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Article published 16/12/2020

Last month we became the first national tourism organisation to join Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency. Today we hear from Benjamin Carey, Managing Director of Carey Tourism and sustainable toursim consultant, on how we can focus on responsible tourism recovery as the world emerges from COVID-19.

As part of our response to COVID-19, everyone in tourism has been forced to reflect on the difficulty of operating in a radically changed environment and the opportunity to establish more resilient and successful models that fully embrace destination communities and other local partners. The COVID-19 pandemic has been traumatic for us all, but it can be argued that it has been a stress test for an industry facing the significant crisis of climate change. The World Economic Forum has repeatedly identified “climate action failure” and “extreme weather” as the world’s greatest risks.

By joining Tourism Declares last month, our national tourism organisation offered a clear signal that it's serious about its commitment to develop Scotland into a sustainable tourism destination. This means changing priorities and thinking differently as we face the Climate Emergency; to be “world leader in 21st century tourism” is a big ambition and involves a total commitment to sustainability and wellbeing.

As a founding member of the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership, which also includes Iceland and New Zealand and advocates “delivering human and ecological wellbeing”, Scotland is well placed to drive a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Next year’s COP26 to be held in Glasgow represents an outstanding opportunity for Scotland to promote best practice, showcasing its National Performance Framework, which reflects the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The City of Glasgow will be hosting COP26, the most important international forum on tackling the Climate Emergency since the Paris Agreement was signed at the UNFCCC’s COP21 in 2015. Almost exactly five years ago the ‘Paris Agreement’ was adopted, a new global accord on tackling climate change signed by 195 countries. For COP26, all parties to the Paris agreement are requested to submit updated pledges, setting tougher targets for reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions over the next decade and laying out their road map. In 2019, Scotland made a world leading commitment to cut carbon emissions by 75% by 2030, which this month has been followed by the EU making a commitment to reduce their emissions by 55% over the same period. There is an opportunity for businesses to directly benefit from tackling climate change by developing their own climate action plan, and embed this across their activity, which can include reviewing all imagery and messaging through a ‘responsible tourism’ lens to amplify the importance. The location of COP26 is apt, as Glasgow is the only UK destination in the Top 10 of the Global Destination Sustainability Index.

Last month’s G20 summit in Riyadh affirmed the 100 Million Jobs Recovery Plan drafted by the WTTC, which calls on the tourism industry to “Reinforce sustainability practices, working in partnership with local communities”, echoing the UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili’s earlier plea in Tbilisi to “Work together to build a tourism sector that works for everyone, where sustainability and innovation are part of everything we do”.

As we look to the future, the concept of Build Back Better is compelling, but having worked in more 50 countries around the world, I know that none is immune to the challenges of making tourism more sustainable. A sustainable approach can help us address historic and global issues of “seasonality” and “overtourism”, which became perennial problems, largely as a result of centralised planning, inadequate destination capacity, and the marginalisation of destination communities.

Of course, COVID-19 has changed many people’s feelings about tourism and visitors want more of a purpose. This means that they need a genuinely authentic experience, which involves local products (including local food and drink) and meaningful encounters with local people and their heritage. A commitment to localism is an essential ingredient of reassuring businesses, visitors and communities that now is the time to restart tourism.