What can tourism learn from other industries?

What can tourism learn from other industries?

Not a lot apparently.

Next week is the annual Responsible Business Summit Europe. Organised by Ethical Corporation, it brings together senior executives from some of the biggest companies in the world to discuss corporate solutions to the biggest challenges facing society today. This year the key themes include climate change, the circular economy, supply chains and the challenge of communicating these issues.

The list of speakers features representatives from just about every industry sector imaginable, from finance to pharmaceuticals, clothing to food. There are also senior speakers from many of the biggest NGOs in the world, from UNICEF to WBCSD and WWF.

But not a single person from tourism.

I was also sent a list of attendees a week ago. At that point, other than two executives from IHG, there wasn’t another name from the travel industry on the list of attendees.

This wouldn’t matter if it was just one event. But it is a pattern that I see repeatedly replicated elsewhere.

For example, RE100 is “a global corporate leadership initiative bringing together influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity.” So far, its 176 members include such household names as Apple, Google, Ikea, BMW, BT, Coca Cola and Nike. Other than Heathrow and Gatwick airports, who are involved in a lot more than just tourism, so far the only tourism organisation on the list is Vail Resorts, “a leading global mountain resort operator, with 11 world-class mountain resorts and three urban ski areas in the US, Canada and Australia, and a collection of casually elegant hotels.”

Or you could look at the members of the Circular Economy 100, a group launched by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for global companies seeking to develop more sustainably, where they can “learn, share knowledge, and build new collaborative approaches.” Partners include most of the above mentioned companies, along with the likes of Phillips, Unilever and Renault.

There isn’t a single representative from tourism.

So our industry doesn’t go to the biggest cross sector responsible business summits. It doesn’t commit to renewable energy. And isn’t part of the leading initiative exploring ways to develop a sustainable supply chain.

Yet when tourism talks of our importance as an industry, as I mentioned in my previous blog, we focus on our influence across many sectors. We say that our industry supports 1 in 10 jobs and is responsible for 10% of global GDP. When explaining how we reach such numbers, WTTC’s infographic makes very clear that we do so by including our impact on industries including “infrastructure, agriculture, technology, real estate, communications, education, banks, healthcare and more.”

Of course we do. Tourism is built of accommodation, transport networks and food provision. Hotels are filled with furnishings, cleaned with chemicals, powered by energy and create waste. All our businesses rely on telecommunications, all our staff wear clothes. And we all need banking and insurance services for the good times and the bad.

Tourism can connect all these industries. It can put a human face on them, turn them into experiences, give people a chance to discover and enjoy the most innovative ways of creating a viable, sustainable future for us all. I believe it is the most important role our industry has to play in the years to come.

But we have to turn up first.

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Jeremy Smith is the editor of sustainable tourism news site Travindy.com. Author of recently published Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018). As well as writing a fortnightly blog for WTM's responsible tourism website, he works with responsible and sustainable travel businesses, developing their communications, brands, marketing and digital & social media strategy. He is co-author of Rough Guides' only guidebook dedicated to responsible tourism, Clean Breaks - 500 New Ways to See the World. Before that he was editor of The Ecologist, the world's longest-running environmental magazine. Travindy - https://www.travindy.com Latest book - cabi.org/bookshop/book/9781786394194

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