Tourism & travel in the green economy

27 July 2011
ITC News


The rapidly evolving green growth paradigm shift that all nations are embracing at a policy level, with the buy-in of industry and civil society, provides an unparalleled opportunity to leverage the massive socio-economic power of travelism (travel and tourism) to benefit humanity and the planet.

We are at a tipping point where the past four decades of climate and poverty concern – the Stockholm Environment Conference, the Rio Earth Summit, the Kyoto Climate Summit, the Millennium Development Goals and the like – must give way to shared solutions. What is needed now is vision, innovative thinking and courage by policymakers – public, private and civil society – to recognize the potential and create new, inclusive frameworks to make it happen.

Green growth is not a simple concept. For the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), and Africa specifically, the global green growth agenda could bring huge potential dividends – with inclusion as a key element, renewable energy as a point of focus, technology and capacity support as givens and transformation financing pivotal. Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa (the BRICS) will lead the reshaping of the international order – particularly China with its huge tourism flows and LDC-aligned strategic geo-policy (see Figure 1).

There is a key role for travelism – the combined impact of the whole travel and tourism supply and demand chains and not just the sub-sector silos (transport, accommodation, hospitality/events and travel services). However, much of the potential lies hidden. If its role can be recognized and incorporated into mainstream green growth politico-economic decision-making, it can have significant positive socio-economic benefits. This is particularly the case for the world’s poorest countries generally and Africa specifically, where it is a universal services exporter, a producer of wealth, jobs and investment, a catalyst for other economic activity (agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing and communications) and a force for development that increases understanding between people. Leveraging this value will need radical new thinking and, more importantly, action.

•  Travelism must be mainstreamed by all in green growth strategies in the next five years.

•  It must be recognized and supported as a responsible sector that will meet and exceed evolving government carbon targets, including for the pivotal air transport sector.

•  LDCs require more air services. In some densely populated markets like Europe, North America and China, substitution of transport modes based on carbon footprints may be feasible. However, LDCs lack alternative options and depend on aviation for sustainable future growth and emergence from poverty.

•  Tapping the growing BRICS markets will be important. Chinese outbound business is forecast to be the largest international market in the world. One great upside of Chinese investment in Africa is that travelism will be an integral part of growth and development requiring more air services, support infrastructure, products and quality delivery. Chinese travellers are discerning and will be looking for the same standards in airports and ground services they find in Asia.

•  There is a vast array of micro strategies that will need to be deployed in the short, medium and long term to respond coherently to the economic, poverty and carbon timescales. Activating regional and locally focused collaboration will be required to stimulate ‘bottom of the pyramid’ (BOP) market activity across the travelism value chain.                  

Through these actions, the public/private sector balance in infrastructure and delivery of services will shift. Governments will have less money and the private sector will have to be convinced to fill the gap. Progress already made with the adoption of corporate social responsibility standards will help in the conversion. Relationships between public and private interests need to be fair and balanced, avoiding discriminatory taxes and stimulating seamless, secure travel.

New style public-private partnerships deal­ing with infrastructure, agriculture, communications, renewable energies and micro-credit are required so that travelism can play an important role in climate and poverty transformation, as well as share directly in the funding support, technology-related matters like climate-proofed buildings, rural restructure and green education systems.

Two core principles should inform green growth initiatives. Quadruple bottom line sustainability, with climate the new, game changing one, integrated with social, enviro­nmental and economic balance. And smart travel – clean, green, ethical at all levels of the price/product spectrum and incorporating local community interests.

Last, but by no means least, change is required in all levels of education to produce a green travelism workforce, including the entrepreneurs who make up so much of the informal sector. At present travelism education is quite inadequate.

Few policymakers understand the true impact and importance of the sector. Educating future leaders requires new forms of collaborative, web-centric, interactive, dynamic relationships. Multi-stakeholder collaboration, with local communities at the core and civil society at the table, will have greater credibility and sustainability.

Finally, innovation is required to attract essential investment. Competition is getting tougher as austerity pressures increase and as public scrutiny of financial transactions intensifies. The following considerations apply to both public and private investors, as well as international and regional development banks:

• Travelism needs to be looked at more holistically across the value chain. For example a well planned airport or port is an investment base for road, rail, air or cruises and all the related communications technology support systems.

• The industry is a major source of job creation and a catalyst for green growth, opening up access to massive financial resources for the required infrastructure, human capital, technology and finance while spreading benefits across communities.

• Investment funds are available in the BRICS, particularly China and South Africa.

• Trans-border, regional and sub-regional coalitions can be targeted as the basis of both investment and projects. Development banks are already active.

 There are massive new opportunities. The timing is right for travelism to emerge as a key sector in the coming green growth transformation, driving the change to low-carbon lifestyles and helping LDCs burst out of their historic poverty shackles.