Green concerns will not stop tourists travelling

As travel and tourism demand grows will infracture be able to keep pace?

The impact of climate change on the travel industry is arguably the biggest challenge facing us right now – or is it? TTN put the questions to Geoffrey Kent, chairman of the World Travel & Tourism Council, and chairman and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent. Excerpts:

In the light of the current ‘green travel’ debate, how will your recent 2007 forecasts be impacted?
The most significant trend we have seen over the last three years is the change in consumers’ perception of the environment.
In constructing the travel and tourism forecasts, our base data reflects shifts in consumer demand and tastes that reflect growing environmental concerns. And in projecting travel and tourism demand, we analyse recent trends in spending composition and project in line with those trends – although clearly they will reflect other influences than just environment, for example increased availability of low-cost air travel, rising real incomes, opening up of new destinations, etc.

What will responsible tourism mean for the industry? Studies show that more of the far-travelling Germans are already opting to stay in Germany this year.
A growing number of today’s tourists want to experience authenticity, they want to visit places that still retain their traditional character and they want to be rejuvenated by unspoiled nature and living cultures. They want to do more than simply travel, they want to experience and the environment is a growing factor of this experience.
Authenticity is a key word and more and more emphasis is being placed on this aspect. Environmental consciousness doesn’t mean that tourists will avoid travelling; it just means that choices will favour products with genuine cultural, environmental and social components. For example, saying that the Germans will opt to travel within Germany will, in our point of view, not happen. It will just mean that there will be a shift in the type of product the consumer is seeking. 

What’s the response been from the industry so far on this front?
Companies and in particular WTTC members have been very engaged in these issues and all them have already put in place global responsible citizen programmes, which includes an environmental aspect. Airlines, hotels, tour operators and car rental companies are increasingly conscious and making efforts to train staff, put together sustainable management practices and offer products which integrate these concerns.

Consumers in more mature tourism markets, perhaps, understand responsible tourism better than those in developing markets – in fact, are we not likely to see a North-South World Trade Organisation-style debate as the need for sustainable tourism intensifies? Developing markets, after all, first need to create markets before they can act responsibly?
It is not longer a North-South or even West-East debate; it is now increasingly becoming a global debate. I have been travelling extensively within the five continents and each country, each leader and each major decision maker is creating medium to long term plans in order to fulfil the responsibility towards environmental, cultural and social issues. This pattern has largely been facilitated by the world’s awareness about environmental obligations and the fact that the consumer is seeking environmentally friendly products.

What do you hope this year’s summit will achieve?
Travel and tourism is clearly booming. WTTC research suggests that demand for global travel and tourism will continue to grow at a steady annual rate of 4.2 per cent over the next ten years. This growth creates a new set of challenges – how will the industry manage this growth? How will companies organise themselves? How will government respond to infrastructure needs? This presents a necessary obligation for the industry to become a global responsible citizen and for this reason the theme of this year’s summit is Breaking Barriers, Managing Growth.
Breaking barriers because the public and private need to allow this growth to reach its full potential to provide economic growth and jobs worldwide but we must also manage this growth so we can answer human resources needs towards environmental obligation. We need to create a framework in which the entire industry participates in the challenges created by the environmental needs of this century.

A little about Abercrombie & Kent. Is your operation likely to expand into the Middle East soon?
Travel with Abercrombie & Kent combines the convenience, service and security of a UK- or US-based sales office with the support of a network of 50 on-site offices that ensure ‘by invitation only’ access in a personalized, low-profile and intelligent style. We have organized several invitational programmes in the Middle East for members of our Marco Polo Club, our most frequent travellers, and are using their feedback to decide where to expand next.

What are the hot new luxury trends we would do well to pay attention to?
More and more people are trading in their business cards for passports. They are affluent, successful, individualistic, freedom-seeking – very different from the mature travellers of the past. They want to travel with intelligent, like-minded people who share a passion for meaningful travel experiences.
They believe that living the good life is about doing and experiencing more. They tell us, ‘At this stage in life, I am interested in special experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life.’
• Celebrations:  they want to share meaningful travel experiences with their families and friends.
• They want to travel further, faster and demand luxury with a sense of well-being.
• They value space and privacy, preferring carefully chosen properties that accommodate a small number of guests in spacious villas or tastefully decorated suites.
• Innovative, healthful and satisfying cuisine.
• Challenging physical activities
• Authentic cultural experiences
• Tantalizing treatments for body and soul

How much has Abercrombie & Kent incorporated the principles of sustainable tourism?
A deep-rooted concern for the natural world infuses each and every Abercrombie & Kent trip: we believe passionately that responsible tourism is the answer to conserving our world’s natural resources.  It is the experience of a place that makes us want to preserve it for others to enjoy. With a philosophy that is governed in equal parts by an unswerving commitment to conservation and the mission to provide ‘memories of a lifetime’, Abercrombie & Kent goes to seemingly limitless lengths to design adventures that respect the natural environment and benefit indigenous peoples. Abercrombie & Kent’s Sanctuary Lodges in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, for example, are joint ventures with the local community designed to preserve this natural wonder for future generations.