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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 for Guardian Environment about a green tourist tax being proposed by the Maldives’ new environment minister…

With the rain coming down and the crowd in boisterous mood waiting for their beloved Paul Weller to take to the stage, it took a very brave politician to step before the microphone and make a speech about rising sea levels and carbon neutrality.

But this is what Mohamed Aslam did on Friday night at the Eden Project in Cornwall. Following a short introduction by Tim Smit, Eden’s founder and permanent source of renewable energy, the 6,000-strong crowd greeted Aslam with warm applause. Any home-grown politician would have no doubt received a one-finger salute, but Aslam spoke with genuine authority and passion on the issue of climate change as he is the minister of environment (and housing and transport) in the Maldives, the Indian ocean island state that now lies at the “frontline”, as he describes it, of any future rise in sea levels.

(By contrast, Prince Charles was jeered when he addressed the crowd by pre-recorded video to talk about his Rainforests Project and, somewhat incongruously, to thank Paul Weller and Florence and the Machine for playing at the Green Britain Day event, which was being controversially sponsored by EDF Energy.)

Aslam, an oceanographer by training, told the crowd that his country – which not only has to confront climate change, but has also had to recover from the 2004 tsunami as well as last year’s volatile presidential elections – now seeks “partners” to help it become the world’s first carbon-neutral country.

Once Paul Weller had completed the last of his encores, I got the chance to speak to Aslam about why he had travelled all the way from the Maldives to address the crowd in person. (I didn’t remember to ask him what he made of the main act, but did see him at one stage tapping his toes to Eton Rifles.) He said:

The science is sorted and politicians around the world have been going on and on about tackling climate change, but nothing really is being done. Ordinary people must stand up to this. I would rather speak to a crowd here at Eden than to politicians at Copenhagen. We want to make our problems everyone’s problems. We need partners. We want to invest in green technology. As a frontline state, we want to demonstrate this technology works. If we perish we want to show that we were trying to do the right thing. But we don’t want to be beggars and we can’t tell our people they can’t have development. There are 196 inhabited islands which need power. We use marine diesel generators now, but we can easily replace them.

It’s not long before we are talking about the subject of tourism and that fact that 60% of the Maldives’ economy is reliant on a wealthy few jetting in from thousands of miles away to spend two weeks in paradise. It’s a paradox that Aslam is ready to admit and one that his government is keen to address before the climate talks in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

“We will continue with tourism,” he said. “We have to. It will hurt us a lot to lose them. But we now want to reach out to tourists who visit the Maldives. They must help us go carbon neutral. A green levy for tourists is now being discussed by the new government ahead of Copenhagen.”

Aslam wouldn’t go into specifics about exactly how much tourists would be expected to pay – the cabinet is to discuss the idea shortly, he said – but he did say the revenue raised would be ring-fenced and only used to develop sources of renewable energy. Such a move would be both risky and controversial, though.

“Green” tourism taxes have been tried before, but were met with fierce resistance by tour operators and hotel owners who fear that the taxes drive potential custom away. In 2003, the Balearic Islands abandoned a modest “€1 per day per person” green tourism tax after just a year in operation, and when the New Zealand tourism minister mooted a similar idea last year it provoked an immediate industry backlash. However, the Maldives’ new government has already pledged to redirect some of the revenue it generates via tourism into buying a new homeland – possibly in Sri Lanka or India – for the time when its 300,000 islanders are finally forced to flee their homes and become environmental refugees.

It is rare to meet a politician who has such a genuine sense of urgency and priority when it comes to climate change. As he says, his frontline status demands it. But what, I asked him, is it like to live with the realities of climate change – sea level rises, coral bleaching, etc – so close at hand?

“It’s like a terminal disease for us,” he said. “It’s in our people’s minds all the time, but they also have to get on with their day-to-day lives. They also have to worry about reliable power, fresh water and sewage.”

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.

An article for the Guardian’s Travel section about my stay at Trelowarren in Cornwall…

We’re in a corner of Cornwall that has some of the most spectacular beaches, local food and heritage in the county, but all my young children want to do is look at the “big machine that eats trees”, otherwise known as the woodchip boiler. I wish I’d never mentioned it.

The Trelowarren estate on the Lizard peninsula has been welcoming guests since, well, no one’s exactly sure — the residing family, the Vyvyans, have been there for 600 years and their 1,000-acre property is mentioned in the Domesday Book — but in the past few years the estate has become synonymous with a distinctly modern phenomenon, the green holiday. And its seven-tonne state-of-the-art boiler, one of the largest of its type in the country, has a big part to play.

In a familiar tale of son-and-heir-forced-to-think-of-creative-ways-to-save-crumbling-estate, Sir Ferrers Vyvyan, Trelowarren’s 13th baronet, decided to shun the well-trodden route of opening up the house to the cream-tea brigade, or hosting a festival in the grounds, and instead decided to position the estate at the vanguard of luxury eco-friendly self-catering holidays.

