Published on Wednesday, July 25, 2007
"If, like me, you will not give a second thought about the impact on the environment of your holiday..." Give him his dues, Jeremy Skidmore certainly knows how to kick off a polemic. It got my attention, anyway, and judging by some of the reaction from Travelmole readers it ruffled the feathers of others, too.
But while it"s always fun to play the contrarian, I have to say - and I do actually agree with some of his points about APD and LiveEarth - that Jeremy"s comment piece left me stone cold.
Is his take on climate change really a representative view of the travel industry? After all, Jeremy is a former editor of Travel Weekly and a prominent industry spokesperson.
I speak as an outsider to this industry, but someone who has spent the past year observing it and investigating the various environmental, social and economics impacts - both good and bad - of the global tourism industry for my book The Final Call.
I have interviewed many dozens of representatives from your industry around the world, from chambermaids to CEOs, to gauge their views on not just tourism"s impacts on climate change, but also a range of other important but often muffled issues such as exploitative low pay, natural resource depletion, ecological degradation and sex tourism.
It saddens me to say that I was not greatly encouraged by my findings - I came across a lot of Jeremys on my travels. In truth, I think the travel and tourism industry is a long, long way from truly grasping the scale of the problems that lay before it - in some ways it reminds me of where the tobacco industry was about 40 years ago.
The scent of denial is thick in the air. I can"t think of any other global industry - you work for the world"s largest service industry, no less - which seemingly plays such a dangerous game with its key assets - the mountains, the coral reefs, the tropical islands, the rainforests etc. Once they"re gone, or at least tarnished beyond repair, then so is your industry.
Just from a position of self-interest, you would assume everyone in the industry would be doubling over backwards to protect and nurture these assets, if only to secure long-term business. Where exactly are you going to be sending today"s children on holiday once they reach adulthood?
And don"t forget just how much more pressurised the resources of each destinations will be once the tens of millions of tourists start arriving from places such as China and India, as the World Tourism Organisation is predicting.
Your industry should be leading on these issues, not be dragged kicking and screaming into this debate like a spoilt child which is used to getting its own way.
After all, it could be argued that you have the most to lose in the long term. Anyone who carries on with a business-as-usual attitude will surely be out of business in the not-too-distant future, not least because consumer attitudes - despite questionable surveys that suggest otherwise - are surely moving in only one direction when it comes to these issues.
I would love for your industry to prove me wrong - and some of the reaction to Jeremy"s comment piece gives me hope that his kind of viewpoint could soon become isolated - but I fear that too many of you are simply dancing around these issues.
For example, please don"t keep saying that carbon offsetting is the way to mitigate your industry"s climate-change impacts - it is a nothing less than a sticky plaster shielding a festering wound.
Easy answers are rarely the right answers. Sun-drenched beaches are wonderful places to stick your head in the sand, aren"t they?
Leo Hickman is a features journalist and editor at the Guardian. His latest book "The Final Call: In Search of the True Cost of Our Holidays" is published by Transworld. www.leohickman.co.uk
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