The travel opportunities available in the modern world have utterly transformed how we live. Destinations that would once have taken weeks to reach can now be travelled to in under a day.
This greatly increased accessibility has opened vast new opportunities for people to enjoy our world in ways that were unimaginable even a generation ago.
The expansion of travel has shrunk our world, and in so doing has helped to bring people together, soften divisions and to create understanding where sometimes there was tension.
By experiencing other cultures, those of us lucky enough to travel widely have benefitted greatly from what we have seen, heard and experienced. We have also been inspired through travel by the world’s remarkable natural richness and variety.
Indeed, one of the motivations that increasingly inspires people to travel is to see and experience the wonders of distant natural treasures such as remote deserts, coral reefs and tropical rainforests.
Until quite recently, such places were the destination of a few intrepid travellers, while today more and more people find fulfilment in trekking through jungles and diving down to reefs.
If I may say so, this perhaps brings me to the greatest paradox of modern travel, which is that if we are not very careful it can threaten those wonders of the world that inspired people to travel in the first place.
For instance, coral reefs are in decline worldwide partly because of the climate change caused by the combustion of fossil fuels and partly because of the pollution generated from hotels.
At the same time, the world’s wetlands, home to countless species of some of the most stunning birds on the planet, have been damaged by demand for water to supply tourist facilities. And waste from hotels and the demand for land to build them have created additional pressures.
As the number of travellers increases dramatically, and as the environmental impacts for which they are directly and indirectly responsible become more damaging, the efforts which have to be taken by the travel and tourism business to minimize those impacts needs to be on a heroic scale.
I know that ABTA and many of its members are acutely aware of these problems and, in many cases, are taking steps to do what is possible to safeguard the environment, and I can only applaud the initiatives that you have already launched.
ABTA’s “Reduce My Footprint” tool shows the leadership the organization is taking to engage the industry and consumers with issues around climate change. And Tourism 2023 is an example of ABTA and “Forum for the Future” working with the industry to understand how to mitigate its impacts and adapt its business to an uncertain future.
ABTA was also instrumental in setting up The Travel Foundation and I have personal experience of the positive work the industry’s charity does around the World.
At the same time, the International Hotels Partnership, part of my International Business Leaders Forum, is doing what it can to advise hotels how to operate in the most sustainable way.
Through various guides created in cooperation with leading hotels, the Partnership encourages genuine sensitivity to the local landscape and environment, to the local identity, character, culture and traditions; to the visual impact of buildings, to issues of water supply and waste management and to local sourcing of food, materials and manpower.
Hotels designed, built and managed in sympathy with local cultural and biological diversity rather than merely following the conventional “homogenized” trend which eliminates all diversity and identity, have the potential to play a vital role in meeting the enormous environmental and social challenges of the twenty-first century through creating far-sighted models for working in harmony with Nature and with cultural traditions at a local level.
There is, however, so much more that can be done and if we are to continue to enjoy the benefits of travel while at the same time safeguarding natural treasures, we must, I fear, redouble our efforts. One contribution that I hope to make in the coming year is to stimulate new and urgent action to save the world’s remaining tropical rainforests.
The ecosystems they support are the most diverse on Earth, harbouring millions of species (which are now under constant threat of extinction) while at the same time supporting the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people. And, crucially, their destruction is also a major cause of climate change, releasing more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire global transport sector.
These forests are, in effect, the world’s air-conditioning system which are wrapped like a giant lifebelt around the globe, and yet we are standing by while they are destroyed.
My aim is nothing less than to build on all the work I have been doing over the past 23 years in the field of corporate social responsibility and to create the largest ever public, private, NGO sector partnership to tackle the challenge to halt rainforest destruction.
I am delighted that my Rainforests Project has already found welcome backing from a number of leading companies and from the World Bank, the European Union and the Coalition for Rainforest Nations.
It is engaged in very constructive discussions with a number of Governments, including the United States, France, Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Guyana and many African countries too.
I can only hope that you will join me in this effort and, as a first step, I hope that I might encourage you to visit my Project’s website on www.princesrainforestproject.com.
The travel sector, probably better than most industries, understands that there can be no secure long term economic growth if the environment continues to be degraded, and that the only sustainable business strategy is to become a low carbon and resource-efficient business.
I hope very much that the travel sector will continue to widen and deepen its engagement on environmental issues and I know that my Business and the Environment Programme would be only too happy to work with you, if this is something you would like to pursue with us and to follow in the footsteps of the insurance, pension and legal sector.
I will end, if I may, by wishing your Convention every possible success with the particular hope that you will be able to forge the new partnerships and initiatives that will help you to build a truly sustainable travel industry – one that continues to provide social, cultural and economic benefits, but in ways that reflect the wider responsibilities of all companies and institutions in our fast changing world.