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Carbon footprint steps back into the limelight at World Travel Market

After another fab WTM, Rebecca highlights the inspiring and thought provoking presentation by Kevin Anderson about the sector and its carbon footprint.

The short term economic realities of life post the 2008 recession might have made the carbon debate politically unfashionable and economically unpalatable. But in his presentation to a packed hall at this year’s World Travel Market, Kevin Anderson gave us a timely reminder that carbon is an issue that is not going away and that will eventually affect us all.

In a world in which our chances of maintaining global temperature rises at 2 degrees c or less are rapidly receding (the so-called ‘safe’ threshold agreed upon by global governments), it seems that we need to do something and do it fast. Kevin fulfilled his role in the debate brilliantly. I doubt that anyone left that room without privately promising to do something about their own carbon footprint.

Those who shared the stage with Kevin (Hyatt, Boeing, UNWTO and South Africa Tourism) were perhaps less convincing when grilled by host Stephen Sakur. It is easy to make snap judgements about the adequacy of their responses but before we do, we remember that each of the organisations represented on the stage had at least begun the process of addressing the carbon issue. They are perhaps not doing enough or as fast as we would like, but they are doing something and this is where they differ from the many tourism organisations who were absent from debates about carbon in the sector and from this years WTM.

For the most part, those organisations that remain invisible have not even invested in the now tried and tested technologies that combine carbon and cost savings, much less, set targets to deliver change or indulged in the rhetoric (albeit outdated) about reducing their carbon impacts. Those who don’t seem to see the carbon footprints they leave behind include among their number some of the very large travel and tourism companies worldwide (those who could be trailblazers in this area) as well as a goodly percentage of the millions of micros and SMEs that dominate the sector.

More than two decades since we began talking about the implications of climate change, it is deeply disappointing a large number of tourism organisations are still failing to engage in actions to reduce their carbon emissions – especially when just a few small steps can make a difference. To reduce our carbon emissions, perhaps we need to reframe the debate to ensure that carbon is an issue that is seen as fundamental to the success of any tourism business, which of course it is!. It needs to become an issue that merits debate that is treated with the same reverence by tourism planners and in the board room as any discussion on visitor numbers or long term profitability.

Learned colleagues like Kevin make the imperative for action very clear. The same people doing the same things will not perhaps reach the tourism businesses that have failed to engage thus far, nor will it reduce the overall carbon emissions from tourism. For those of us who are already engaged, his message provides a powerful incentive to work harder with our clients and support them in achieving ever greater reductions in carbon emissions.