Asia Travel Re:Set #29 - The Coming Environmental Storm for Travel & Tourism
"The pandemic can be traced back to humanity’s relentless damage to nature."
Hello. Welcome to Asia Travel Re:Set…
For over a year, COVID-19 has dominated the global discourse. As a result, the travel sector has been placed centre-stage - both as vector and victim of the coronavirus.
But media interest in the pandemic will wane. We are already seeing attentions start to turn toward the next multimedia agenda: the Climate Crisis.
I’ve just ordered a new book, Standing up for a Sustainable World: Voices of Change, which features some stellar contributors and promises to “expose and explore the colossal environmental cost and the dangerous position the world is now in.”
I’m a sucker for a good book blurb, but it does feel like the cusp of a global realisation that our planetary resources are forever imperilled by even small neglectful actions.
This is a long-coming storm for the tourism industries, and one forcibly illustrated in Elizabeth Becker’s 2013 book, Overbooked - among a host of others.
Many people read it, some reviewed it. Most then forgot all about it.
But travel stakeholders must now take the climate crisis seriously because they will likely find themselves in the crosshairs.
Consumers have spent a lot of time over the past 12 months rethinking their personal health and wellness, as well as their innate human vulnerability. This is evident in various studies of pandemic-era purchasing trends. People want to protect themselves.
It was never clearer to young people just how culpable the older generations have been in diminishing the planet’s natural landscapes and polluting its air - and the myriad impacts this neglect will deliver for future generations.
Tourism has no choice. It should be proactive, not responsive, in the shaping of a planet-friendly, post-pandemic culture.
Green-washed travel branding, questionable carbon offsetting and - in particular - eco-catastrophe mega-construction projects will incite voluble social media scorn, reputation burn and investor pushback.
So today, I’ve put together a few examples from the past 7 days that show the direction in which the “travel and environment” debate may be headed.
Thanks for being on board,
Each Sunday, Gary Bowerman charts the week’s key talking points for visitor economies across Asia Pacific.
The Sunday Itinerary
From 100 billion down to 16 in Asia Pacific this week
Australia, Maldives, Hong Kong
Global airline seat capacity
- This Week’s Top 5 Talking Points
The Coming Environmental Storm for Travel & Tourism, featuring:
Returning to an ‘Old Normal’ Would be a Disaster
From 100 billion down to 16 in Asia Pacific this week.
SGD100 billion: Singapore’s government has committed “nearly SGD100 billion through 5 budgets” in the past year to fight the economic impacts of COVID-19. [Singapore Budget 2021]
329 million: Cebu Pacific Air aims to sell 329 million convertible shares to raise PHP12.5 billion and “address its financial liabilities”. [Company statement]
3.57 million: Total Chinese air travellers during the 7-day Chinese New Year holiday, down 45% compared to 2020. [Civil Aviation Administration of China]
50: Khao Sok National Park, one of the world’s oldest tropical evergreen forests, in Thailand became the 50th ASEAN Heritage Park. [ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity]
16: Year-on-year visitor arrivals to Japan slumped for the 16th consecutive month in January 2021. [The Japan Times]
You heard it here…
“I think we have a job to do to move public opinion from being that we must live in a COVID-zero environment to being living in a COVID-normal environment where we live with this thing.”
Phillipa Harrison, Managing Director of Tourism Australia
“On 4 February, the Tourism Employee Programme was launched in the Maldives with an aim of vaccinating 10,000 tourism employees.”
Ruth Franklin, Co-founder, Secret Paradise Maldives
"As long as stringent quarantine measures continue to be in place in Hong Kong and elsewhere, the coming months will be extremely challenging.”
Ronald Lam, Chief Customer & Commercial Officer, Cathay Pacific Group
This week’s chart is courtesy of OAG, who this week produced a very good webinar addressing the current state and future outlook for Chinese aviation.
Already, from the results of January and February, the global airline sector is facing a long and difficult road to recovery. Many airline executives and aviation analysts are not expecting much of an upswing until the 4th quarter of 2021 - at the earliest.
The Coming Environmental Storm for Travel & Tourism
Click the underscored headline and in-article links for further reading.
1) UNESCO statement on a reported construction project near the World Heritage site of Angkor in Cambodia
I previously reported on NagaCorp’s proposed Angkor Lake of Wonder resort project in Issue #17.
This week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) issued a statement as environmental concerns grow regarding the USD350 million casino resort near to the Angkor Wat temple ruins.
“The scale, scope and concept of the planned activities could indeed have an impact on the outstanding universal value for which Angkor was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.”
