Royalty, finance experts, property developers and hoteliers will speak of the need to pursue sustainable environmental policies while building a tourism infrastructure in the Middle East at this month’s Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) in Dubai, tackling a subject that has particular relevance given the headlong pace of development in the region.The panel discussion was introduced by video by His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, who has long been an advocate of ecologically sound methods in architecture and development.
Defined by the UN Environmental Programme as “maintaining a balance between the environmental, economics and social-cultural aspects of tourism development necessary for long-term sustainability”, the topic is increasingly highlighted as one that affects the mindset of tourists and the travel industry.
UNEP has reported that large tour operators, and increasingly small ones too, were setting sustainability standards for their suppliers, warning destinations they should make use of natural environmental resources while maintaining and conserving this natural heritage.
This message is echoed by Lyndall De Marco, Executive Director at the IBLF Tourism Partnership, who will be speaking on the panel at AHIC. “Those in the industry that are able to meet the challenge of operating in a more sustainable way will avoid criticism, be looked upon with respect, gain customer loyalty and thereby compound their competitive advantage,” she said.
She brought with her a video message from The Prince of Wales, the heir to the British throne, and said: “HRH, The Prince of Wales is a keen supporter of the concept of sustainable development and environmental issues for the hotel industry and commends the conference for raising the issue of sustainable development within the tourism industry.
“His Royal Highness has taken a leadership role on environmental issues through the IBLF Tourism Partnership, whose recently published book on Sustainable Siting, Design and Construction Guiding Principles for hotels is now widely used throughout the industry.”
In the UK, a survey by the Association of British Travel Agents revealed that 45 per cent of respondents felt it was very important that their holiday did not damage the environment, highlighting the potential to generate new business through ‘green’ strategy.
Hotels are increasingly taking this message on board in their expansion and operations, according to Jonathan B Tourtellot, director of the Centre for Sustainable Destinations at the National Geographic Society, who will chair the panel discussion.
“The future of the hotel industry is inextricably tied to sustaining the quality and character of the destinations on which the hotels depend,” he said.
Commenting on the hotel industry’s viewpoint will be Ed Fuller, president and managing director of Marriott International and Cathy Kopp, general manager for human resources and sustainable development at Accor.
In addition, Dr Imad Haffar will represent the research and development strategies of Nakheel, developer of the major offshore projects in Dubai, while Jon Williams will put the financial case for supporting green tourism in his role as head of group sustainable development at HSBC Holdings.
According to Dr Haffar, Nakheel is committed to ensuring the highest standards of ecological and environmental sustainability, not only minimising the impact of construction but also enhancing the environment above the original, pre-development status.
“Across its portfolio, Nakheel has invested in more than 20 innovative research projects pertaining to environmental conservation,” he said. “More than 25 different international and national research institutes are currently associated with the company in efforts to promote environmental sustainability.”
Dr Haffar illustrated this policy with examples of marine regeneration where The Palm construction has provided a nursery for new life. “There were virtually no signs of life in the area of The Palm Jumeirah before work started - now we are seeing sea grass carpeting the seabed between the fronds, allowing a new marine ecosystem to thrive,” he said.
“Similarly, the shelter of the breakwater is providing a fertile habitat for coral growth and the resultant marine biodiversity.”