The World Green Tourism conference taking place on December this year is said to be the first commercial conference and exhibition specifically for the sustainable tourism sector, so the fact that it’s been held in an oil export-reliant country provides an interesting twist. But according to one Kiwi professor speaking at the conference, the high profile nature and location of the event makes it the perfect platform to drum home the message that a strong sustainability focus is key to major tourism expansion in the Middle East, which also faces challenges from climate change.
Dr Susanne Becken, an associate professor at Lincoln University, will raise questions over current global tourism growth projections at the conference. She said energy is one of the most important factors in tourism but despite this, it’s not getting the “necessary attention” it should be.
Given oil is a finite resource and contributes to climate change related carbon emissions, Becken expressed hope that the rapid tourism expansion and investment taking place in the Middle East is being made with sustainability in mind, particularly when it comes to energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and efficient use of water resources.
“I am slightly doubtful that global tourism will grow as expected over the next few decades and I would value discussion with Middle Eastern tourism experts on their views on this and how investments that are based on solid growth are made,” she said.
Becken will also reveal to conference delegates why two New Zealand government funded tourism research projects she manages — ‘Tourism and Oil’ and ‘Preparing the Tourism Sector for Climate Change’ — are applicable in the Middle East.
“Some of the more detailed research in New Zealand, for example how certain types of businesses or tourists are affected by higher oil prices, is likely to be applicable elsewhere in the world, especially the Middle East,” she said. “There are important aspects of the oil intensity of supply chains, for example energy embodied in water and food, which could be very relevant for the Middle East.”
Tourism is New Zealand’s biggest export earner, attracting 2.5 million tourists a year with an average stay of 23 days, compared to just three days that tourists spend in the UAE.
Interestingly, Becken said New Zealand’s image as a clean, green country has kept it at the forefront as a travel destination of choice for holidaymakers, and this is something Middle East countries can aspire to.
But she warned that the image has been achieved through serious efforts towards sustainability, ensuring tourists do not accuse the country of greenwashing to make it look more environmentally friendly than it is.
Of course our reputation as a clean and green destination has been under fire for some time now. In a Guardian article a couple of years back, author, environment journalist and columnist Fred Pearce accused New Zealand of falsely trading on its positive environmental image.
“My prize for the most shameless two fingers to the global community goes to New Zealand, a country that sells itself round the world as 'clean and green'," he wrote.
Most recently, John Key was grilled on BBC programme Hardtalk when host Stephen Sackur cited a number of environmental faults, including our heavily polluted rivers.