BTN Interview: Professor Geoffrey Lipman, President of the International Council of Tourism Partners

The travel industry has a new coalition which seeks to help quality destinations learn how to share green growth opportunities as well as access the tools and funds which are available.

Breaking Travel News catches up with Professor Geoffrey Lipman, president of the newly launched International Council of Tourism Partners, to discuss initiatives currently underway to support quality green growth in the industry.

BTN: Some of our readers may be unaware of the work of the International Council of Tourism Partners (ICTP). Would you be able to give us a quick overview of the organisation’s work and its achievements to date?

GL: ICTP is a grassroots coalition of global travel & tourism destinations committed to quality and green growth. And through them, it seeks to engage all their stakeholders in these two critical areas for sustainability. We call it a “bottom of the pyramid” organization, because stronger views from destinations and their stakeholders can add an important dimension to policy thinking and action about the sector.

For a long time people have talked about “glocalization” - bringing global and local actions into closer harmony – ICTP has been established to help that process and to give destinations a real stake in the process. In the final analysis the ultimate impact of travel and tourism is felt at the destination level.

Last but not least by focusing attention on “bottom of the pyramid” dynamics and supporting best practice around quality and green growth, we’ll help drive the overall sustainability of our members and of the sector.

BTN: Johannesburg Tourism Company, Seychelles Tourism Board and Hawaii Tourism Association are some of the industry leading members already signed up. Are there any new members on the horizon you can reveal? Could you talk us through the selection process for new members of the organisation?

GL: We were delighted to have a such a good “core group” turn out for our launch at world travel market earlier this month – along with Reunion, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and other joining members. The idea for a global grassroots support organization for destinations really came from 3 people with diverse out of the box perspectives on the sector Seychelles Tourism Chief Executive Alain St.Ange, Thomas Steinmetz the e-turbo group owner, and Faisal Hashim a long-time Asian hotel and travel services operator.

They saw the gap in the industry institutional framework and the need for real mutual support, in a world of madly gyrating economics, geopolitics and social patterns as well as rapidly shifting travel demand.

And having spent 30 years in senior positions in IATA, WTTC and UNWTO, I share their view and am determined to help realize their vision. We are now seeking to add members and build real support services, bringing in like-minded players from the public and private sector.  The criteria are very simple – a serious commitment for quality and green growth and to work together to help deliver it..

We’ll keep the price of joining the club low, by tough controls on costs and by avoiding bureaucracy. We’ll recruit hopefully by our useful and interesting actions rather than by talk and PR. And we’ll catalyse real value support services from industry suppliers. There are massive numbers of communities, cities, countries who think the same way as we do about quality and green growth and 2012 with its highlight “ sustainability” event of Rio+20 in June will be a great rallying call.

BTN: WSDE is among the organisations partnered with the ICTP. Could you tell us a little about this relationship? Is sports tourism compatible with sustainable development?

GL: We are very excited about the partnership with WSDE; they are a knowledgeable team with long industry experience.  And they know the value that a good event can bring to a community – global branding, a window of opportunity for infrastructure upgrade, an encouragement for low carbon energy use and above all, in today’s tough economic times it can stimulate investment and create jobs. They also know the downsides if an event is not planned properly creating longstanding debts, overcapacity in facilities a bad tourism reputation with adverse environmental and carbon impacts.

We share an interest with WSDE in helping countries, cities and communities understand the full implications of mega sporting events so they can plan more effectively to increase the positive impacts and minimise the negative, when they bid in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market place. 

Mega sporting events can be compatible with sustainable development if they follow the same basic tenets that underpin green growth.  They must incorporate “quadruple” bottom line balance - which means equal consideration to climate, economic, social and environmental priorities. They must promote “smart travel ” – clean, green, ethical and quality. And they must bring community interest into play in a lifecycle way – before during and long after the event.

BTN: The ICTP recently revealed it will announce the winner of its World Green Tourism Award in Abu Dhabi later this month. Can you outline the criteria for the award and how you hope recipients will use the honour to further the ends of sustainable development?

GL: There is a very important starting point in our thinking in putting this award in place, with our partners Streamline Media.  We don’t want to simply duplicate the excellent awards that have long been a feature of our sector – WTTC’s Tourism for Tomorrow for example or WTM’s Responsible Tourism Awards that I helped launch in the 90’s – which seek to honour best green tourism practice in a range of industry subsectors.

World Green Tourism Award is for a Statesman who has made a major contribution to sustainable development and recognizes the key role that our sector can play. That is the single criteria. And the winner delivers a major Address on mainstream Sustainable Development and the potential for Travel & Tourism to contribute. We hope this will not only serve as an inspiration to the industry to do more but also as a message to global leaders about our role in creating green investment, jobs and development.

We have a small experienced judging panel from quite different disciplines – Erica Harms from the UN Foundation who is promoting responsible tourism, Laila Yousef Al Hassan from Abu Dhabi Environment who are hosting World Green Tourism, Vijay Poonoosamy from Etihad Airways who are the main sponsor and Hisham Zaazou Egypt’s Deputy Tourism Minister who has been a thought leader in greening some of his countries major destinations.

We started with a shortlist that I proposed, of major contributors over the years – it included for example,  HRH Prince Charles who has been a longstanding advocate of green hotels in addition to his broad scale environmental leadership and Jose Maria Figueras who is part of Al Gore’s climate initiative and who pioneered the incredible eco-tourism paradigm when he was President of Costa Rica.

But one name stood out and that was Maurice Strong - whose sustainability credentials are second to none as Secretary General of the first UN Environment Conference in Stockholm in 1972, first Head of the UN Environment Program(UNEP), Secretary General of the landmark Rio Earth Summit which produced so many global environmental accords – including Agenda 21. And after almost half a century Maurice Strong has been appointed Advisor to the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil in June 2012.

Maurice Strong also worked with WTTC during the Rio Summit to pioneer Agenda 21 for Travel and Tourism, which became a first collaborative venture with UNWTO to stimulate green action in the sector – globally and in a series of regional seminars. 20 years later he is advocating from his China base, a World Environment University in which Travel & Tourism will play an important role.

BTN: The presentation will be among the highlights at the World Green Tourism Conference & Exhibition at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Could you tell us a little bit more about the event and its role in highlighting the role of sustainability in the global tourism industry?

GL: At a local, regional, and national level, green growth has to become the key development strategy and Travelism (Travel & Tourism) has to be factored in as a major positive change agent. It is is a sector of the Middle East economy that does an enormous amount of good for society - socio-economically and in bringing happiness, jobs trade and development.  The travel industry in the Middle East is increasingly conscious of the importance of sustainability strategies evidenced for example by the strong commitment of the region’s airlines to reductions in carbon outputs. 

Now governments need to help push these initiatives by promoting sustainable destinations, sustainable mobility and sustainable lifestyles. The GCC States in particular can play a key role in this through their economic strength, aviation strength, community, and lifestyle focus, as well as thought leadership – tactically and strategically. Strategy revolves around developing realistic roadmaps and game-plans, whereas tactical involves aligning the different forms of sustainable tourism – green, eco, responsible, slow, pro poor and a myriad of others – to these evolving frameworks.

World Green Tourism can definitely help chart the right direction. It can be very significant because green growth is the key international strategic issue and because the Gulf is a catalytic region as a world transportation hub and an economic powerhouse.