The Responsible Tourism Programme at WTM London began with a session asking Is Tourism a Strategy for Development? Cillian Murphy, destination consultant from Cillian Murphy Consulting, said tourism needs to shift from a market-led model to a community-led one. “Stop seeing each other as competition, and start seeing how we can work together,” he said, explaining that as a restaurant owner himself, this would mean not seeing the restaurant across the road as the competitor, and instead as a partner for turning the town into a foodie destination.
Moses Ngobeni, Director of Tourism Planning & Development, Limpopo, summed up the key themes of the session in two phrases. First, he observed that: “Tourism is like sport – it can change perceptions of a country.” And he made it clear that “Tourism should be government-led, private sector-driven, and community-based.”
A session on The Challenge of Building Sustainable Hotels explored the complex structure of hotel ownership and the impact this has on sustainability. Dimitris Manikis, President & Managing Director EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts explained the company is the world’s largest hotel brand, but only owns two hotels out of the 9,000 under its brand. All the rest are franchised. “Management structures are the heart of the issue in moving forward in sustainability,” said Eric Ricaurte, Founder & CEO, consulting firm Greenview. “They are not currently designed to meet science-based targets around decarbonisation. They need to change so that everyone is talking about sustainability right from the beginning.”
“There has been a lack of focus on this issue until very recently,” said Allan Agerholm, Chief Hospitality Officer, BC Hospitality Group. “We are at a crossroads where if we don’t do something about it now we will be regulated to force it upon us, because our environmental impact is growing so fast,” adding, “the brands possess a lot more power than they lead us to believe.”
“10 years ago the customer didn’t care,” He added. “How sustainable your hotel was not in the top 10 issues, whereas now it is in the top three.”
Madhu Rajesh, Director of the International Tourism Partnership, announced the upcoming launch of a new report – The Business Case for Sustainable Hotels. “The industry is set to grow by a further two million rooms,” she explained, adding that to meet our industry’s commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. We need to reduce the absolute greenhouse emissions per room by 90% by 2050.”
In the afternoon, there was a session on Taking Responsibility for Safety & Security. Sthembiso Dlamini, acting head of South African Tourism, made it clear that improving security was not just about increasing the presence of police. “We need our people to understand the benefits of tourism. We need them to see how tourism helps them deal with issues like poverty,” she said.
Explaining that more than 50% of the Caribbean’s GDP is related to tourism, and that his region was increasingly being struck by climate-related natural disasters, Edmund Bartlett, Tourism Minister, Jamaican Tourist Board, said it was essential to focus on building resilience for communities, adding that Jamaica has set up the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre to track risks and disasters, and to establish guidance and best practice in how to respond.
A session – Tourism for All: The Business Case for Inclusive Tourism – sought to broaden people’s understanding of accessible tourism. Clare Jenkinson, Senior Destinations & Sustainability Manager, ABTA, said there are around 14 million disabled people in the UK, around the same as the number of parents, yet while the family holiday market is huge, accessible tourism is seen as a marginal opportunity.
Amar Latif is Founder of Traveleyes, which takes groups where half are blind and half sighted. “People have so many preconceptions about disability and blindness,” he said. “People ask me why I want to travel when I can’t see the sights. There’s so much else to enjoy than just seeing things.” Latif then got the audience to close their eyes as he described to them smells and sounds that fill his global travels. “When we talk about accessible tourism,” he added, “we think of wheelchairs. But barrier-free tourism is about much more than sticking a ramp outside the hotel. We need to have open discussions, and not let preconceptions hold us back.”
A session on Transparent Reporting began with Susanne Etti, Environmental Impact Specialist at Intrepid Travel, who said it was essential to put purpose beyond profit. She explained that while her company had offset 310,000 tonnes of carbon since 2010, “reducing emissions is what really matters.”
Anula Galewska, Responsible Business Manager, Urban Adventures, asked: “Who is going to read a sustainability report? Do our travellers care? Would residents read them?” She said companies need to have the right mindset when they create such reports, implementing different forms of communication for different stakeholders.
Ian Corbett, Sustainable Business Manager, TUI UK & Ireland, said that now half of its 1,500 hotels are certified they have been able to compare tourists experiences in them with those that aren’t. “At the fundamental level, we learned that hotels getting certified to a global standard works,” he explained. “We found that not only did the certified hotels have better social and environmental practices, they also saw greater guest satisfaction.”