Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 19, 2009

The Road to Hell….

Langkawi, Malaysia

Do you know what your carbon footprint is?

I don’t … although the term entered my ethical lexicon some time ago — not that I have acted on it in any really big way. But I do recycle almost anything I can, whenever I can. And I do try to conserve water.

This ethical-environmental issue which is the essence of sustainable tourism/green tourism/geotourism came to my attention again recently because I receive a periodic newsletter from what is, in my opinion, an enlightened business leader in the global travel industry: Ypartnership. In the newsletter, the carbon footprint question was the opening salvo. I immediately went into my mea culpa, bad tourist, self-guilt-tripping mode … and then I went for lunch.

Chairman and CEO Peter Yesawich was the keynote speaker at a travel conference I attended not long ago, and he was in my estimation one of the best keynote speakers I have heard in a longtime. In part this is because of the company’s intelligent and carefully articulated mission, its collective conceptual abilities, and its highly scientific approach to all travel-related issues.

As an advertising-marketing, promotion, research, strategic planning, and statistical organization (among other “duties”) Ypartnership is a good example of what I call The CUE Factor (Coherence, Unity, and Emphasis) — my personal guiding modus operandi in writing and analyzing the content in all kinds of media messages.

Ypartnership is heavily engaged in defining the global travel industry and the trends and events that determine how this “largest industry on the planet” does what it does. It is called the largest industry on the planet because whenever and wherever the “business” of the planet is being conducted, somebody is going somewhere thanks to some travel supplier. In terms of “travel,” especially in the 21st century, it is probably a good idea that we get beyond the notion of travel as just a holiday or a visit to Grandma in Lethbridge. Corporate travel, for example, is one of the most important (and lucrative) sectors of this industry. Leisure travel, especially the mass marketing mode, is also important but it is just another major sector of this industry.

So anyway … one of the most recent Ypartnership newsletters dared me to define my carbon footprint. It wasn’t really an in-your-face challenge, rather it was a provocative question and, in a sense, the principal thesis of the newsletter. Here’s why.

According to a recent Ypartnership study, 78 per cent of adults in the United States of America, consider themselves “environmentally conscious” in their daily lives; and over half of these say they “are more likely to patronize travel services suppliers who operate in an environmentally responsible manner.” (If the Americans will do it, that bodes well for the rest of the planet, especially in those countries that have been behaving in an environmentally sound, tone-down-the-consumerism fashion for decades.)

Sounds good so far, right? As good green citizens, they turn out the lights when they leave the room; practise energy efficiency in various ways; recycle the stuff they buy and use; shut off the water when they are brushing their teeth or shaving (the men especially in terms of the latter ablution); use more energy-efficient light bulbs; and keep showers short (even when they are doing “it” … nudge nudge, wink wink … together).

Still looking good right?

Furthermore, these righteous, environmentally-conscious citizens of the Blue Planet are more likely to give their business to a travel supplier, airline, hotel property etc. if, in their assessment, the company is more environmentally friendly.

Now for the catch. Do they put their money where their mouth is? Sigh… not always. Although the spirit is willing, the financial flesh is weak. Although as a general group, they behave at home in an environmentally conscious fashion and definitely consider themselves advocates for environmental integrity, only 14 per cent of the respondents to the survey said that “their actual selection of a travel service supplier would be influenced by the supplier’s efforts to preserve and protect the environment.”

Oh dear.

And I am sorry to report that only 13 per cent would be willing to pay more to do so. (Mind you, 52 per cent said they might.) Good intentions … the road to hell. The bottom line is that an awareness of a supplier’s efforts to operate a sustainable, green tourism business does indeed attract more customers … however … “not at a significantly higher rate (or fare).”

What do do? Well, I suppose first of all it is a question of Physician heal thyself. That’s always the case with environmental concerns right? At least if we realize that we are imperfect human beings, fallible, fallen angels, and even contradictory, that self-awareness in itself is a beginning. Knowing that, we can start to look … again … at how we travel.

We do have choices. So maybe making better choices can start becoming fun. Remember that slogan from a few decades ago “Getting there is half the fun”? Recently, not through my own doing I am just a wee bit ashamed to admit, I actually stayed at two very sustainable hotel properties, one in … wait for it … Mumbai, India; and the other on the exquisite island of Langkawi in Malaysia.

Check out these two properties.

Imagine a fully sustainable hotel in Mumbai, one of the world’s most densely-populated cities. The hotel is The Orchid, a Five Star “ecohotel.”

On the island of Langkawi, it was the Mutiara Burau Bay Beach Resort . Now the Mutiara Burau Bay Beach Resort is a little less of a surprise to find on this very eco-friendly and green tourism island (as opposed to a hotel near Mumbai’s airport), but it is a good example of developing what is essentially an emerging travel destination and starting off on the right foot — the green one.

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