Opinion: Tourism 2023 is welcome – but change won’t come cheap

Travolution executive editor Ian TaylorThe Tourism 2023 initiative is remarkable. It is a departure in the degree of co-operation it represents and a starting point to a changed travel world. Many may struggle to come to terms with it. 

The 2023 vision, launched at The Travel Convention this week, is deceptively simply. It commits the industry to “measurable socio-economic benefits” in destinations, and to ensure tourism development is sustainable. That is the easy bit.

It pledges the industry will use renewable energy, conserve water, minimise waste and protect ecosystems – all more easily said than done. It commits travel companies “to add to the natural environment, not detract from it”.

The signatories – including ABTA, TUI Travel, Thomas Cook, British Airways, Carnival UK, The Co-operative Travel Group and Advantage – are also committed to persuading governments to adopt sustainable standards, and to help customers and employees understand sustainability.

The former would be a fine thing, while customer support and staff commitment are essential for there to be progress.

However, the vision will be anything but simple to realise. By way of illustration, the United Nations this week conceded a scheme to offset carbon emissions against protecting the world’s remaining forests – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing countries – is open to wholesale abuse.

At the same time, a Loughborough University study suggested it would take a £50 rise in short-haul fares to make most people think twice about flying – something no one in the industry wants anyway.

Prices fall as technology becomes mainstream, and that is what happened with air travel. Outbound tourism boomed on the back of falling fares to destinations where living standards were lower than in the UK – making holidays even cheaper.

No one knows how much more expensive the post-recession world may become, particularly for those paying in sterling. But the added environmental costs could be heavy and, unless there is a change in aviation technology, travel may rise in price to the point where less people fly. And, that, ultimately, is what the industry has signed up to.

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