World Travel Market is staging its most contentious face-to-face discussion ever this year when ethical writer Leo Hickman, author of the thought provoking book ‘The Final Call’ takes the HOTseat with BBC World’s Stephen Sackur.
As a keynote part of WTM World Responsible Tourism Day’s straight talking, no-holds-barred programme, Leo Hickman will challenge the international travel industry about its future.
Hickman went clubbing in Ibiza, drinking in Tallinn, bird watching in Costa Rica and languished in five-star luxury in Dubai. But he’s careful to point out that he has not been doing all this for fun: it was all in the cause of investigating the industry and the massive growth in worldwide travel.
He said:”I first had the idea for The Final Call about five or so years ago. Like many people, I had enjoyed visiting destinations on holiday but often left wondering whether my visitation had actually had a positive or negative impact of the destination itself and its peoples.
“I wondered about the damage to the local environment, and the natural resources. In addition, I wondered about just how much in the way of income my visit was ever likely to bring to the local population. I set off on a series of trips to popular destinations around the world - Cancun, Ibiza, Miami, Kerala, Costa Rica, the French Alps, Thailand, Benidorm, Hong Kong, Dubai etc - to interview as many people ‘on the ground’ as I could to try and better understand the full impacts - warts and all - of the mighty global tourism industry. Something I was surprised to learn hadn’t really been done before outside of academic and NGO circles.”
Some of his findings though Hickman found disturbing.
“Of course there is some good that comes out of tourism, but what I discovered is that this ‘good’ is sadly a rare commodity today”, explained Hickman. “Tourism is a very lop-sided deal in its current form whereby the buyers—us tourists—get by far a better deal than the sellers—the people living in the destinations.”
Fiona Jeffery, chairman of World Travel Market and a pioneer of responsible tourism over the past 17 years, said that the session was a call to action for the industry.
“You may not agree with Leo and all his forthright opinions of the travel industry. But it’s clear that there are some aspects of tourism that are immoral and plain wrong.
“Tourism can be a force for good, but we need to realise there are many examples that in their current form do far more damage than good, certainly in terms of environmental impact.”
Jeffery said that was the reason why WTM World Responsible Tourism Day, in association with the UNWTO, has such a vital role to play in bringing the universal industry together in a way that has not been done before.
“The day’s of talking up the activity of travel and tourism as one hundred percent perfect are gone”, she said.” We need to protect its future. And what is so heartening is that the industry is, for the most part, beginning to take this on board, working towards a more sustainable, more caring and ethical industry that will play its part in handing over the world to future generations.
“But there is still much to be done.”
Hickman, however, does have one confession! His book-related travels created 10 tonnes of CO2, mostly on flights. But Hickman dismisses carbon offsetting as little more than pointless.
“HOTseat has become a unique and compelling session at WTM World Responsible Tourism Day”, said Jeffery. “This year is no exception and definitely not to be missed.”
WTM World Responsible Tourism Day, now in its fourth year, was a natural progression from World Travel Market’s long established Environmental Awareness Day. The movement seeks to inspire, educate and stimulate honest discussion and debate.