UNESCO also noted:
“The technical opinions of experts in the fields of conservation and sustainable development were clearly unfavourable to it.”
This is a tricky issue for UNESCO because the commercialisation of World Heritage sites has escalated over the past 2 decades. Many countries specifically lobby to get their sites of interest admitted to the list in order to drive visitation and, of course, tourism investment and infrastructure.
Environmental degradation is a predictable and frequent outcome.
One to watch. Closely.
Since a controversial tourism impact report was released in 2019, New Zealand has vigorously debated the issues of over-tourism and environmental protection.
Even though its borders are shut, the issue continues to gain traction - not least because of the nation’s own travel promotional slogan “100% Pure New Zealand.”
New Zealand is a dramatically beautiful country, and Simon Upton, its Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, is determined to keep it that way. The above-mentioned 2019 report he produced was entitled, Pristine, popular... imperilled? The environmental consequences of projected tourism growth.
This week, he was interviewed for an excellent article about rethinking tourism, in which he describes tourism’s environmental effect as “inconvenient intrusions of reality.”
“It’s important we don't keep on avoiding difficult conversations about some of the pressures that manifestly undermine claims about sustainability.”
Whether you agree with the overtly polemicised standpoint of this article (and, perhaps, some of its reasoning) or not, it certainly merits a read. Focusing on inequality as much as environmental harm, it likens the travel sector to extractive industries like coal and mineral mining:
“Like a gold rush to the latest discovery of untapped ores, a panoply of hotel chains, foreign tour operators, online booking agencies, airlines, real estate speculators and multinational construction companies quickly rush to capitalise on any curiosity that a visitor might have towards any site of historical or natural value.”
Furthermore, the author adds that beautiful landscapes, beaches and wildlife hotspots have become:
“Depopulated, fenced off through preservation laws, and repopulated with a globalised [tourism] architecture.”
Would love the hear your thoughts on this one [email@example.com]
It’s 7 months since the Maldives reopened for visitors in July 2020. The archipelago nation is a viable case study for COVID-era tourism – but what lessons were learned?
This week, we interviewed Ruth Franklin, Co-founder of Secret Paradise Maldives, about the re-opening, the future of sustainable tourism and the appeal of long-stay travel. Plus, COVID-19 vaccinations for tourism employees, the scope for vaccine tourism – and whether the Maldives can achieve its goal of 1.5 million visitors in 2021.
“The Maldives really does have to rely on sustainability, or actions of sustainability, to ensure that it has a future."
Budget Statements are inherently political. They provide governments with a platform to test out responses to proposed economic measures, and persuade the population about why they are the competent holders of the national purse.
Over the past 12 months, Budgets have been stimulus showcases - packages of props to inject financial support, liquidity and hope into toiling economies.
This week’s Singapore Budget 2021 dedicated a notable portion to rebuilding the city state’s vital aviation sector.
But the most intriguing part was when Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Finance, turned to the issue of the environment:
“Unlike COVID-19, which was a sudden and sharp shock, climate change is a gradual and intensifying risk, year after year. It can result in extreme weather patterns, which threaten the world’s food and water supply, disrupt global supply chains, diminish biodiversity, and upset ecological systems.”
The government has published the Singapore Green Plan 2030 designed to:
“Transform Singapore into a beautiful City in Nature, while building up carbon sinks by extending nature throughout our island.”
Among its goals are to plant 1 million more trees, quadruple solar energy deployment by 2025 and reduce the waste sent to landfill by 30% by 2030.
Time will tell how this plan will play out. Singapore views its policy actions in a broader global context - but South East Asia badly needs a regional leader-by-example in the eco-sphere.
There will be nothing ‘normal’ about travel and tourism for a very long time - not in terms of the context that we entered the pandemic at the turn of the new decade.
But how about this for a head-turning article intro:
“With each passing day, the grave future of Earth becomes more stark.”
The Planet in Peril narrative deepens:
“The pandemic itself can be traced back to humanity’s relentless damage to nature. And mass global tourism is emblematic of this voracious, growth-at-all-costs mentality.”
“The [travel] industry’s focus must shift from growth and profit to ‘regeneration’ – helping to restore the natural world that humans have so badly damaged… After all, there’s no tourism on a dead planet.”
Bravo to Susanne Becken, Professor of Sustainable Tourism at Griffith University - this is a thoughtful, structured and powerful read. I thoroughly enjoyed it…
… But now I think I need to lie down!
And, that’s a wrap for Issue 29.
This week’s The South East Asia Travel Show will look at different models being adopted to reopen for tourism. Check it out on Wednesday.
And don’t forget to send comments and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a great week,