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A BTN exclusive with H.E. Gloria Guevara and the work of the Sustainable Tourism Global Centre

A BTN exclusive with H.E. Gloria Guevara and the work of the Sustainable Tourism Global Centre

Prior to joining the Saudi Tourism Ministry as a senior advisor , Gloria led the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) as President and CEO, having joined in 2017. WTTC represents the global travel & tourism private sector worldwide, a sector that generates 10% of GDP and accounts for 300 million jobs globally. Gloria was the global voice for the sector and, under her leadership, WTTC led the industry’s agenda during the most difficult crisis in history, the Covid19 pandemic. WTTC successfully unified the sector and implemented measures to reduce the impact such as the creation of the “Safe Travels” global protocols and a stamp that were granted to more than 400 destinations around the world. WTTC also pursued active engagement with over 150 governments to share best practices and public policies to support workers and the private sector, including millions of SMEs, in addition to providing guidelines from lessons learned to help the strong recovery.

While at WTTC, Gloria also achieved important milestones, including defining the climate and environmental agenda for WTTC and its members in partnership with UNFCC, UNEP and HSPH. She successfully hosted important events such as the first “global environment and climate action forum”, “Regional leaders’ forums” and WTTC global summits, where she welcomed former Presidents Obama, Calderon, Santos, Aznar and heads of state such as Sanchez, Macri and several other world leaders to support the sector. Before her departure as CEO, WTTC hosted the first global international event during the pandemic, the WTTC Global Summit in Cancun Mexico, demonstrating that international travel could be reopened in a safe way.

There is no doubt that the need to address the climate emergency is intensifying. This means sustainability has become a vital element for each business which can no longer be ignored. The recent record-breaking temperatures across North America and Europe this month are another reminder that climate change is upon us now and an issue that needs to be addressed urgently, and now!

My questions to H.E. Gloria Guevara are designed to give you our readers a better insight as to what is actually being undertaken by business across the globe and the hopes we have for its success in tackling this urgent crisis.

BTN. How do we get businesses to take sustainability more seriously if clearly just seeing, and reading about the damage that is being done isn’t enough?


GG: Businesses need to be part of the solution and that is why the Sustainable Tourism Global Centre (STGC) has been formed - to ensure all of the key players in the Travel sector, including large businesses and MSME’s around the world are thoroughly engaged. Without their active engagement, taking tangible concrete measures to reduce their environmental impact, we will not make the progress in the timeframe needed to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergency. Through the STGC, initiated by Saudi Arabia, we will deliver actionable tools and solutions to enable them to more easily take these steps and showcase how it will benefit them as well as the sector and communities in which they operate.

BTN: In order to get the Travel and Tourism Industry to collectively put in place Sustainable measures is a huge undertaking, how do you set about this and where do you start?

GG: The Travel & Tourism sector is highly fragmented, which makes the implementation of collective measures a challenge. Yet, some industries within the sector have successfully set targets and are working towards those goals. Collectively however, we are not moving fast enough. There is a need to support the industries and groups which have set clear goals and plans, and help those who have not yet been able to do so develop a feasible approach to sustainability which is not only good for the planet but for businesses as well.
Understandably, larger companies, such as international hotel groups and airlines, have the resources to put measures in place, whereas small businesses, which form the backbone of the travel and tourism sector, simply do not have the resources to do this. In this context, it is imperative we assist MSME’s and that is where the STGC comes in.

We will work closely on tangible measures to create actionable and easy-to-use toolkits which MSME’s can use to introduce sustainability measures into their own businesses. We also aim to share best practices with quantifiable impact and benefits, which again we can share with MSME’s so they can implement initiatives which work for them. Ensuring MSME’s have the tools, knowledge, and mechanisms to positively change is crucial.

MSMEs are the main source of job creation globally, accounting for over 95% of firms and 60%-70% of employment. In the UK alone the country’s 5.5 million MSME’s account for 99% of all companies and contribute towards half of the UK economy. These businesses also account for 80% of the Travel and Tourism sector globally. If we can engage with them and lead by example to show how to operate more sustainably then we can make a real and lasting change.

BTN: What help can Travel organisations, Associations and indeed the media give to aid you and the STGC in its task of fostering the increased knowledge, understanding, adoption and demand for
sustainable tourism practices

GG: Scorching heat waves around the world this summer have served as a painful reminder of the present climate emergency the world is facing right now. And the media have reported this widely, graphically showing the impact global warming is having on places visited by ordinary holidaymakers and families.
While the situation is clearly worrying, the media is helping to raise awareness of the significant threat we all face if no action is taken. For our part, the STGC is engaging with the media and partnering with travel organisations and associations around the world to show how travel can be part of the solution.

