A licence to grow or get better – which do you choose?

I am grateful to the folks at Coast – One Planet Tourist Network for pointing me to the Dec 11th article in Travel Mole that was published two days before UNWTO launched its campaign celebrating the recording of 1 Billion international trips – see previous post.

My curiosity was piqued and my optimism encouraged by this statement from the Secretary General: “We have an opportunity right now to move away from business as usual policies and to put the right strategies in place to significantly reduce  our emissions.

But after continuing to read the UNWTO press releases officially launching the publication Tourism in the Green Economy, my concerns returned.

The publication builds on the tourism chapter of the 2011 UNWTO/UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Green Economy Report, which finds that an investment of just 0.2% of global GDP per year between now and 2050 would allow the tourism sector to grow steadily over the coming decades, contributing to much-needed economic growth, employment and development while ensuring significant environmental benefits such as reductions in water consumption (18%), energy use (44%) and CO2 emissions (52%), as compared to a business as usual scenario. (Source: UNWTO press release, Dec11th, 2012)

So I took the time to read – well try to read – the tourism chapter which comprises 40+ pages of a 613 report titled Towards a Green Economy published in 2011 but found it impossible to follow the logic or identify a rationale for allowing the tourism sector to grow steadily.

The authors of the chapter do acknowledge that tourism produces waste and uses resources and the text includes all kinds of empirical evidence from various regions that show how variable the intensity of this resource use can be. While the report appears to be well referenced, it contains a number of major statements whose source is unclear including:

In a BAU scenario up to 2050, tourism growth will imply increases in:

  • energy consumption up 111%
  • greenhouse gas emissions up 105%
  • water consumption up 150% and
  • solid waste disposal up 252%

Unfortunately, there’s no way to compare these figures for increased resource use and waste production with forecast increases in arrivals as there is no explanation of what the BAU (business as usual) scaenrio is and whose figures are being applied nor is there a time frame stated for which these percentage increases apply. We know the end date is 2050 but we don’t know the start date.

But what the report does do is fantasise what would happen if a $248 billion annual investment  in energy & water effiiciency, carbon mitigation and solid waste management were made (again start date unclear and the implication is that this investment would apply every year until 2050). On page 442, the report states that a green tourism economy would undercut the corresponding BAU scenario by:

  • 18% for water consumption
  • 44% for water supply
  • 52% for carbon emissions
  • No figure was provided for solid waste!

I wasn’t sure how to interpret and apply the term undercut – was it to be applied to the rate of overall increase or could it possibly have been applied to intensity of use/production? I took the obvious route (one also applied by the UNWTO in their press release) and assumed it mean a reduction in the rate of increase  so that, thanks to this annual investment of a quarter-trillion dollars (yes, really!),  a green tourism economy would result in:

  • water consumption only increasing by 138% (150%-18%)
  • energy consumption only increasing by 67% (111%-44%)
  • Co2 emissions rising by only 53% (105%-52%)
  • again, no figure is provided for solid waste but there will clearly be lots to deal with.
What Typhoon Bopha left behind - will increasing frequency & intensity of winter hurricanes affect seasonal demand?

What Typhoon Bopha left behind – will increasing frequency & intensity of winter hurricanes affect seasonal demand?

You’ll have noted that I used the word “fantasise” regarding the green investment because this number appears to have been picked out of thin air and is based on an investment of some $248 billion equivalent to 0.2% of “total GDP”. There is no discussion, however, of:

  • where this money would be raised
  • where and how it would be spent (although it is somewhat arbitrarily allocated between energy, water, emissions, solid waste, employee training and biodiversity)
  • how we would be sure it resulted in efficiencies necessary to guarantee the “undercut”
  • who would oversee and report on the actual results of such an investment.
  • whether any funds would be made available to tourism facilities damaged by the effects of climate change or to help adapt to future damage. Note; as I write this Fiji and Samoa are just assessing the damage of Cyclone Evan which local meteorologists describe as unusual in behaviour and severity; the Philippines is reeling from the severity of a first ever  “super typhoon” whose Cat-5 ferocity claimed some 1000 lives; not to mention Hurricane Sandy on America’s northeast coast.

