On September 16-17, 2021, more than 165 government officials, speakers, professors and travel industry leaders gathered in Evora, Portugal, to discuss the future of tourism. Here’s what was exchanged:
This first event dedicated to Sustainable Tourism is based on the premise that man is a nomad and that travel is not an option. Many challenges are faced by decision makers in tourism: to achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement, to invent activities in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to improve the digitalization of actors.
The conference allowed the meeting of start-ups, activists and tour operators in a historical setting such as the University of Évora founded in 1559. Among the participants were Julia Simpson, CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, Taleb Rifai, former Secretary General of UNTWO, Brune Poirson, former Secretary of State, now Director of Sustainable Development at Accor, and Frédéric Mazzella, President and Founder of BlaBlaCar.
The speakers were unanimous: the Covid-19 pandemic, the closing of borders and the total interruption of travel have made the world aware of the importance of the tourism industry at the environmental and social levels. Indeed, the crisis has jeopardized more than 100 million direct jobs in tourism and has led to a loss of more than 910 billion dollars in exports (UNWTO)
Climate and local tourism
According to Christian de Perthuis, founder of the Climate Economics Chair at Paris-Dauphine University, tourism operators must anticipate today the climate variations that will define the activities of tomorrow’s holidaymakers. Indeed, according to the 6th IPCC report, all the climatic disturbances that we have experienced in recent months, such as storms, extreme heat, and flooding, will increase in the next two decades.
Travel agencies and advisors now have a responsibility to guide travelers to the most responsible areas to travel. Local tourism, the default choice during the health crisis, must also be encouraged to reduce the dependence of states on international visitors and to favor less carbon-intensive modes of transportation.
Two climate commitments were made by the conference speakers:
1- Offer reliable carbon offset options.
Today, only 10% of airlines offer voluntary carbon offsetting and this is not unanimously accepted by travelers. The industry needs to adopt a single carbon footprint calculator to increase consumer confidence. Tax incentives, public investment and international cooperation will play a huge role in meeting this commitment.
2- Commit to an emissions reduction plan for each business.
CO2 emissions from tourism increased by 60% between 2005 and 2015. If action is not taken today, CO2 emissions are expected to increase by 2030. Although many companies have already implemented carbon footprint reduction targets, it is now essential that each organization meets this target and is rated by international certification companies.
Redistribution of income from tourism
It is necessary to redistribute tourism revenues to the populations, for a greater integration in the local economic ecosystems and for world peace. Indeed, a Thomas Cook study reveals that out of 100 euros spent in a resort, less than 15 cents went to local communities. **
Memunatu Pratt, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Tourism, agrees: *”The 11 years of war in our country have created strong ethnic divisions and torn the country apart. The fact of gathering around our cultural particularities, of valuing our heritage, allows us to rebuild the links around a patriotic feeling,” she observes. Tourism is seen first as a creator of jobs and revenue but it is also in some regions a guardian of peace among the people.
Some commitments have been retained on this subject following the many interventions:
3- Prioritize investments to develop sustainable tourism.
The average investment in the travel and tourism sector represents 17% of GDP. This expenditure must be increased to develop sustainable tourism. Destinations must commit to investing more in tourism and even more in sustainable tourism to improve the peace and prosperity of its people.
4- Provide communities with tourism solutions.
The demand for positive tourism is growing. Indeed, 70% of tourists want to have a positive impact on the economy and environment in which they travel. Incentives and best practice plans need to be put in place for tourism to benefit the places and people it touches.
During these conferences, it was agreed that tomorrow’s tourism will be less exotic and more local, that activities connected to nature will be preferred. Moreover the new generations will travel less but longer. It is indeed difficult to envisage regulating the flows when the States need visitors more than ever, however we can retain commitments for the climate, local tourism and the redistribution of income.