The STGC brings together a wealth of expertise from our experts and partners around the globe to conduct research, identify solutions and draft initiatives which create strategies to help small businesses conduct their business more sustainably and reduce their impact upon the environment.

BTN: The Sustainable Tourism Global Centre (SGTC) establishes and manages global standards for sustainable travel and tourism, known as the GSTC Criteria. An incredible team of people are working to deliver this, what progress has the STGC made since its conception, has it achieved the goals it originally set so far and what challenges has it yet to meet?
Since its inception, we have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure that when we fully launch the STGC it is not simply a shell or a talk shop. We have gone to lengths to engage with real experts from around the world - including former presidents - to join us as Advisory Board Members. They have informed our strategy to focus on research as the bedrock of the global centre to create best practice and practical solutions for travel and tourism players around the world. While our biggest challenge is how we can improve our interaction with MSME’s, which form the backbone of so much of the world’s business community, we also need to more meaningfully engage with the younger generation and travellers more generally.

Research suggests that currently the youth market doesn’t feel sufficiently connected to the climate emergency debate, with its views not taken into account and therefore feels more disengaged than other groups and stakeholders. With this in mind, we have actively engaged more
than 400 top experts to ensure everything we do is best in class. We have taken the time to build a strong and robust strategy so that we hit the ground running and can make a difference from day one.

BTN: Delivering a message to the Travel and Tourism Industry regarding sustainability is key, but what are the plans to ensure governments and world leaders follow suit and ensure this message gets through to the people of the world, those travelling and those that are not.

GG: Sustainability and the measures we have to take to protect our planet apply to all? With the climate emergency becoming ever more urgent, sustainability is growing as a priority for governments around the world. They are increasingly implementing sustainability policies to address the growing challenges around environmental, social and economic issues. Denmark is generally recognised as leading the way as one of the most sustainable countries in the world. But there is a growing list of great sustainability policy examples being implemented by governments which is also increasing the examples of best practice, which other countries can learn from.

The key to driving greater take of more sustainable policies - not only in travel and tourism but other sectors - is communication to ensure these experiences can be shared. However, it’s not just happening at an intergovernmental level. Destinations too are taking their own action to tackle climate change and be more responsible and sustainable. This underlines the need for and importance of cities and destinations sharing their good practices and taking a more holistic approach to destination management.

Saudi Arabia for instance, through its Vision 2030, is working towards a unified sustainable vision for the country’s future, balancing economic development with environmental preservation. For instance, Green Riyadh is one of Riyadh’s four mega projects to promote Riyadh’s position among the world’s top 100 most livable cities by planting 7.5 million trees, within the broader goal of the Saudi Green Initiative to plant a staggering 10 billion trees. The Kingdom’s Saudi Green Initiative (SGI), emphasises the country’s commitment to international sustainability efforts by clearly defining an ambitious road map that significantly contributes to achieving global targets.

BTN: Lastly, there is no getting away from the fact that Climate Change is here, and there is no quick fix to remedy the damage we have done to our planet and are continuing to do to it.
That said, I for one am mystified why the Travel and Tourism Industry and other global and local businesses do not yet see the urgency to change their behaviour, act responsibly and put in place sustainable measures within their organisations and everyday working practices. Is this a frustration you have to live with and if so, how do you deal with it?

GG: As it currently stands, the travel and tourism industry is a source of GHG emissions, amounting to 8% of GHG emissions globally. We need to better communicate the business case for sustainability. It’s not just good for the planet, it’s also good for business. Making solutions and best practices more easily accessible, as well as access to technologies and financing for those who want to make changes, will help drive the necessary step change to encourage businesses to take action to reduce their environmental impact. Our mission at STGC is to help collaboratively drive this change and give businesses the tools and information through best practice and support they need.
We believe in the power to transform the world through the positive experiences that travel can generate. We want all travellers to travel with a different and more positive mindset, which is focused on travel which is good for the planet, good for the environment, good for the communities and good for business.

BTN would like to thank Gloria for her time in responding to our questions, her work and that of the STGC is clearly of vital importance and its up to business to respond accordingly, after all, our very future depends on it.