How the travel and tourism industry can influence sustainable growth


2015 is a landmark year in the multi-decade journey for a sustainable future. The president of the Hawaii, Brussels, Seychelles and Bali-based International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP), Professior Geoffrey Lipman, shared his thought at the World Economic Forum in Capetown, South Africa, today:

Since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the world community has increasingly shaped a common strategic framework that seeks to balance the benefits and impacts of human development ‒ economic, social and environmental ‒ while building safety nets against extreme natural and manmade shocks, with climate change as the universal existential challenge.

This is a long journey, with each country, locality and individual coming from a different starting point, with unique capacities and reasons to change – but ultimately we all have to get to the same end point by 2050. This is the date, where science and politics are converging on liveable global temperature stabilization and where trillions of dollars will be needed to support that change.

This paradigm lifestyle shift is expressed in many ways, but the idea of green growth – where growth is decoupled from impacts – seems to ideally capture the right direction for change. Growth is crucial to raise people from poverty and provide new jobs for a rapidly expanding global population. At the same time “green” incorporates technology-enabled, low-carbon renewable energy with strong social inclusion, smart basic-resource use and increased focus on nature conservation. It signals a new type of economic development where environmental balance is integrated into policy and operational frameworks, with climate/disaster resilience a major underpinning.

The second half of this year will see three interrelated summits – on development finance, sustainability goals and carbon targets – that must establish the new norm that collaboratively prevents future generations from freezing or frying.

The travel and tourism sector (here called “travelism”) is a key element in green growth – not just transport, hospitality and travel services, but also the essential soft and hard infrastructure that underpins it; not just international, but also the much larger domestic flows. This system, spanning several industries and government agencies, is a major contributor to GDP, jobs, consumption, investment and trade. It is also a catalyst for mobility infrastructure, human capacity-building and local livelihood development.

At the same time, however, the impacts of the industry in terms of carbon (transport/buildings), resource utilization (water/food) and “people congestion” have not been effectively measured nor coherently managed.

The travelism influence – positive and negative – has a significant place in global growth transformation; representing directly and indirectly some 5%-10% of world socio-economic activity, with Africa’s 9% GDP and 8 million jobs contribution forecast to grow annually at close to 5%. With new pan-African/regional collaboration and China-led bilateral and multilateral funding, we can expect to see major road, rail and air links across the continent to spur the movement of the increasing middle class and an ultimate market of 1 billion consumers.

But there are no comparable figures for the green impacts because, until now, except for random certification, indicators and awards, virtually all industry and government focus has been on promoting the benefits. Concrete action is needed to show the impacts in parallel and establish a two-sided balance sheet. And this must coalesce with effective climate/disaster resilience strategies.

In this context, Africa has a big opportunity for transformation support – in addition to current development finance. The entire continent is high on the climate and disaster vulnerability league table – and it must receive a large share of the new multibillion adaptation funding pool.

It is my belief, after 25 years of focus on green growth, from leading-edge industry and government organizations, that two issues are fundamental for meaningful change: first, bringing travelism and environmental metrics together into a single balance sheet and, second, delivering coherent green growth transformation solutions to the local level, which is where the sustainability rubber hits the road.

As to the former, the Forum’s Global Agenda Council for New Models of Tourism is advancing new thinking in this area – looking at a coherent matrix of sustainability measurements, targets and indicators for the industry and for destinations to better understand and respond to the green growth imperative.

As to the latter, with industry and academic colleagues, we are building the SUN Program to establish an interactive international green growth network that will practically increase the capacity of travelism to deliver on climate resilience and sustainability at the local community level. A network of prefabricated solar-powered monitoring and learning centres will use a cloud-based platform to link research on innovation, renewables, big data and the like into community-led resilience programmes, where “green” is linked with “growth” through meaningful policies, measurements, education and action. The first pilot will appropriately be in Africa in Mauritius in 2015.

The World Economic Forum on Africa 2015 took place in Cape Town, South Africa from 3-5 June.

Professor Geoffrey Lipman is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on New Models of Tourism – after leadership positions in IATA, WTTC and UNWTO, he is leading the SUN Program, designed to bring green growth to travel destinations. He is currently the president of the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP)_