Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 11, 2009

Climate Change and Travel and Tourism: A Changing World Culture

… with Dr. Tanja Mihalič, Professor of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Lubljana

In light of Climate Change, “culture” has taken on an expanded frame of reference. In Dr. Tanja Mihalič’s view, the world of travel, a culture in itself, is changing — and must change. While we enjoy the destinations we travel to, we also consume them. And according to Dr. Mihalič, the old days of “free and plenty” are no more; tourism consumption has reached a limit and now must become more regenerative and sustainable.

In her presentation, Dr. Mihalič makes reference to various social phases that have important implications for travel and tourism and the issue of climate change. She points out that there is an initial phase of ignorance in which the issues are simply not dealt with, whether it be in schools, in media, in the political agenda, or in the day to day operations of travel destinations and suppliers themselves.

As you will hear, she illustrates this phase with an anecdote about a man who very carefully monitors shipping traffic in front of his home. However, he makes one crucial error, and that is that he does not realize that he has neglected to take into account the proverbial “ships that pass in the night.”

A second important social phase begins when public debate and discussion of the issues begins; and this in fact is what was happening at that FIJET Congress in Slovenia. With discussion and debate also comes planning and strategizing; they key behaviourisms that have the greatest impact on climate change. But, as Dr. Mihalič points out, it is not enough to just talk; action is required. Furthermore people in all areas of the travel tourism sector (and this includes consumers) must identify with the issue.

Dr. Mihalič also points out that the world is a market economy but that often the actual environmental costs of travel and tourism (and their social and cultural costs) are not part of the calculations in the diverse economic systems around the world. She urges all stakeholders in this global industry to work towards consensus, to no longer consider the environment a “free commodity,” and therefore be more prepared in increasing the world’s ability to “manage” climate change.

While Slovenia (one of the most environmentally-culturally rich nations I have visited in a long time) has a very high ranking in terms of the quality of its natural environment (number 7 in the European Union), Dr. Mihalič also points out that it does not score as well as it could; it is number 30 in terms of CO2 emissions in the European Union.

What I found most interesting as a travel journalist, however, was Dr. Mihalič’s invitation (a challenge really) to look at her nation from the perspective that she presented in her talk. This alone was an indication of what, in my opinion, may be the most important issue in the world of travel and tourism — integrity. And as you can probably guess by now, Slovenia for me is a nation in which integrity operates on many levels and in many ways.

In October 2008, the World Federation of Journalists and Travel Writers (FIJET) held its annual World Congress in Slovenia. Climate change was a focal issue of the event.

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