The travel industry must ensure its survival before it can focus on how to operate more sustainably in the future, according to Etoa chief executive Tom Jenkins.
Jenkins stressed that sustainability was at the forefront of the European association’s work but insisted: “You can’t have sustainable tourism if you don’t have tourism.”
Speaking on a panel at the inaugural Global Travel Weekly event in London, Jenkins said: “At the moment we are at the bottom of a coal mine being asked what the landscape is going to look like in a couple of years’ time.
“People are talking about ‘build back better’ and part of this is the sustainability angle but the most important thing at the moment is to build back [at all].
“Working out how we are going to build back so it is going to be much better in the future is almost a secondary question. This is an industry in deep crisis.”
Jenkins added: “Customers will do what they want but we will do anything we can to survive and that will be the number one priority.
“That is not to say that there isn’t a huge moral obligation on global society to build a sustainable future but from a travel industry point of view we are fighting for survival.”
Susan Deer, Abta director of industry relations, insisted it was possible to plot a course to survival while keeping sustainable issues to the fore, citing destinations that had rewritten strategic plans on tourism development to encourage broader benefits across communities.
She added: “We are focused on getting outbound and inbound travel back up and running in a more stable form but we do need to champion those businesses and destinations that are doing sustainable travel well.”
Tine Murn, co-founder of New Deal Europe, a trade initiative showcasing the broader Balkans region, said it was imperative for governments in developing tourism destinations to build the sector in a sustainable fashion and not chase potential returns from mass development.
Flavio Zappacosta, head of UK & Ireland at the Italian Tourist Board, said Italy had ramped up the exploration of ways to spread tourism revenue beyond major cities and established hubs, with a programme to develop visitor numbers to smaller towns and hamlets proving successful prior to the pandemic.