Barbara Gunnell has written a very positive review of The Final Call in the June 28 edition of the New Statesman. I particularly enjoyed the opening line: “It can’t be easy being Leo Hickman.” That’s what I keep telling people, but nobody seems to listen…

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…

The Guardian: Galapagos Islands could lose world heritage status

IATA Calls for a Zero Emissions Future

The Telegraph: EasyJet unveils low-carbon ‘eco-plane’

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.

Are the “eco loonies” Ryanair has spoken of in the past finally taking over the asylum? This report in the Guardian suggests that, despite its earlier denials, Ryanair is now ready to accept that some of the decline in ticket sales is being driven by growing concern among travellers about aviation’s impact on the environment.

Howard Millar, Ryanair deputy chief executive, said he was “concerned” about the negative publicity gathering around the airline sector and admitted demand for flights was being impacted “at the edges”.

“I am concerned that there is a continuing media campaign and the concern is that people might say ‘maybe I will not fly on holiday and maybe I will make a different choice,'” he said.

It’s hard to argue against this really. And well done to the Stop Stanstead Expansion team for a PR masterstroke in bringing Aqqaluk Lynge to the opening of the public inquiry.

What happens in Britain affects us in the north. You may say that the expansion of London Stansted airport will play only a small part in increasing climate change, but everyone can say that about almost everything they do. It is an excuse for doing nothing. The result of that attitude would be catastrophic. The serious consequences affecting my people today will affect your people tomorrow. Most flights from Stansted are not for an important purpose. They are mostly for holidays and leisure. Is it too much to ask for some moderation for the sake of my people today and your people tomorrow? For the sake also of our wildlife and everything else in the world’s precious and fragile environment that is more important than holiday flights.

According to a survey commissioned by Travel Weekly, “less than one in ten UK consumers would be willing to change their travel plans to greener alternatives”.

TNS Travel & Tourism, which carried out the research, found that just two per cent of respondents were ‘very likely’ to change their travel plans and a further seven per cent would be ‘quite likely’ to do so. The survey also revealed a very small take up in carbon offsetting, with just four per cent of respondents stating they had made a payment to offset their travel in the last 12 months. TNS, which polled over 1,000 UK consumers, called on the travel industry to do more to educate the public in a bid to counter consumer apathy and enable them to make better informed decisions.

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.”

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 responsibletravel.com, 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…

The Guardian published the last of its three extracts of The Final Call this weekend…

  1. G2, May 21 2007 (Tallinn, Bangkok and Ko Phi Phi)
  2. G2, May 22 2007 (Dubai)
  3. Travel, May 26 2007 (Costa Rica)

Further evidence of the fast-shifting demographic sands of international tourism: according to this BBC report, Indian visitors now outspend tourists from Japan. In 2006, 212,000 Indian tourists visited the capital city and spent £139m compared to £123m by the Japanese. I would like to have seen figures for Chinese visitors. Surely, it’s just a matter of a few years before they overtake the Japanese, too.

Another intriguing report in Travel Weekly revealing the latest findings in Expedia’s Best Tourist League. It seems the Brits have managed to shed the ‘worst tourist’ tag at last and pass it onto the French…

Although the British were noted for their poor tipping, bad behaviour, poor dress sense, untidiness, and noisy nature they were no match for the French tourists’ unwillingness to speak local languages, tight-fistedness and impoliteness. However, British hoteliers were in no doubt that their countrymen still made for the worst guests.

Travel Weekly reports on a fascinating survey by AXA Travel Insurance that claim that five per cent of Britons aged 16-64 have been to 20 countries or more on holiday, whereas one per cent (300,000 people) have been to 50 or more – the so-called “mega travellers”. The average Briton has been to seven countries. The survey also claims that 2.9 million British adults have never been abroad on holiday and a further 2.3 million have only been on holiday abroad once.

…and the S2 features section of the Scotsman runs an interview with me today.

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…

Full marks to the Financial Times for putting this story on its front page yesterday. Almost too much to digest here, but here are some of the stand-out sentences from Roger Blitz’s take on the WTTC summit in Lisbon over the weekend which suggest that some within the industry are still firmly in denial about the challenges they face.

The industry is expected to expand by 4.3 per cent a year over the next decade and managers are fretting over climate change. They worry that flying is seen as the most polluting activity and are falling over themselves to champion schemes that allow the travelling public to go on clocking up air miles…

“We look at climate change as an image issue,” said Armin Meier, chief executive of Kuoni Travel, the luxury tour operator…

Maurice Flanagan, vice-chairman of Emirates Airline, was quite happy to share his trenchant view that global warming was “an argument”. He said he was taken aback at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year at the way that airlines were being “demonised as the cause of all this”. Mr Flanagan said more worrying than the apparent threat to the planet was the real threat to the existence of low-cost carriers such as EasyJet and Ryanair. “If extremists get their way, thousands and thousands of jobs in travel and tourism will be lost…”

But it’s the end of the report that sticks in my memory…

For all the talk, practical meaningful solutions were little in evidence. It fell to James Russell of the Clinton Global Initiative to tell the industry what was expected of it. “Don’t be an Exxon,” he told the airlines, “Work out what you can do to drive down energy consumption. Travel agents should push hotels for carbon disclosure.” He added: “The message to chief executives is that perceptions are changing and you’ve got between 12 and 24 months to get on that route.” Exactly how much and for how long is arguable. “It’s flavour of the month,” said Charles Petruccelli, the president of global travel services at American Express. “The problem will realise its way beyond the industry soon.”

Mark Ellingham has been a lot more outspoken that I originally thought. Travelmole is reporting his outburst in much more detail…

“Climate change is an issue that dwarfs all others and the impact of flying is key to this. All of us involved have a responsibility to inform travellers as clearly and honestly as possible about the environmental cost of their journeys. Balancing all the positives and negatives, I’m not convinced there is such a thing as a ‘responsible’ or ‘ethical’ holiday…If there was just one thing I could change, it would be this new British obsession for binge flying. We now live in a society where, if people have nothing to do on a Saturday night, they go to Budapest for 48 hours. We fly anywhere at the slightest opportunity, 10 times and upwards a year. This needs to be addressed with the greatest urgency.”

I’m not hugely impressed with his new goal for cutting back on flying, though. It’s actually more than most people would ever dream of. But at least he is pledging to making a reduction, which is a start…

“As a ‘recovering travel writer’, I fly less than I would like to, but more than I know that ethically I should. The deal I have made with myself is to limit the number of flights I take to one long-haul and two or three shorter flights each year. I very much respect the purist attitudes of those who say they will never fly again, but it’s totally unrealistic to expect the majority to do the same.”

Environmentalists have been making such comparisions for years, but now some within the travel industry are also suggesting that their sector could be accused of being in the same state of denial – or worse, being as willfully obstructive – as the tobacco industry was 30 years ago in facing up to its negative impacts. Here’s Mark Ellingham, founder of Rough Guides, quoted in a Guardian report today which led on how a record will be set this month for the highest number of flights worldwide – 2.5bn – a 5% rise on the same period last year.

“The tobacco industry fouled up the world while denying it as much as possible for as long as they could. If the travel industry rosily goes ahead as it is doing, ignoring the effect that carbon emissions from flying are having on climate change, we are putting ourselves in a very similar position to the tobacco industry.”

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.

I suspected this might happen. Those Virgin Train ads just seem that little bit too provocative for one of the airlines not to take the bait and challenge the green claims being made by reporting them to the Advertising Standards Authority.

I’m pleased that it looks like we might also get to the bottom of just how much Network Rail relies on nuclear power – something that is often over looked.