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Fiona Jeffery, World Travel Market Chairman

This is the moment when the travel industry must play its part to prevent the catastrophic consequences of climate change and the destruction of the world’s ecosystems.

December’s climate summit, running from the seventh to eighteenth in Copenhagen is vital to more than just our industry. It’s essential for the future of our children and our grandchildren.

The Prince of Wales, who’s been campaigning globally about the disastrous affects of climate change through The Prince’s Rainforests Project, has warned – and I quote: “If unchecked, it will result in billions of environmental refugees, uncertain production of food and lack of water, the increasing spread of disease and growing social instability. In other words, this will affect the well-being of every man, woman and child on our planet.”

Climate change issues control the future of travel and tourism as we know it today and the industry must recognise its part in what are the most important dates for us since the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997. That Treaty expires in 2012 – when, ironically this country will stage the Olympic Games and possibly the biggest mix of international visitors the UK has ever seen.

Climate change has a significant impact on a wide range of basic resources needed for tourism, such as the availability and quality of freshwater supply.

Directly, climate variability and changing weather patterns can affect tourism planning and seriously detract from the comfort and enjoyment of holidaymakers, their travel decisions, and, eventually, the flow of tourists.

Indirectly, climate change can have a significant impact on tourism activities by altering the natural environment that’s a major tourist attraction. Just imagine Switzerland or Colorado with no winter sports; or the traditional sunny hotspots becoming like a total desert… it doesn’t bear thinking about – but without sounding alarmist, the world’s scientists are in agreement that this could happen unless action is taken.

Many difficult dilemmas and decisions face travel and tourism in the years head – and they involve every single one of us. No one is exempt.

Restricting people’s ability to fly through taxation, for example, has caused considerable disquiet within the industry – many people believe it will only result in air travel going back to being the preserve of a wealthy elite – and governments should be aware that it’s likely to be highly unpopular.

Inevitably, transport is at the heart of travel and tourism and its management going forward is a challenge for the industry. Not only high profile air transport with its direct inter-relationship to green house gases. It includes road and rail transport, major factors in intra-regional and domestic tourism, as well as cruising, one of the fastest growing sectors.

Furthermore the focus of the debate on carbon efficiency in travel and tourism is now shifting. There’s an increasing acceptance that carbon offsetting simply does not deliver what the industry needs.
Instead, the industry needs to be clever, to think out of the box, to scrutinise and invest in the latest technology and cutting edge ideas to develop carbon efficiency.

We should, for example, look to what’s already happening in other sectors and other industries. Some hotels are monitoring and reporting on carbon efficiency of rooms. It’s a neat solution providing consumer choice but also importantly ensures energy control by the hotel. Guests can even receive a discount for using less than average energy and water in their bedroom.

Another groundbreaking idea is carbon efficiency labeling of aircraft. The label, modeled on those in use on white goods like fridges, microwaves and washing machines, shows a full range of environmental indicators on each aircraft. The independently audited labels, are presented as part of the on-line ticket booking process, displaying them on the carrier as well as in onboard literature and advertising.

These ideas will not save the world. But they’re a start, an example of what can be done with strategic investment in time and resource.

Global management of travel and tourism is an absolute imperative; there is a need for a new climate of realisation and understanding – and sustainability must be at the heart of everything we do.

However, it’s also imperative that we keep the whole issue of responsible tourism in balance. International travel and tourism has a hugely positive influence on the quality of peoples lives across the world– last year alone the industry created 30 per cent of the world’s export of services, generating a staggering $944billion and providing jobs, investment, poverty reduction, skills training, education and much more.

Doing nothing is no longer an option… No longer an option, that is, if we want to look forward to the future success of the industry.

The world is changing, so are consumers. And we must change too.

That’s why WTM World Responsible Tourism Day is significant; bringing the industry together for motivation, encouragement and action and because of our track record in environmental issues going back 16 years, we’ve been able to build bridges with the industry, constantly bringing the issues to the fore. Responsible tourism is a way of life, it needs to be adopted within the boardroom and cascaded down to staff, suppliers and customers.

The aim of WTM World Responsible Tourism Day is also to send out a clear message to consumers – that we’re listening to their increasing demands for a more caring and sensitive approach.

Today is the focus of three days of intense responsible tourism activity when we hope to engage and confront issues such as climate change and poverty reduction. Not in a way that merely highlights what is good, but challenges, provokes and asks searching questions to confront the myths and identify  deliverable answers.

Well over 100 companies are participating in WTM World Responsible Tourism Day this year and many of the exhibitors are displaying the WTM WRTD 2009 logo on their stands. The WTM World Responsible Tourism Day hotline is busier than ever with more companies joining the campaign.

We’ve also published our third issue of Spotlight, WTM World Responsible Tourism Day’s unique colour magazine. It’s different from other magazines because it essentially concentrates on the inspiring, human stories of unsung heroes behind the many wonderful responsible tourism initiatives that take place worldwide.

They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Spotlight is also available to download on the WTM WRTD website and I urge you to take time out after World Travel Market to enjoy these stories, which not only help feed the mind with ideas but also lift the heart with the sheer determination – sometimes against extreme odds – of our fellow industry professionals. Spotlight should be recommended reading for anyone who makes their living by travel and tourism, your colleagues, your teams, your suppliers.
Tomorrow, we hold our second one-day conference on The Business Case for Responsible Tourism when some of the world’s leading experts will demonstrate that a green policy can go directly to the bottom line.

You may also ask – what is World Travel Market doing? Well let me say right away we don’t pretend to be perfect but like thousands of others in this industry we’re doing our level best to make change happen.

With the support and encouragement of Reed Exhibitions, and our parent company Reed Elsevier, we’ve committed to a more sustainable event management system by being certified for BS8901, the British Standard for Sustainable Event Management. The externally certified, internationally recognized standard sets a framework that manages the implementation of sustainability for events, venues and suppliers, creating a way of working that considers economic, environmental and social impact.

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TravelDailyNews Asia-Pacific editorial team has an experience of over 35 years in B2B travel journalism as well as in tourism & hospitality marketing and communications.