“Carbon neutral” is a much abused term, but Trelowarren is now tantalisingly close — a “couple of years”, says Sir Ferrers — to being able to claim that label. At least half of the estate is forested, and Sir Ferrers realised early on in his 30-year, £12m programme to overhaul its fortunes that by reintroducing the art of coppicing he could use the renewable energy source growing all around him to provide heating and hot water to the self-catering cottages scattered across the grounds. In fact, so much heat now flows from the boiler that it also warms the estate’s large outdoor swimming pool. “Guests love using the pool at Christmas,” he says.

The long-term plan is to have 31 self-catering units on the estate, almost half of which are already up and running. This is no building site, though, as the development is being carried out in stages. Nine of the original estate cottages have been renovated — the first opened in 2000 — but are conventionally heated using, for example, oil-fired ranges. So the eco-purists will probably prefer to stay in one of the eight newly built two storey, two- to-four-bedroom houses, which include a raft of environmental innovations, such as twin-frame timber panelling to increase thermal efficiency, non-toxic paints, marmoleum-lined bathrooms, walls insulated with recycled newspaper, pressure-tested windows, low-energy lighting and rainwater harvesting.

Inside, the eco-properties are dressed in the Conran aesthetic — a jolting contrast to the homely (mercifully, chintz-free) charm of the original estate cottages. There’s no scrimping on mod cons, though, for when the fickle Cornish weather makes an afternoon curled up in front of a wood stove and a DVD seem the best option. There are no complementary bikes, but they can be hired from a local firm on request.

That is a minor grumble, though. Trelowarren is about as green as it gets for this sort of holiday in the UK. What is refreshing about it is the way the owners have resisted the usual short cuts, such as carbon off setting, energy purchased via “green tariff s” and so on . And you can literally buy into their vision, because Trelowarren claims to be the world’s first eco timeshare. If you have a spare £4,500, you can invest in, say one week’s use of a cottage every February for 30 years — though prices rise sharply for summer use.

But you don’t go on holiday to talk about U-values, kilowatt hours and price-earnings ratios. Sniffing out the best food available is usually on most people’s minds, and just a short stroll from the new eco-buildings is the estate’s stable block, which houses the New Yard Restaurant. A destination in itself, the restaurant holds two AA rosettes and claims that 90% of the ingredients in its dishes are sourced within a 20-mile radius. We particularly liked the Cornish spring lamb and line-caught sea bass, but the kitchen will also put together a picnic for those wanting to head off and explore the grounds, which offer an undulating jigsaw of lush pastures stocked with rare breed cattle and woodland carpeted — when we visited — with wild garlic. Head north and the estate reaches down towards the tidal inlets of the Helford river.

You could spend two weeks here without moving far from Trelowarren, but one trip worth taking is to Kynance Cove, one of Cornwall’s most spectacular beaches, which lies just to the west of Lizard Point, Britain’s most southerly tip. In keeping with th e green vibe, the beach cafe is accessible only by foot and the power needed to chill the drinks and toast the sandwiches is produced by photovoltaic solar panels on the roof.

A trip to the Lizard isn’t complete these days without visiting Tregellast Barton Farm near St Keverne, where the famous Roskilly’s organic ice cream is produced. If you fantasise about gorging yourself silly on ice cream or fudge made with clotted cream, then this is the place for you. We atoned for our calorific crimes with a walk along the shingle that takes you along the inlet from the beach beneath St-Anthony-in-Meneage, before reoffending at an evening barbecue at the Shipwrights Arms in Helford.

But, despite all the other distractions, talk on the way home was still of that boiler. “How many trees can it eat in a whole day?”

· 01326 222105, From £450 (two-bed cottage, low season) to £2,650 (four-bed, high season) for a week. You can book a biodiesel taxi to pick you up from Truro station, 45 mins drive away, through

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.

A blog written for the Guardian’s Comment Is Free website about Benidorm’s eco claims…

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.

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

I’m taking part in an on-going Q&A on the forum at Please post any questions you have and I will try my best to answer them…

I’m not too sure why Forbes magazine is running this article now as this list is old news, but it still makes for an interesting read.

“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.

According to this report in the Travel Trade Gazette, the publication of my book The Final Call (or rather the extracts published in the Guardian) has triggered a “travel trade backlash”…

An industry think-tank is to be set up following a blistering attack on travel’s green credentials in a national newspaper this week. Justin Francis, co-founder of, said he had decided to set up the group in response to a “sustained attack” from the green lobby. He said an article in The Guardian on Monday which claimed the travel industry not only pollutes the environment but also exacerbates social problems such as poverty and prostitution was “the final straw”.

To be honest, I’m thrilled. After all, one of my main hopes for the book – as those in the industry knocking it will discover when/if they actually deign to read it – is that it challenges the industry to look long and hard at its negative impacts and do everything humanly possible to minimise or eradicate them. I just hope the “think-tank” being hastily put together concentrates on facing up to these issues rather than simply attempting to deny them. To be continued…

Today I answered reader questions live online on Guardian Unlimited. Some interesting questions came up – and I gave my best shot at answering them. You can see my responses here…

You wait an age for a bus, then three show up at once…

The following industry get-togethers have all promised to place the environmental and social impact of tourism at their heart.

Travelmole has opened a month-long forum to discuss all the fallout from the conferences.