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Responsible Tourism in Destinations (RTD8) conference: day one – afternoon

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Leading figures from the travel and tourism industry gathered in Manchester on Thursday for the eighth international Responsible Tourism in Destinations (RTD8) conference. Here’s what was said in the afternoon session on day one.

For a review of the morning session on day one, see here

After a packed morning session on day one – and following a tasty selection of food at lunch – RTD8 reconvened in the Great Nave at Manchester’s Gorton Monastery.

The first session of the afternoon was a panel discussion on what we could learn from the Wise Growth Action Plan case studies. This is an attempt to underpin sustainability principles into local tourism initiatives. The phrase ‘wise growth’ is used in place of sustainable or responsible tourism, as a way of making the discussion broader.

Anthony Climpson from the New Forest district council spoke of the need to create “mutual” relationships between all parties – the communities, the visitors and the destination management organisations (DMOs).

He stressed that while this may sound daunting, it can actually be an incredibly fun process: “There’s nothing more frightening for local councils than council officers having fun – it frightens them to death.”

Paul Simpson from Visit Manchester and Craig Wilson from Visit County Durham each gave their perspectives on how the Wise Growth Action Plan had benefitted their areas.

Asked by someone on the floor whether there was a limit to how many tourists they could each reasonably accommodate, Simpson said annual growth in both numbers and revenue was good for the time being. Climpson said there was definitely a limit to how many visitors the New Forest could handle – they just don’t know what that was yet.

Meanwhile, the panellists all agreed that the environment had to underpin everything that they do. But Climpson added that there was “great difficulty” in doing this – often because the impact of tourism is hidden.

The afternoon’s first keynote speaker was Jon Lamonte, chief executive of Transport for Greater Manchester. He said Manchester now has 1m passenger journeys every weekday (many of them tourists) – and is the third most popular destination for visitors, behind London and Edinburgh. This means that tourism needs to work closely with public transport providers to create sustainable and efficient ways of getting visitors around and providing them with easy access to venues.

He also said he was “looking forward” to the multi-billion pound HS2 high-speed rail link – which has caused great divides among those in the sustainability space.

Lamonte was followed by Elaine Zekevica, business development manager at Virgin Trains, who reworded a famous Monty Python phrase to open with: “What has rail ever done for tourism in the UK?” Quite a bit – as she soon explained – with trains playing an important role in both business and leisure.

The two keynotes on transport made for a good transition into the next panel discussion – which looked to determine what success looked like.

Three panellists were asked to present on the approaches they have taken to either improve the visitor experience, collaborate to manage the destination or address a challenge in tourism locally or nationally.

Kicking things off, Hetty Byrne from the Forest of Bowland said they didn’t focus on attracting large number of visitors. The forest wouldn’t cope even if that were the case. Instead, it is more about the “little wows” and self-discovery – as well as, importantly, supporting the local and rural economy.

Jim Jones of Conwy council in Wales explained how rubbish, vandalism and even unruly seagulls were real obstacles in attracting visitors. Ending with four bits of advice for other destinations, he said: prepare to be challenged; be transparent; encourage the private sector to take a lead; and always have attention to detail.

Alex Paul from the Suffolk Coast and Sam Richardson from the National Coastal Tourism Academy in Bournemouth rounded things off with tales about their experiences in destination management.

Into the final leg of RTD8’s first day, next on the agenda was a panel discussion on the internet and the rise of online travel agencies (OTAs). Should the industry compete or collaborate?

Justin Francis, managing director of responsibletravel.com said it was almost definitely the former. He pointed towards the example of TripAdvisor, which he said local businesses were using in vast numbers.

Helena Egan, who is head of destination marketing sales at the online travel website, said DMOs were not utilising it enough.  Meanwhile, while some in the industry think the rise of internet-based booking websites could spell an end to traditional DMOs, Nick Hall from the Digital Tourism Think Tank argued that they still had a big role – but that they must adapt to the industry’s developments.

The penultimate session was a brief – and slightly unusual – one. Timothy Jung from Manchester Met came to the stage wearing Google Glass – Google’s wearable computer that displays information like a smartphone crossed with a pair of glasses.

Discussing the role of Google Glass – and augmented reality more generally – Jung said it could really enhance the visitor experience. Accessing information on your immediate surroundings, for example when in a museum looking at paintings, could be a really interesting step forward for the tourism industry, he added.

RTD8’s founder and co-ordinator Harold Goodwin then returned to the stage to chair a debate on whether tourism uses destinations or destinations use tourism. This question becomes even more interesting when you replace the word “destinations” with an actual destination. For example, does tourism use Wales or does Wales use tourism?

Manda Brookman, director of CoaST One Planet Tourism, delivered an excellent speech that looked at the environmental and social limits tourism is operating within. This was followed by similarly impassioned comments from Jane, Lady Gibson – the chairman of Visit York – who detailed exactly what her city was doing to grow its tourism industry sustainably.

To conclude the first day, the conference relocated to Manchester Metropolitan University for Goodwin’s inaugural lecture. He spoke about his career, the problems the industry faces and how we can all take responsibility for the future of tourism.

Further reading:

Manchester to host Responsible Tourism in Destinations conference

Sustainable tourism is an instrument to ‘protect nature and alleviate poverty’

VisitEngland: sustainability ‘secures a successful future’ for tourism

Travel Foundation: sustainable tourism will soon be ‘the only way to do business’

International Tourism Partnership: the hotels that are shaping the future of tourism

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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