Nor is any mention made of recent reports from the World Bank, NOAA, the International Energy Authority and Price Waterhouse Coopers, and the Global carbon Project all replete with evidence that global warming is accelerating in pace and scope. (Watch this space for a link to those updates here within a couple of days)

I can’t help but conclude that macro reports such as the one UNWTO is using simply build a false sense of security that the right and sufficient action is being taken. As a consequence, this approach serves to disempower the people whose lives and livelihoods are most likely to be affected by these environmental forces.

A fundamental principle and assumption underpinning conscious travel is that it’s time for the global tourism economy to shift from its obsession with growth – as in more arrivals, more facilities, more consumption –  to prosperity in the fullest sense of the word – as in better, higher value, deeper levels of satisfaction, stability, vitality and resilience.

If we – the global tourism economy –  sought a licence to improve and to contribute as opposed to seeking a licence simply to grow in size we might find we’d be taken more seriously.

6 Responses to “A licence to grow or get better – which do you choose?”

  1. Reblogged this on Conscious.Travel and commented:

    In light of the fact that my post WTM 2014 post “Walking the Halls of Dark and Despair” got more reads than any previous post, I am assuming there is some interest in discussing how tourism is going to grow as forecast and be a responsible planetary citizen.

    Today I started my first online MOOC, described here. It’s not too late to join.
    So to sustain the debate, I’m reblogging this post that is now 2 years sold but still relevant. I need help – does anyone know what steps have been taken to create the funds necessary to Green the Tourism Economy? If not, what licence to operate might this economy expect going forward?


  2. I can’t believe I wrote this post almost 2 years ago and again I find myself struggling with the insanity, the delusions, the wilful blindness all around. I’ve just spent the last 2 weeks trying to figure out whether there’s the remotest chance that Business as Usual might prevail.

    But the scientists are now clear and strident. The truth unavoidable. Humanity has a carbon budget of 250 billion (1/4 trillion) metric tons of carbon left to emit before virtually guaranteeing that the earth’s temperature will rise beyond 2 degrees. Based on current consumption (we burn about a 10 billion tons a year now) and the possibility that we might not reduce our emissions at all (because we haven’t managed to cut back by any more than 1% a year up until now), we have another 25 years before the party is well and truly over. So next time you see a new born baby, look it in the eyes and imagine what they will be experiencing when they turn 21. Imagine how you will answer their question – what did you do when you knew? The last question taken from Drew Dellinger’s poem see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vb_nukXuomk

    PS Thank you Rachel, Nancy and Michael for your comments to this post.


  3. Anna and Michael — you’ve both added a great deal more depth and purpose to an initiative that I felt was lacking in both. Without doing all that reading (goodness, thank you for undertaking that, Anna) I had difficulty tracing the sense of dissatisfaction I felt about the whole UNTWO campaign. These sort of awareness events don’t generally accomplish much, in my opinion; they don’t promise results of the magnitude that all their hype would imply.

    It is the small actions of individuals dreaming, discussing, and doing that really produce change — almost always, these small actions provoke interactions, which are a component of “experience”. And I think no one disagrees with what a powerful teacher experience is.

    This segues nicely into travel and tourism, particularly “experiential travel,” which is what my employer Amble Resorts was founded on. As Anna said, changing our economic and social frameworks and corporate cultures to strive for “better” over “bigger”, is key. Experiential travel requires such a shift, and flourishes in frameworks built on quality. Many of our competitors in the luxury adventure travel market are guilty of bolstering their products with a lot of add-ons that don’t equate to a better experience — a “pillow menu” seems egregiously silly to me, but that’s subjective I suppose. From the smallest details of a travel experience to the most defining choices of the developer or tourism operator, “more” will often bear out to be simply “more” whereas local, culturally-authentic components can be incorporated sensibly to the benefit of the surrounding community. I suppose this part of the “One Billion Opportunities” campaign got it right — the devil’s in the details. Or the angel. But the placative tone of the whole thing defeated the purpose.

    There are many standing at the loudspeakers on behalf of sustainability who yet fail to grasp that positivity, while good, errs in failing to address the prodigious challenges we’re facing.

