Travel will emerge from the recession into a changed world in which it cannot expect to conduct business as before.
But the industry risks long-term disaster if it ignores environmental concerns while concentrating on survival.
Participants in a panel discussion at the Institute of Travel and Tourism conference in Dubai agreed the current crisis marks a sea change.
Jumeirah Group chief executive Guy Crawford said: “We will not go back to how we did things in the past.”
The Co-operative Travel managing director Mike Greenacre agreed, saying: “This recession has been unique. We have seen a fundamental change.”
Gold Medal chief executive Terry Fisher added: “The days when you would see huge demand at the time of brochure launches has gone.”
However, TUI Travel UK customer director Tim Williamson expressed frustration at a downgrading of environmental issues amid concern about trading.
Williamson said: “If we take our eye off sustainability, we risk fundamental damage to the industry.
“We cannot choose to be environmentally-friendly just when we are in a strong trading position, otherwise we will not have an industry in 20-30 years.”
He told Travel Weekly: “Sustainability is not on people’s radar. The industry is obsessed with trading – or even survival.
“But the planet does not know you are going bust. We have to preserve destinations. Travel will be knackered in 20 years if we do nothing.”
He added: “We will have emissions trading from 2012 and that could fundamentally change the economics of flying.”
One leading figure later questioned whether conference-host Dubai fitted the required model for tourism, describing the city as an “environmental catastrophe”.
He told Travel Weekly: “There is not a solar panel in sight.”
For more details on ITT go to travelweekly.co.uk/itt2009
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