Interviews

‘Time to send a message’

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As the World Travel Market gears up for its 33rd annual event in London this November, chairman Fiona Jeffery says the travel industry needs to send out a clear message about the threats of climate change.

It’s not hard to understand why the World Travel Market is so important. With travel operators, trade professionals, exhibitors and ministers gathering under one roof, the negotiations, trade and decisions made at this global business-to-business event will heavily shape the industry’s future. Now, amid the eurozone’s economic turmoil and the escalating climate crisis, they carry more importance than ever.

The event’s popularity increases each year and Fiona Jeffery, the World Travel Market chairman, expects its popularity to continue. Last year more than 47,000 guests from 182 countries, including 88 ministers, and nearly 5,000 exhibition companies, gathered inside the ExCeL London Exhibition Centre. “We expect this year’s event to be extremely successful with record numbers of both exhibitors and visitors,” Jeffery says. That is good news for the travel sector; last year’s event, she says, will generate more than £1.6million in business deals.

Such trade goes hand in hand with environmental responsibility, as Jeffery, who has spent 26 years at Reed Exhibition Companies, the World Travel Market arranger, knows all too well. She is the founder and chairman of water aid charity Just a Drop, which provides clean water to 29 countries. This year she was appointed Order of the British Empire (OBE) in Queen Elizabeth II’s New Year’s Honours list for her services to the tourism industry. Six years earlier, she founded together with the UN World Tourism Organisation the World Responsible Tourism Day (WRTD), now a centrepiece on the World Travel Market schedule. It is here, one hopes, decisions will be made for the better.

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Not that the industry isn’t trying. Jeffery insists many trade professionals are taking action. “There are numerous examples,” she says. “Tour operators are engaging with communities and local traditions within their tour offerings, and regional and national tourism authorities are pushing through eco agendas with the full support of ministers. Sustainable development programmes, additional education, carbon-offsetting initiatives and the initiation of environmental impact studies are just some of the many ways trade professionals are actively showing their commitment to the sustainability cause.”

But as the environmental problems tower up, more needs to be done. The WRTD, held on 7 November, will feature a responsible tourism awards presentation and a 30-minute ‘HOTseat’ interview where Wolfgang M. Neumann, of leading hotel company Rezidor Hotel Group, will talk to Stephen Sackur, BBC World’s HARDtalk presenter, about his group’s Think Planet programme; a new initiative aiming to save energy at more than 330 hotels in 70 countries. Later, a major debate will question whether enough is done to limit greenhouse gas emissions. There is also a network reception and several speakers.

All this, Jeffery hopes, will educate operators about sustainable practices and encourage deals that can drive the eco-agenda. Equally important, however, is the need to alert consumers about what’s going on, and give them a chance to affect it. “Much of the industry has acknowledged the threat posed by the issues surrounding climate change, but there still needs to be a clear, united message to consumers as to the scale of this threat,” she says. “The industry needs to empower consumers to affect change by opting for sustainable packages, or to choose operators offering cost-effective mitigation and adaptation strategies.

“Awareness to climate change issues is increasing as financing and investments to encourage low carbon travel and tourism operations increase. It remains a case of setting out policies conducive to sustainable practises that allow the travel and tourism industry to prosper.”

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Such prosperity is getting increasingly harder to facilitate. With the Euro currency in crisis and several countries plunged into recession, the challenge for some is not merely to run a sustainable company, but to run one at all. That concern, says Jeffery, coupled with environmental sustainability, make the travel industry’s greatest tests for 2013. “With the IMF [International Monetary Fund] downgrading growth forecasts globally, and the ongoing troubles within the eurozone, maintaining sales margins and positive growth in these tough economic conditions is the primary challenge.

“As pre-empted in our strengthening WRTD programme, the ongoing challenges of implementing responsible tourism practises is likely to remain high on the agenda for 2013. Support in the industry is already strong, but more active participation in initiatives promoting this cause is needed for the coming year.”

Photos: World Travel Market

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