ATN caught up with Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) president and CEO Peter de Jong in Bali to discuss green issues, EU regulations and PATA's activities in the Gulf region.
What have been PATA's activities over the past 12 months?
We think the Gulf has wonderful partnership potential for us and we’re not mercenary or greedy about it.
We have really embraced a number of new agendas, the principle one being climate change, which came to the fore actively on our part when we realised the EU regulatory machinery was going to roll out a unilateral legislation that would really threaten aviation to and from our region. We realised we really needed to tell our story more forcefully and get our industry together to combat what otherwise could have a very negative impact on our daily work.
What are the regulations and how will they impact the industry?
The EU paints aviation and by extension, travel and tourism, as the great polluter. As an industry we have been very unsuccessful in telling our story about what we have achieved over the last 50 years in terms of making our carbon footprint smaller.
Aviation represents just 2% of the global carbon output, but it is growing, and as our industry grows - particularly in Asia - it may go to 3%. Still that's not that big; the flatulence of New Zealand sheep is probably a greater contributor than our entire industry.
So what steps can PATA take to address this issue?
We need to get on the front foot of that issue, not just by telling the EU to go and talk to the other industries that are greater polluters than us, but to say yes, we are aware that we are 2-3% polluters but we are not happy about it so here is what we have done. We need to ensure this industry is not painted as one of the great polluters; an industry the world can easily do without, because we cannot. If aviation stops, our economic activity is hampered and the lives of millions of people are affected.
That's a big issue for us to have embraced and we are organising a big event in Bangkok in April entitled Confronting Climate Change. We decided to take up climate change and link it to the EU regulations and the imminent threat that they pose, and bring that into focus for our CEO Challenge where 400-500 people - those who are really going to have to deal with these issues and make a decision over them, or put their money where their mouths are in campaigns to fight it - will get together on the topic, debate it and take action. That's a concrete step.
Some major issues including sustainability and the environment were identified at the ASEAN Tourism Forum earlier this year - how far has the region come in solving these problems?
When the politicians address big picture issues - as they must - we then need to take them home and identify our role within them. Sustainability and the environment are huge topics that everyone is having ‘talkfests' about. We need to discover where we can make differences that are tangible, and not just be another ‘talkfest' organiser.
In 2008 we plan to ensure that we deal with the environmental issue in a manner that's suitable to our membership; the tour operators, airports, airlines, cruise lines, tourist boards and the hospitality industry. It's about finding a way to bring to the table issues that they can each implement in their companies and sectors that make a difference environmentally. Sustainability is here to stay and issues like being prepared for future crises are essential; it's not a matter of whether there will be a future crisis, it's a matter of when.
How does PATA plan to step up its activities in the Gulf region?
The Gulf is a new region for us for a number of reasons, but mainly because the numbers - particularly since 9/11 - have increased so significantly to our region that we couldn't ignore it. The main aviation players from the Gulf have such strong global aspirations and are so prevalent in our neighbourhood that we really want to engage with them.
We have taken some initiatives and created an opportunity for Gulf regional tourism boards and industry players to become part of our network and they have responded well. We have a lot of work ahead of us but the first indications are very positive and we have agreed to build on that, particularly with Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, and then after that with places like Bahrain and Oman.
What activities will you undertake to improve this relationship?
We will visit Dubai in December to engage with our new partners in research sharing and forecasting. We are looking at what will add value to our partners in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar and what will add value to our members here. We will develop a series of activities to engage more in the region.
It is important to note that we are not focusing those activities on getting Gulf tourists to Asia Pacific - quite the contrary - we want the partnership to be reciprocal. We are just as interested and articulate about opportunities for our region to engage more with the Gulf. It has to be a two-way exchange. The focus will be on education and training. There is a lot of ignorance between each other still but that's an easy gap to bridge through experts, presentations and seminars. We will take baby steps.
This is not a short-term quick fix; we are building a relationship for a long-term future, just as we did with Europe 20 years ago and with the US 40 years ago. We think the Gulf has wonderful partnership potential for us and we're not mercenary or greedy about it.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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