Governments and national tourism boards have been accused of not doing enough to drive sustainable practices while the private sector is “doing all the heavy lifting”.
Xavier Font, professor of sustainability marketing at Surrey University, told Travel Weekly’s Sustainability Summit he was keen to present a “glass half full” approach to the issue.
But he set out a litany of failures including a lack of clear strategy, no proper climate impact measurement and reporting and the wrong Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
He also doubted whether Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) have the expertise to address the issues and said they were putting revenue and volumes above sustainability.
“I think the private sector, at the moment is doing the heavy lifting. DMOs should actually do a lot more,” he said. “The industry is sticking its head above the parapet and it’s taking a lot of flak for a lot of things that are not happening.”
Susan Deer, Abta industry relations director, said many destinations had taken the opportunity of the Covid pandemic to consider what changes needed to be made.
She said the challenge was how destinations recover by driving volumes back but not at the expense of sustainability or the quality of experience for both residents and visitors.
“Yes, there’s an economic recovery to be had, but that cannot be at the expense of sustainability factors,” she said.
“Tourism numbers are not the only measurement, they need to look broader than that. Absolutely it’s a challenge coming out of a pandemic and into an environmental strategy.”
Font described sustainability as a “hygiene factor” which people expect but don’t necessarily want to pay for, and said destinations need to make it a positive, not a compromise.
He said destinations should stop marketing high season and aim for “temporal diversification” and measure carbon footprint of visitors per £1 or €1 spent in destination.