    There’s a duality of light and dark many cultures worldwide seem to grasp. Life and death are more intertwined, and beliefs inhabit gray areas with less discomfort than do the beliefs of many of the people in my own country. For now, let’s hope that at least the growth in tourism being clamored for and/or dubiously supported by those at the loudspeakers rouses more people to visit those other cultures who can teach them that big dreams and cold reality CAN coexist.


  4. I enjoy your thought provoking perspective and posts. I believe that the most significant progress will come from the collective impact of connected grassroots initiatives.

    I thought you would enjoy knowing about the Climate Meme Project – a crowd funded, open collaboration initiative to push the tipping point for climate action. lhttp://www.rockethub.com/projects/11983-toward-global-tipping-point-on-climate-action


  5. Anna,

    Without reading the report it seems as if it has been designed to placate peoples’ fears re. the consequences of continued growth. You are correct in labeling the prognostications for a green economy, “fantasies”, since so little effort is being given to identifying and pursuing Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals related to sustainability and resilience. So far governments and major tourism corporations have only given the impression of concern; they are more interested in creating and protecting image / jobs / profits. While there is evidence of incremental improvements, sadly no game-changing initiatives are underway.

    Nothing new here! So what needs to be done? Here are but a few top-of-mind suggestions that stem from my work in dealing with the corporate side of tourism.

    – Continue the work on building the business case for sustainability – ignorance still runs rampant. Center the dialogue around desirable outcomes for companies as well as communities; “Start a 1000 Conversations”) especially within local tourism clusters; animate through dynamic relationships between those being served and those in service; encourage greater collaborative innovation.

    – Sustainability is akin to dieting. Despite the myriad of approaches the ususal result is weight gain. Why? Diets focus on fatness. So if sustainability only focuses on risk, could it be that it isn’t working because we only move toward the thing we think about most often? Is it any wonder that so many sustainability initiatives result in more bureaucracy, more risk mitigation, and ultimately greater failure.

    – As stewards of capitalism’s futures and fate, governments and corporations are anxious to stay on top of the competitive heap. They do this through innovation and great technologies that focus on the net value they deliver to their customers. That’s where success lies, not on risk. In addition great organizations understand that innovation is systemic. It’s cultural. It’s tied to organizational climate and organizational focus. The best companies in innovation are championed by the best people. These people create systems that reward smart risk and their ultimate focus on a daily basis is on delivering systematic and immediate-customer value. The take-away is simple: Place greater emphasis on the link between innovation and sustainability; link sustainability with the creation of net value for all stakeholders; then pursue with passion.

    – Champion and find ways to help organizations and governments innovate their way to “excellence”. Create an innovation culture around sustainability within individual companies and communities through concerted efforts to engage everyone.

    – Corporations, large or small, public or private, typically have a narrow view of tourism which is tied to demand. Tourism in service to the community is of secondary concern. If our task is to “make meaning” of sustainability, then we need to understand and correct our failures in associating sustainability to long-term competitive advantage, community resilience, and profitability. Tourism organizations would benefit by being more conversant with the augmenting power of community-based tourism that has a strong sense of purpose, is distinctive, rich in its sense of, and pride-in, place, and is engaged in creating an emergent resilience based on sustainability principles.

    I am a believer in getting things done locally. Content can be better tied to context. It’s easier to identify the “movers and shakers” and get them to the table in order to create things that help reshape the reality and essence of their community as only they know it.

    Finally, it seems to me that there are sources of inspiration that can get us moving. Here is one that focuses on “Inclusive Innovation -Shared Value at the Bottom of the Pyramid” that comes from WBCSD Development. http://www.bopinc.org/en/updates/publications/item/163-publication-inclusive-innovation-shared-value-at-the-base-of-the-pyramid.

    Anna, at the end of your article you mention that perhaps we need a “licence” to to do this. I disagree. Sustainability needs and thrives on mavericks and iconoclasts. Let’s follow the dictum of Nike and “Just do it!”

    Regards, Michael



  1. Climate Change: Implications for Business as Usual Tourism | Conscious.Travel - August 23, 2014

    […] A licence to grow or get bigger – which do you choose?  […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: