The travel and tourism sector must manage its environmental impact better or face a consumer backlash, industry leaders have admitted.
The industry faces unprecedented levels of expansion in both emerging and developed regions and, while some steps have been taken towards ensuring sustainable growth, much more needs to be done, they said.
Speaking at the Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, last week, James Russell, senior director for the Clinton Climate Change Initiative, warned that the industry had 12 to 24 months to bring about changes that would make people feel good about taking holidays.
"You can debate climate change, but you can't push away the issue," he said. "You don't need to be a tree-hugger to get this issue to help your business."
Russell added that this would encourage premium customers, who believe in protecting the environment, and help businesses' bottom lines. "Only once companies have reduced their carbon imprint by 30-40% does it start to cost them money to reduce it further," he said.
Costas Christ, chairman of judges for the summit's Tourism for Tomorrow awards, agreed that the issue of sustainability was no longer a niche market ideal. "It's something that's become too big to ignore," he said.
However, Maurice Flanagan, executive vice-chairman of Emirates Airline, insisted there was nothing man could do about "the argument of climate change" and warned that hundreds of thousands of people working in tourism would face losing their jobs if "extremists get their way on this issue". He claimed airlines were being unfairly "demonised" for their role in global warming.
By Emily Manson
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