Luxury travel with a conscience

Responsible tourism was the hot topic at the recent World Travel Market. ATN reports on the key issues debated including the case for green luxury.
Luxury travel with a conscience
By Administrator
Wed 16 Jan 2008 04:00 AM

The 2007 installment of World Travel Market (WTM) not only showcased the travel and tourism product from across the globe, but also provided a forum to debate some of the most poignant issues impacting the industry.

Day two of the event, which took place at ExCeL London from November 12 to 15, saw the launch of the WTM Responsible Tourism Day, where keynote speakers came together to discuss the steps both travel and tourism suppliers and consumers should take to protect the environment, respect local cultures, support local communities, conserve natural resources and minimise pollution.

Re-using towels is not a green gimmick… it has a significant impact when you are talking about a 600-room hotel

WTM chairman Fiona Jeffery placed the onus on consumers and stressed that they must play tough to force travel companies to go green.

"It's not good enough simply leaving responsible tourism concerns to the industry and hoping that the world's travel and climate problems will go away," she said. "Consumers have to be setting the agenda, playing a bigger part by voting with their wallets.

"It is the future of their children and grandchildren we are talking about now. Are they going to jeopardise that for two or three reckless weeks of holiday with a company which has no interest in sustainable tourism or indeed the local communities that are so often exploited and ignored?"

But Jeffery did note that is was "the crucial role of the industry to protect the very destinations and environment it seeks to promote and deliver holidays that match consumer demands and expectations".

This message was reiterated in the WTM Tourism and Water Report 2007 released on World Responsible Tourism Day, which highlighted how the tourism industry and hoteliers in particular need to take responsibility for reducing their water consumption.

The report, compiled from a survey of travel providers, conducted by the International Centre for Responsible Tourism (ICRT) at the UK's Leeds Metropolitan University, discovered that 68% of hotel respondents did not provide assistance to increase access to portable water for local communities; only 13% assist the community with water and 11% with sewage; and only 5% knew of schemes in the tourism industry to provide potable water for local communities. However, "those hotels that are engaging in activity to conserve water are making a real difference to the local communities as they recognise that clean water improves health, education and quality of life", said the report.

The ICRT's Harold Goodwin said reducing the consumption of water by tourists and tourism businesses could be achieved "through a combination of behavioural, operational and technological changes, many of which are not costly to instigate and are barely noticed by guests".

"But these changes have a big impact on water use and associated costs," he said.

"That the tourism industry is not doing more is surprising and somewhat depressing," he added.

On day one of WTM, a panel of luxury travel related companies and organisations staged a seminar to discuss ‘luxury travel with a conscience', and concurred that many hotels were guilty of "greenwashing" - the habit of pretending to be green to hide bad practice. They highlighted "green gimmicks" that hotels adopted to give the perception of being green, with re-using towels dubbed as "eco-tourism light".

The panel called for global collaboration at United Nations level in order to help regulate the industry.

"We have to start thinking before we build a hotel," said Tourism Concern's Tricia Bennett.

"Tourism displaces more people than anything else."

But fellow panelist Jeff Senior, the executive vice president marketing & sales for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts fought back by highlighting his company's ‘Practical Guide to Greening Your Hotel', which covers four basic operations: energy and water conservations, waste management and community outreach programmes.

"And re-using towels is not a green gimmick," he said.

"It has a significant impact when you are talking about a 600-room hotel."

Like WTM's Jeffery, Jane Kaye-Bailey, a philanthropist, the founder of UK charity The Butterfly Tree and a partner of Exquisite Safaris, noted the responsibilities of the luxury travellers.

"The luxury traveller needn't be a hedonist," she said. "I can give many examples of luxury travellers with a conscience."

She said many of her clients had visited countries and become philanthropic tourists by donating money for community projects in that destination.

And David Macdonald, sales director at Air Partner Private Jets argued that flying both business and luxury travellers to exotic and hard-to-reach locations where communities needed assistance encouraged them to become philanthropic travellers because they: a) invest in the country and b) become the philanthropic travellers of which Kaye-Bailey spoke.

"It opens their eyes and makes them aware; they become the new philanthropists," he said.

Despite protests over the carbon emissions generated by private jets, Macdonald also reminded the audience that his company was involved in disaster recovery, humanitarian relief, and global peacekeeping efforts.

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