Rio+20 Business Focus: Time for tourists to tread lightly on pristine planet

The meaning of the term sustainability varies greatly depending on who you speak to. To many business leaders globally, it means balancing ‘people, planet and profits’, and in doing so, placing the focus on the long term viability of the company.

Within the Travel & Tourism industry, examples of this approach are evident across the world.

Travel & Tourism industry leaders are harmonising their long-term business strategies with policies aimed at tackling human development issues, environmental concerns, climate change issues and community development.

Travel & Tourisms links to the natural environment makes the industry partiuclarly vulnerable to climate change and resources shortages (© M Poliza Shumba)

The WTTC, as the forum for global Travel & Tourism industry leaders, places ‘Tourism for Tomorrow’ as one of its key strategic priorities.

Through this priority, WTTC underscores the need to maximise the potential of future sustainable growth for Travel & Tourism and benefits for consumers, businesses, local people and the environment.

WTTC continues to showcase this concept through its Tourism for Tomorrow Awards aimed at recognising remarkable sustainable practices.

The Travel & Tourism industry has intrinsic links to the natural environment, communities and livelihoods.

This means that the industry is vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate and resources. The industry, especially air travel, has become a central participant in the on-going debate on climate change and the wider impacts of sustainability.

Often this debate overshadows the importance of tourism to the functioning of our globalised world.

The Travel & Tourism industry is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries. In 2011, the industry directly accounted for about 3% of global gross domestic product (GDP), contributing US$2 trillion and 98 million jobs worldwide.

If indirect and induced impacts are included in the equation, its total contribution was 9% of GDP supporting 255 million jobs, or one in every 12 jobs on the planet.

Even more positively, the annual growth forecast is set to be 4% over the next ten years to 2022.

Given these growth forecasts, and growing middle classes in emerging markets, it is clear that the challenge rests on government and industry to harness Travel & Tourism’s economic benefits while ensuring the sustainability of ecosystems and the communities that rely on them.

However the current levels of activity cannot simply be scaled up. The industry must strike a balance between its long-term viability, the growing demand for travel and the world’s finite resources.

The fragmented and global nature of the industry, some 80% of which is made up of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-enterprises, means that the main difficulty for Travel & Tourism lies in generating a cohesive response to the challenges of living and working in a low-carbon economy.

In 2011 Travel & Tourism directly accounted for about 3% of global GDP, contributing US$2 trillion and 98 million jobs worldwide (© Marit Miners)

To tackle this, communication and collaboration within the industry is paramount.

This means, for example, communicating best practices by sharing information, progress and experience across and between sectors to increase awareness among customers and stakeholders.

WTTC seeks to ensure that the international and intergovernmental institutions tasked with finding a global solution to climate change fully understand the importance of Travel & Tourism as well as the significant steps that have been already taken by the industry towards carbon emissions mitigation and adaptation.

As part of WTTC’s continued commitment, we will proudly be adding the voice of the Travel & Tourism industry to the business community at the Rio+20 Summit.

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