The question posed to 46 thought leaders - inside and outside the travel and tourism sector, from around the world, in the lead-up to the Rio+20 summit was: "How can the most sought after human economic activity on the planet transform itself for a cleaner, greener, fairer future?"
Responses were compiled in a book entitled "Green Growth and Travelism -- Letters from Leaders" published by Goodfellow Publishers and launched in Rio de Janeiro on 20 June at an event organized by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
The contributions comprise a wide range of far-reaching ideas that point to a brighter future in which travelism - the entire travel and tourism value chain, of communities, companies, and consumers - plays a constructive role in the shift to a world based on green growth patterns – low carbon, more conservation, resource efficient, and inclusionary. According to the publishers, the book is the first to provide real evidence of the actions, viewpoints, and hopes of those at the frontline.
Some of the authors’ comments provide a measure of the thinking:
Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the 1992 Rio Summit (to whom the book is dedicated): “The travel industry needs an enlightened and radically-reinvigorated agenda for green growth transformation - building on its progress to date, but with real and continuing action, targets, measurement, and a new mind-set that links economic, climate, social, and environmental response.”
Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley, Prime Minister of Bhutan: “…I would argue that an economy is not an economy if, at the very least, it does not promote sustainability, … instead of simply pursuing growth for its own sake, too often at the expense of our fragile Earth, the new economy will respect planetary boundaries, ensure fair distribution of our limited resources, and use those resources with care and efficiency, to serve human happiness and the wellbeing of all life.”
Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group and the Carbon War Room: “I believe the airline industry can move from being a polluting industry to one of the cleanest industries in the world within 10 years. Unlike other industries, it only has 1800 fuel pumps to fuel the world’s aircraft, and, therefore, once clean fuels are ready for delivery, it is easy to transform the whole industry.”
The contribution of UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Pantichpakdi stressed that for tourism to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, it is essential to have a partnership between the public and private spheres. The Government's role includes ensuring that industrial policy, macroeconomic policy, investment policy and other regulations relating to the environment, to labour standards, and to training are in place and harnessed to serve national tourism and development goals.
Dr. Supachai noted the relative robustness of the tourism sector in light of the recent economic and financial crisis. He also noted that by boosting per capita income, tourism had been a decisive factor supporting graduation from Least Developed Countries status of Cape Verde and the Maldives, and three other small island LDCs (Samoa, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu) are regarded as potential graduation cases in light of progress that has been, to a large extent, fuelled by tourism growth.
Dr. Supachai cited the case of Laos where UNCTAD and other UN agencies are "working as one" on a project to help organic agriculture producers and tourism enterprises promote more sustainable agriculture and strengthen the new sector's links with tourism. One of the objectives is to boost Laos' profile and tourism "offer" in an increasingly competitive tourism market. Bolstering sustainable agriculture can also have wider macroeconomic effects in addition to environmental benefits, including through reducing the country's reliance on costly imports of fuel and petro-chemical pesticides.
This project is shortly to be rolled out in a series of other countries.