The Arabian Travel Mart (ATM) 2023 with its focus on Sustainable tourism took an important step towards guiding the industry stakeholders to highlight the urgency to accept and address the Climate change as a real challenge.
In keeping with its theme for this year, ‘Working Towards Net Zero’, ATM 2023, held in Dubai, had some interesting sessions focussed on connecting global tourism professionals and have them share knowledge as well as showcase innovations with the tourism professionals. The idea being to direct the sector’s journey towards decarbonisation. The interactions left strong impressions.
The threat is real
According to a World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) report, an estimated 11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to tourism, and that’s predicted to double by 2050, the year scientists have forecasted as the tipping point for all sorts of ecological disasters. “By then, our planet will have warmed 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial times. By the end of the century, the figure looks to be 2C (3.6F), with that half-degree making a huge difference. If emissions are left unchecked, this warming will accelerate, bringing forth a distinctly heightened level of cataclysmic weather patterns,” the report states. And as the awareness increases, the intent of the people choosing to opt for sustainable travel is becoming clearer. According to another report, when surveyed in 2022, over 80 percent of global travellers said that sustainable tourism is important. Pandemic has a role to play there.
A Booking.com report also points out that when traveling, 69 percent of people now want to reduce their carbon footprint and up to 32 percent of travellers say that accommodation providers should offer information about local ecosystems, heritage, culture, and tourist etiquette.
Learnings and way forward
The opening session at ATM looked at the industry’s crucial role in climate change – a particularly pertinent topic as the UAE prepares to host COP28 later this year. The panel comprising tourism and economy figureheads from across the Middle East region discussed how the travel industry needs to adapt to tackle the issue of climate change and meet current regulations by implementing new sustainable policies, funds and support. “Globally, in the last 20 years, there have been USD 2.97 trillion in economic losses due to disasters. Climate change is leading to more frequent and severe climate-related hazards such as floods, heatwaves, cyclones and hurricanes. In turn, the tourism industry loses enormous amounts of money due to these hazards. Therefore the return on investment is clear – invest now to help protect the future.” said Sujit Mohanty, Regional Division for the Arab States, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). The UNDRR works closely with governments, the private sector and stakeholders across the globe, including 22 Arab nations, to reduce disaster risk.
“Educating both businesses and travellers on how they contribute to the carbon footprint is one of our key priorities. In parallel with education, we are offering incentives to hotels, businesses and other stakeholders to encourage sustainable practices,” said Dr Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat, Managing Director, Jordan Tourism Board. Jordan is one of the highest-ranking countries in the region on The Euromonitor Environmental Sustainability Index and responsible tourism is now a key focus for the nation.
Rural tourism is one of the fastest growing sector in the sustainability space. In the summer of last year, Lebanon welcomed two million tourists, a quarter of which were international. As a result of the growth in visitor numbers, rural tourism has seen a boost, an area of tourism which is more favourable to the issue of climate change. “The guesthouse sector has grown in the last two to three years in Lebanon, which has been a welcome trend. We have now established a syndicate of over 150 guesthouses, encouraging tourism in more remote areas,” shared Walid Nassar, Minister of Tourism, Lebanon.
“The issue of climate change has never been more topical or urgent, and the strategies discussed at the opening session provided the perfect launchpad for ATM 2023 as we explore the future of sustainable travel under the theme – Working towards net zero,” said Danielle Curtis, Exhibition Director ME for Arabian Travel Market.
Sustainable practices in luxury space
Another panel – Sustainable Luxury: At what cost – sought to address why luxury travel operators must view sustainability as a long-term investment rather than a short-term cost. While acknowledging the growing demand for luxury travel and sharing insights into the recent trends and resulting impacts, the panellists agreed that decarbonisation will require significant financial backing, but warned the luxury travel industry cannot afford to ignore sustainability.
“Luxury and sustainability have not always gone hand in hand, but this is changing,” said Nadia Ibrahim, Member of the Board of Directors of the UN Global Compact. “We are encountering a new generation of travellers that wants high-end experiences that do not compromise sustainability. This is why airlines, hotels, travel agencies and tourist destinations are thinking about how sustainability can be integrated into their existing services, and how it can be used to attract more customers,” she shared.
The panelists agreed that guests no longer see sustainability as a compromise within luxury travel, and are now demanding environmentally responsible offerings.
“We are seeing that luxury travellers want to spend more time really connecting with the places they visit. They also want to be involved with brands,” said Candice D’Cruz, VP Luxury Brands at Marriott International. “It’s no longer a one-way conversation, and if you are having a two-way conversation, how transparent are you being? Luxury consumers tend to be less forgiving; they want to connect with brands that reflect their values, and sustainability is definitely one of those values,” she told attendees.
“This is not ‘Plan B’,” said William Harley-Fleming, Vice President of Operations for JA The Resort and Indian Ocean, building a genuine business case for sustainability. “It’s not a choice anymore; it’s something we need to do. The cost of not [investing in sustainability] can adversely affect your business and its reputation. And at the end of the day, our industry does generate jobs, so we’ve got to act right now,” he remarked.
Building sustainable supply chains
Another panel, “Strategic Sustainability Planning – Where Does The Supply-Chain Start?” featuring high profile speakers, namely Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism Jamaica, Ghada Shalaby, Vice Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Arab Republic of Egypt and Dr Miniya Chatterji along with moderator Gabriel Seder, Vice President, Global Development, Destinations International, had them sharing their perspectives on the development of sustainable supply chains.
“As the travel industry fully embraces its transformation to a sustainable industry, we must not forget the supply chain impact. Travel providers, governments and academics need to ensure there is cohesion with all suppliers within the value chain,” observed Bartlett.
Bringing in the Egypt perspective, Ghada Shalaby, Vice Minister of Tourism, Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt said: “We do not see a start and finish to the supply chain but we see it as circular and integrated. We are evolving our tourism strategy with full engagement from all sectors, placing a strong focus on the private sector which we are supporting through speed to market initiatives.This in turn requires full engagement from the community to the supplier to the consumer and of course government. It’s a very exciting time in Egypt.”
Last November, Egypt hosted COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh.