Surf­ing Travel and Tourism the lat­est wave of chal­lenges

Middle East Business (English) - - FRONT PAGE -

Tourism comes in many guises and es­pe­cially so in the MENA re­gion. It has be­come a mix­ture of acronyms and spe­cial­i­ties - from MICE1, FITs and GITs2, to Hajj and Um­rah trips, lux­ury tai­lor-made tours to all-in­clu­sives. This re­gion has para­dox­i­cally be­come one of the lead­ing lights in both re­li­gious and lux­ury travel. Our ar­ti­cle looks at a few of the per­ti­nent as­pects of tourism and travel to­day, and con­sid­ers how one of the largest em­ploy­ers will have a real im­pact on the fu­ture pros­per­ity and sur­vival of the re­gion.

As one of the world’s largest in­dus­tries in terms of em­ploy­ment and rev­enues, tourism has the po­ten­tial to al­le­vi­ate poverty, end hunger, ban­ish gen­der in­equal­ity and halt en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion in the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble re­gions. But all of this de­pends en­tirely upon whether it is man­aged cor­rectly, and whether those in­volved in the in­dus­try are will­ing to look at the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits of mov­ing to­wards a more sus­tain­able form of travel and tourism. The chal­lenges - which not only af­fect our re­gion but many oth­ers - in­clude po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, the health of the econ­omy and visa re­stric­tions. Of these three is­sues, we have pre­vi­ously fea­tured many ar­ti­cles; there­fore, we can do lit­tle but un­der­line how im­por­tant 'get­ting it right' is for the fu­ture of the re­gion.

Sus­tain­able ... or sim­ply not vi­able?

The UN's Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals were drawn up to help coun­tries, gov­ern­ments, non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs), and com­mu­ni­ties - es­pe­cially those work­ing in the tourism sec­tor - pre­serve their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. In an ar­ti­cle on sus­tain­able tourism in our re­gion, by Megan Setchell3 writ­ing for EMG Group (Cor­po­rate So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity con­sul­tancy), the au­thor out­lines that tourists value their hol­i­days when their pres­ence has a pos­i­tive ef­fect. As tourists now eval­u­ate all parts of the in­dus­try for sus­tain­abil­ity – from the air­line they fly with to the ho­tel in which they stay – it is rais­ing the bar for all sup­pli­ers and ser­vices in­volved. An in­creas­ing fo­cus on tourism may also help the re­gion's ef­forts to di­ver­sify its econ­omy away from fos­sil fu­els. With wide­spread en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and in par­tic­u­lar, wa­ter scarcity, it is cru­cial that the tourism sec­tor goes some way to mon­i­tor­ing its use of en­vi­ron­men­tal re­sources – not least be­cause sus­tain­abil­ity is a ‘pull fac­tor’ for many tourists com­ing to the re­gion. Sus­tain­ably man­aged tourism can be an ef­fec­tive way to pre­serve re­gional as­sets, whether they are nat­u­ral or cul­tural. Tourism must al­ways be sen­si­tive to the lo­cal cul­ture and en­vi­ron­ment to en­sure longevity, and our re­gion is demon­strat­ing a proac­tive and com­mit­ted ef­fort to­wards achiev­ing this.

Throw­ing in the towel

How a daily linen change should now be a thing of the past Have you ever been asked to think again about ask­ing for fresh tow­els and linen in a ho­tel? If so, this means that the ho­tel you stayed in prob­a­bly signed up to some of the global tar­gets to as­sist ho­tels re­duc­ing their en­ergy and wa­ter con­sump­tion as part of a larger global trend. UN World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNWTO) is just one of many driv­ing this change. The ho­tel sec­tor is one of the tourism in­dus­try’s largest driv­ers of em­ploy­ment and eco­nomic rev­enue but at the same time it is one of the most en­ergy-in­ten­sive. In fact, ho­tels and other types of ac­com­mo­da­tion ac­count for 2% of the 5% global CO2 emit­ted by the tourism sec­tor. Fo­cus on help­ing Small and Medium En­ter­prises (SMEs) is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant, as the uti­liza­tion of out­dated tech­nolo­gies, lack of hu­man and fi­nan­cial re­sources and a limited aware­ness and knowl­edge on greener al­ter­na­tives may all be con­tribut­ing to de­creas­ing their com­pet­i­tive­ness. In ad­di­tion, SMEs are usu­ally less proac­tive about the en­vi­ron­ment in com­par­i­son to larger ho­tel chains. Help­ing the sec­tor re­spond to the chal­lenges of cli­mate change is thereby nec­es­sary. Ho­tel En­ergy So­lu­tions (HES) is one of UNWTO's projects in

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