Climate change and sustainability should not be ignored for the sake of SDGs, or vice versa, nor should the social impact of travel in terms of job creation and inclusion be overlooked in the path to recovery, said tourism experts during the Virtual Destination Mekong Summit on August 25.
“Now we’re living in an unprecedented situation. For the last nine years, the growth of the travel and tourism GDP has outpaced the growth of the economy,” said Gloria Guevara, president & CEO, WTTC.
“One out of 10 jobs, or 330 million jobs (worldwide) depend on travel and tourism, and there are currently 121 million jobs impacted due to Covid. It will be 197 million by the end of this year,” she said.
She emphasised the democratisation of tourism over the past two decades, labelling the current travel crisis a social one and calling for a “top-bottom and also bottom-up” approach to solving the crisis.
“Let’s not forget the millions of people who use tourism to put food on the table, and also remember that tourism has a significant social impact that helps to pay for education – 54 per cent of SMEs are led by women, while 30 per cent are led by youth. This is a sector that provides a lot of inclusion and support,” she added.
Another concern is that travel post-Covid will be led by a generation of young, highly ethically conscious people who will inherit the state of climate change in 30-40 years.
“The youth now have Earth Day; they learn the SDGs in their schools. It’s much more in their DNA than in our generation,” said professor Geoffrey Lipman, president, SUNx Malta.
“(We need to think) in terms of climate-friendly travel, so that the young activists won’t be able to say: ‘You shouldn’t fly.’”
Taleb Rifai, former secretary general, UNWTO, also referenced the democratisation of travel. “We have to respect that travel has become a human right – but how to travel, that is our challenge. We have to clean up our act, (but) I don’t think we need to make a choice between (travelling and not traveling).”
Panelists highlighted the power and passion of the young generation to drive new travel initiatives forward, and the importance of local ownership of travel initiatives, for example, localisation of the SDGs.
For this reason, the new Phuket Model being trialed by the Thai government is infused with local community involvement, according to Thailand’s former minister of tourism and sports, H.E. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul. “Phuket consists of many smaller towns, for example, Kata and Karon, and every town has their own different problems. (Involving the locals and getting their inputs on how to solve local issues) means that Phuket can work on every small town.”
“Governments change but locals are the constant. The real implementers are the locals, the young generation,” she stated.
Mario Hardy, CEO of PATA, underscored the need for “global financing but local implementation,” as locals are the ones to benefit from job creation.
Rifai stated that the crisis has put domestic and regional tourism, which have been somewhat overlooked in the past, squarely into the forefront where they belong, and serve as a wake-up call to the travel industry.
He said: “The tourism sector is known to be one of the most conservative sectors in the world. (We are) counting on the fact that this crisis will make us all change.”