Sustainability is the most important challenge facing the travel and tourism industry, and its leaders must strive harder to incorporate environmental protection policies in their future plans. That was the overriding message at the 8th WTTC Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Dubai.Summing up the discussions of the Summit, WTTC President and CEO, Jean-Claude Baumgarten said: “Over the last 20 years our message was very economics focused. We now have to move beyond it. We have to explain to the world that, since travel and tourism is one of the major sectors, we have obligations that go beyond our economic impact.”
Many exchanges of ideas throughout the Summit were dominated by how the decision-makers gathered could shape and lead the way towards more sustainable travel - an issue that will become ever more inescapable as the growth of tourism continues.
The Hon Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism, Government of Jamaica said: “The new stakeholders we need to bring into play should be from the environmental area. Until now, the industry grew without them. But it is this partnership that needs to define the way forward.”
Over 1,100 delegates from 75 countries enjoyed two days of thought-provoking debate and presentations, highlighted by a special inauguration ceremony attended by its patron, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister, UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
President of the WTTC, Geoffrey Kent, welcomed His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum at what many agreed had been the most successful and influential WTTC Summit in its eight-year history.
As well as sustainability, the other main topic was how best the travel industry should weather the storm clouds of a global economic slowdown.
In his address to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, Mr. Kent said: “Undoubtedly, there will be challenges in the short term due to the US economic slowdown, the stock markets’ volatility, higher fuel costs and concerns about climate change. However, the continued strong expansion in emerging countries - both as tourism destinations and as an increasing source of international visitors - means that the industry’s growth prospects remain bright into the medium term.”
Delegates were absorbed by an inspiring line-up of keynote speakers, including Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Carlson, and J Willard Marriott, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Marriott International.
Marilyn Carlson Nelson said: “Today, we are faced with a much broader set of problems - not just economic, but also social and environmental. We are asking ourselves such big questions. But they are important because they are the way to fulfilling our promise to our children and our children’s children. So we are asking the right questions.”
“But there are so many dilemmas”, she continued. “We have to self-regulate and somehow help to regulate each other, but this is difficult as our partners in other countries sometimes operate under different rules. We love travellers but would like to train them a little. We’d like to maximise our own profit, yet be players for the common good. We want alternative sources of energy, but we want to feed the poor.”
The decision to host the summit in Dubai was both fitting and well-timed, its transformation in a few short years into one of the world’s most incredible tourist destinations mirroring the meteoric rise of the travel and tourism industry into one of the world’s most important industries.
Marilyn Carlson Nelson said: “When we began the WTTC we talked about heritage sites and we fantasised about the need to create man-made destinations if we wanted to preserve these heritage sites. Dubai is a miracle. If this can come out of the desert, what we’ve got to do now is possible. What’s the secret of this miracle of Dubai? As Sheikh Mohammed said, it takes vision, leadership and teamwork.”
There was also time for delegates to enjoy the sites and sounds that have transformed Dubai into a hub of international tourism. The welcome dinner, held at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, was set against the incredible backdrop of the Burg Al Arab glistening against a clear sky. Delegates enjoyed an evening of sumptuous hospitality to mark the start of the conference, accompanied by soothing classical music. The following night they headed on a magical mystery tour into the desert for an evening of traditional Arabian hospitality at the Al Lisali Camp Site, complete with Ayala dancers.
Back in the Round the following morning, the entertainment continued with a keynote speech from Dr Kjell Nordström, Associate Professor at Stockholm School of Economics and author of best-seller ‘Funky Business’. Delegates warmed to his light-hearted take on such serious topics as competitive advantage and strategic management within the new economy.
However the highlight of Day Two followed with the appearance of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Speaking afterwards exclusively to Breaking Travel News, the official newspaper of WTTC Global Travel & Tourism Summit, he said: “I’m delighted with how the Summit has gone. I have also had some excellent feedback about how Dubai is developing.”