VisitEngland chief executive James Berresford speaks with Blue & Green Tomorrow ahead of the eighth international Responsible Tourism in Destinations (RTD8) conference.
Taking place at Manchester Metropolitan University on April 3-5, the event coincides with both English Tourism Week – which is co-ordinated by VisitEngland – and Responsible Business Week.
Berresford describes the Manchester conference as “the showcase for responsible tourism”.
What does sustainable tourism mean to you?
Tourism should be sustainable across 360 degrees – social, economic and environmental. The right balance needs to be found and tourism must be interlinked with sustainability. In simple terms, sustainable tourism is ‘good’ or ‘better’ tourism.
What are the benefits of making the English tourism industry sustainable?
We will secure a successful future for our tourism sector – the businesses within it, the communities it serves and the visitors who enjoy it. In order to protect and celebrate tourism’s contribution to local economies, communities and businesses, we also need to recognise and minimise its impacts on the environment.
What role do you see sustainable tourism play in impacting the future of our destinations?
Sustainable tourism should be woven into destination management plans. Destination planning for local areas needs to be embedded to protect and celebrate local visitor economies. Good destination management is all about sustainable tourism.
You are delivering a keynote speech at RTD8 on the future of destination management. Can you explain some issues that you are going to address and say why they are significant?
The future of destination management is critical for anyone involved in tourism in local areas. It is the process by which visitor experiences in destinations are delivered for the benefit of the local economy, in favour of the local community and without the expense of the environment. Often there is a focus on promotional activity and the difficult economic climate can make people think this is the most important aspect of destination management, but done well it is much more than this.
Taking a more holistic approach to ensure great experiences is more challenging but it is in the best interests of stakeholders in destinations and for visitors. Those in local areas, in different sectors as well as tourism, will increasingly need to work together to create responsible destinations.
How do you ensure destinations are managed responsibly across England? What assessment criteria do you have in place to monitor this?
We work in partnership with destinations across England. Whilst we provide leadership, insight and strategic direction, local areas are responsible for the development of their own visitor economies. Local people and businesses in destinations should shape what tourism looks like locally – good destination management organisations provide the local leadership and drive collaboration that can help responsible approaches to tourism development.
We lead by example and help to build capacity in local areas to develop good destination management. We support a holistic approach to destination management and encourage those in destinations to develop and sign up to a destination management plan. Guidance and good practice for destinations is provided on our website and also through our destination management forum. We want to support and celebrate the importance and value that destination management brings to making the local visitor economy as good as it can be.
How can RTD8 influence policy and stakeholder engagement for tourism destination development?
We are delighted to be partnering and co-hosting this conference in England. The stature and prestige of this event will have positive ramifications. It is a showcase for responsible tourism that will challenge people’s perceptions and encourage even greater change for the good.
What can VisitEngland do to boost responsible forms of tourism in and around destinations?
England’s strategic framework for tourism is a template which can encourage responsible tourism. Responsible Tourism (or Wise Growth as it’s referred to in these documents) is woven through the action plans. For destination planning and management we have to understand issues associated with society and the environment, and take the visitor seriously.
How can tourism help sustain areas of natural beauty and the countryside for years to come?
It is a long-term consideration, to manage the product and manage the visitor properly. Remote communities are sustained by visitor income, therefore recognising the economic opportunities and a careful and considered approach to this needs to be undertaken.
How can RTD8 and English Tourism Week help create better places for people to visit through tourism?
English Tourism Week is a celebration of tourism in England and focuses on the importance of the visitor economy to local economic development, local people and for businesses across the country. The conference is an element of this and a wonderful showcase for responsible tourism.
What is VisitEngland doing to influence people in England to take more sustainable holidays and how difficult is it to get this message across?
It’s not really a defined product; it is multi-faceted and holidays need to be conducive to responsible tourism – at the seaside, in rural or urban areas, on holiday or whilst away for business. It’s about promoting a product that supports the local economy, environment and society.
If you look at our website – visitengland.com – you will find lots of inspirational holiday ideas where quintessential England is celebrated, where local people, local food and local culture and heritage can be enjoyed.
For the full agenda at RTD8 and more information on how to attend this essential event, see here. Spaces are limited so book now to avoid disappointment.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
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.
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 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.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
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.
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