Hours before US President Barack Obama’s historic speech at the University of Queensland in Brisbane last Saturday, tourism industry leaders from around the globe wrapped up a forum to discuss ways to promote a strong, sustainable and balanced growth in tourism while addressing the urgent challenges brought on by global warming. And, the forum’s agenda was on par with the environmental message delivered the next day by the US President.
The G20 Sustainable Leaders Forum, held in association with the Brisbane Global Café initiative, pre-empted President Obama’s comments that ‘combating climate change cannot be the work of governments alone.’
In his opening comments, CEO of EarthCheck and Chair of the forum, Stewart Moore, said that the tourism industry – which is the world’s fastest growing export industry - has a growing environmental footprint that needs to be sustainably managed.
“Tourism is a $1.4 trillion industry globally and it generates $36 billion in Australia alone. And, yes, it does bring a footprint,” he told the invited guests who ranged from hoteliers to airline representatives, government officials, academics and tourism community leaders.
“The very environmental values and cultural assets that attract tourists to our destinations need to be protected and responsibly managed. The tourism industry and its operators are key to creating this change. We cannot wait for governments to act.”
Serendipitous to President Obama’s concern about the Great Barrier Reef and his desire for his grandchildren to see its ‘”incredible natural glory” 50 years from now, Managing Director of the Great Barrier Reef’s Lady Elliot Island resort and forum panellist, Peter Gash, told the audience that “if we want to pass our natural treasures onto future generations, we need to manage these assets now.”
An internationally recognised innovator in environmental management, Mr Gash has been responsibly managing guest impact on the reef for more than twenty-five years. He was the first operator to build a power station on the Great Barrier Reef.
Mr Gash said his motivation to minimise his footprint is summarised by his “Four E’s Philosophy” which states that to look after our Environment we need to be Efficient, Economically Sustainable and able to Educate effectively.
“My guests don't come here (to Lady Elliot Island) for a class or a lesson. They come to relax. But when they leave, they become advocates for the need to protect our environment.”
“Sustainability has to be about partnership,” he added. “We can’t do anything unless we do it together. Sustainability doesn't mean throwing money at the problem, it’s about managing and educating effectively.”
Continuing the theme of partnerships, Sir Frank Moore, acclaimed pioneer of Australia’s tourism and patron of the EarthCheck Research Institute, reinforced the need for the best scientists and research bodies in the world to work with the tourism industry in finding new, innovative ways to manage our footprint.
Sir Frank said, “EarthCheck is an internationally recognised leader in providing benchmarking and scientific research for the world’s tourism and travel sector. One of the things I love about EarthCheck is the way it interfaces between industry, academia and communities.”
Professor of Tourism at Griffith University and member of the EarthCheck Research Institute, Professor Susanne Becken said sustainability cannot be isolated.
“There has never been a better time than now for operators, communities and destinations to work together to incorporate sustainable tourism principles in the design and operations of tourism precincts,” Ms Becken said.
“We need to replicate case studies like the Mexican destination of Huatulco which has successfully decreased its footprint by involving the community, industry and government.”
A second example of integrated sustainability recognised at the forum is New Zealand’s Kaikoura, a pristine coastal community of 3,600 residents that had the vision to adopt a community wide sustainability program some 14 years ago. Today, as a partner of EarthCheck, the whale watching destination attracts 800,000 visitors annually and – thanks to a focused campaign – has reduced its waste to landfill by 75 per cent.
The key messages from the G20 Sustainable Leaders Forum will be summarised over the coming days and provided to GSTC, ITP, PATA, WTO and other tourism groups around the world who are working to promote sustainable principles.