A favourable outlook

Peter Semone, founder & president of Destination Human Capital, and current PATA chair, shares how the region can strike a balance between economic growth and environmental protection

Could you outline PATA’s action plans for the next 12 months?
Following two strategic workshop sessions organised in conjunction with regular meetings of the executive board, we agreed on establishing five expert task forces (ETF).

ETF 1 will cover PATA Brand and Voice; ETF 2 Travel Mart and PATA Events; ETF 3 oversees Membership Engagement and Value; ETF 4 Organizational Design, and ETF 5: Digital Readiness.

Along with key issues such as sustainability, the ETF’s aim is on operational areas that require focus in the coming 12 to 24 months in order to strengthen PATA institutionally and maintain relevance to its members and the greater Asia-Pacific travel community.

With the on-boarding of our new CEO, Noor Ahmad Hamid, I look forward to focusing on how to implement new initiatives and ensure membership value and association growth for years to come.

More businesses and destinations are actively pursuing sustainable tourism. To what extent have stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific region embraced sustainability?
Organisations like PATA and the Asia-Pacific tourism industry have been advocating sustainability for over four decades. However, implementation and action have been slow.

For instance, discussions on sustainability were held as early as 1991 during a PATA conference in Bali, featuring renowned speaker David Suzuki. Despite these conversations, there remains a need for concerted efforts from both tourists and destinations to achieve sustainable practices.

Tourists are just as responsible for practising sustainable behaviour as the suppliers of tourism services. Implementing a code of conduct for visitors when they arrive at a destination could be a valuable step. Poor behaviour by tourists has become a significant issue, as seen in Bali, where cultural and environmental values are often disregarded.

Another important aspect is to drive sustainability from the demand side. If customers start demanding more sustainable practices from hotels, restaurants, and tour operators, it will force the industry to move beyond mere lip service and adopt sustainable measures.

The industry in the region, including PATA, is actively seeking answers to the complex questions surrounding sustainability. I am not naive to suggest sustainability at the expense of profit. Still, there has to be a lot of balancing – including economic and environmental balancing, and the communities that are affected by tourism.

How can an organisation like PATA assist destinations in achieving sustainable goals?
Firstly, raising awareness about the challenges and admitting existing problems are essential initial steps.

PATA, through events like conferences, aims to create awareness among tourism leaders and foster discussions on how to tackle sustainability challenges. By bringing together representatives from multiple countries, we can serve as a platform for sharing best practices and creating awareness

PATA can also act as a repository of good practices, collecting and disseminating successful sustainable initiatives from various destinations.

As we have a membership that spans 45 countries, ranging from small Pacific islands to large nations like India and China, we have the unique opportunity to showcase diverse experiences and learnings. Sharing these practices can inspire and guide other destinations in their sustainability efforts.

In your speech at the PATA Destination Experience Forum and Mart 2023 in Kuching, you mentioned the importance of rethinking how we measure tourism success. Could you elaborate?
We need to rethink how we measure tourism success. It is crucial to develop a more comprehensive understanding of its impacts.

Currently, many destinations in the Asia-Pacific region focus on marketing their attractions and increasing demand, rather than effectively managing the impacts of tourism. It is essential to shift the focus from solely boosting visitor numbers to considering broader metrics for success.

One approach is to conduct a baseline analysis of a destination without tourism and compare it to the existing situation. By understanding the positive and negative aspects of tourism, we can develop a more holistic view of its impacts.

For example, we should consider the employment opportunities created by tourism, the businesses that depend on it, and the positive contributions to the local economy. On the other hand, we must also acknowledge the potential degradation of the environment, culture, and the cost burdens that tourism places on a destination.

Additionally, we need to consider the concept of “the commons”. In the tourism industry, as we promote tourism we say “a great place to live is a great place to visit”. A great place to live is a place that has a great public area that is funded by the government and the residents pay the tax.

However, tourists often use these public services without directly contributing through taxes, which can place a burden on the residents. Accounting for the invisible burdens of tourism, including the costs of hosting visitors, is crucial for a comprehensive evaluation of tourism’s economic and social impacts.

In summary, we need to conduct an honest assessment of both the revenues and expenses associated with tourism. This accounting should include the invisible burdens and the long-term costs of tourism. By re-evaluating our measurement metrics, we can develop a more accurate understanding of tourism’s true impact and make informed decisions for sustainable development.

Some countries, like New Zealand and Thailand, have started to collect tourism taxes, and Bali has announced it will start doing so next year. Do you think this is the way to offset the invisible costs for tourist destinations going forward?
The tourism industry needs to test a lot of different sustainable and responsible tourism models over the next five years. What works for one destination may not work for another, given the diversity of the Asia-Pacific region.

Each destination will have a different solution to manage and mitigate the positive and negative impacts of tourism. Each customised approach will align with the destination’s specific circumstances, including cultural and religious backgrounds. Sharing successful models and experiences among destinations is crucial to finding the most suitable solution for each location.

As a culturally and environmentally diverse region, Asia-Pacific has a unique opportunity to lead the way in global sustainability. Preserving the region’s rich heritage and natural beauty is a collective responsibility that requires cooperation, innovation, and continuous improvement.

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