Global warming expert raises concerns for tourism industry

BANGKOK (AFP) – Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rajendra Pachauri Tuesday warned tourism industry chiefs they need to reduce their impact on climate change as consumers become more environmentally aware.

“The tourism industry, for its own sake, will have to adapt,” Pachauri said to more than 200 Asia Pacific airline, hotel and tourist company chief executives at a conference on tourism and climate change.

“I would appeal to you and urge you to take steps so that you are seen not as the problem but as part of the solution,” the head of the UN’s Nobel prizewinning climate panel said in a pre-recorded video.

Global warming has the potential to melt ski resorts out of business and drown island getaways with rising sea levels, Pachauri told the first Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) climate change conference.

Promoting energy efficiency and offsetting carbon emissions, he said, must become standard business practices as oil prices rise and savvy tourists start demanding green credentials.

“Climate factors, which are major determinants of tourist demand, could induce tourists to go to new destinations,” Pachauri said. “There are issues that will have to be carefully considered and mapped out.”

Pachauri and former US vice president Al Gore accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for their work to publicise the dangers of global warming.

Tourism industry leaders said it was time they stopped being defensive every time someone mentioned climate change and did something about it.

“It’s fine to lobby, it’s fine to justify why we’re not as bad as other industries,” said Rohit Talwar, CEO of tourism consultant agency Fast Future.

“But I’ve never seen a good bit of lobbying that could stop a glacier from melting.”

Tantalising slideshows of gleaming silver resorts rising from the water near Dubai were shadowed by charts of climbing carbon emissions which contribute to global warming.

The tourism industry accounted for about five percent of global emissions in 2007, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation. Growth in the tourism industry could increase emissions by as much as 150 percent in 30 years.

European and Australian international travellers are already pressuring companies to offset their emissions and to follow environmentally friendly building standards. The European Union has threatened to ban airlines which do not offset their emissions.

Tourism chiefs said they cannot let their Asian resorts and transport agencies fall asleep or they will lose business from the West and from increasingly concerned Asian customers.

“Climate change is a deal breaker,” said PATA president Peter de Jong.

“Our customers are at issue. They believe we’ve been apathetic.”

Consumer sentiment and possible energy savings have companies scrambling, with projects ranging from Virgin Airlines’ efforts to run jets on biofuel to Marriott International’s goal of recyclable pens at every hotel reception desk.

Pachauri said businesses have a responsibility to help tourists make green choices instead of trying to woo customers with eco-gimmicks.

The industry can build new value into its services by taking the lead instead of waiting for government regulations, he said.

“You would certainly have performed a great service to humanity by leading them in the right direction,” Pachauri said.

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