Spain,” she said at a news conference this month. “The destruction of our environment will finish us off as a tourist destination.”
“There are thousands of places in the world that are endangered,” says Kecia Fong, a conservator at the Getty Conservation Institute, a Los Angeles-based organization that works internationally to advance the field of conservation through initiatives like scientific research and field projects. “The kinds of sites that are most endangered have rapid development like building roads or hotels to deal with an influx of tourists.”
Many of the usual suspects are referred to – the Galapagos Islands, Mount Kilimanjaro, Kathmandu Valley, Tibet – but the report let’s itself down somewhat with the rather self-centred tone of the final sentence…
Visit these places while they’re still around.