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 morning session on day one.
For a review of the afternoon session on day one, see here.
Few events in the responsible tourism calendar are more hotly anticipated by the Responsible Tourism in Destinations conference. Twelve years on from its foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, the event has become a crucial platform for discussion – with this the eighth time it has taken place.
Masterminding the entire operation since its inception is Harold Goodwin, professor of responsible tourism at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Centre for Responsible Tourism – undoubtedly the leading academic in his field. Ably assisted by fellow RTD8 co-ordinator, VisitEngland’s Jason Freezer, Goodwin and his team were able to bring together an almost unrivalled mix of speakers and delegates – from national tourist boards to tour operators; scientists to consultants.
Coinciding with both English Tourism Week and Responsible Business Week, it is a chance for the industry to delve deep into the challenges of tourism development and management.
The setting was spectacular – Gorton Monastery, said to be Manchester’s answer to the Taj Mahal, no less. That was according to Paul Griffiths, chairman of the Gorton Monastery Trust (who also holds the impressive title of high sheriff of Greater Manchester). Telling the story of the building’s inspiring restoration, he said it was “one of world’s most endangered buildings” – and in the same category as Pompeii and India’s most famous landmark in that respect.
Kicking off the conference with the first session was James Berresford, chief executive of VisitEngland. He opened by noting that Gorton Monastery was not only spectacular but fitting. It “represents responsible tourism”, he said.
Berresford then went into some facts. The tourism sector in England is worth £106 billion – a figure that is expected to grow to £158 billion by 2020. On top of that, it employs 2.6 million people.
He explained how VisitEngland encourages people to cut out the environmental damage associated with flying and instead, holiday at home (Goodwin later described a campaign by the organisation on this very issue his favourite of all time). It’s “vital” that someone champions the value of tourism, Berresford added – as well as celebrating the fun.
Moving onto the topic of the conference itself, he described destination management as “not just marketing”. The very essence of tourism is about selling and encouraging great destinations, which brings about better visitor experiences, creates jobs, improves the quality of life for local people and allows the sector to grow sustainably.
If you have a thriving tourism industry, local people have a better quality of life, he said, therefore calling for a “360 degree” approach to destination management. He concluded by saying that ultimately, destination management will only succeed if local people are engaged in the process. The people and the destinations must be conjoined.
This exact theme was discussed in more detail in the panel discussion that followed Berresford’s thought-provoking opener.
Chrissie Gibson, director of the consultancy Connectivity Associates and a former town planner, spoke about how to get town planners involved in destination management. Stakeholder engagement was crucial, she said.
Aine Kearney then provided delegates with a fascinating overview of Northern Ireland’s tourism industry. She said the well-documented unrest in the country had dramatically set back tourism – perhaps by 20-25 years, compared to other countries in the UK.
But in its more recent history, it has sought to capitalise on tourism’s potential by attempting to understand what visitors wanted and what it could reasonably offer. This has led to popular signature projects like the Giant’s Causeway – which are then platforms for further investment and other projects.
Peter Lane, chair of British Destinations Executive, spoke of creating “reasonable, acceptable and more dynamic” destination management plans through organisation, knowledge and review.
Berresford then reiterated his point about the importance of communities and local people. He pointed towards the often-used phrase “Never make good out of anyone’s misfortune”, adding that the power of tourism is shown when a community suffers economically or environmentally. Some Cornish communities found this out first-hand when the rail link connecting them to the rest of the country was damaged by the floods. Only today has the line reopened, over two months since it was closed.
After this, John Swarbrooke, a colleague of Goodwin’s at the Centre for Responsible Tourism, gave a short speech about his career in the industry. His claim to fame is that he placed the first brown and white tourism signs that appear on motorways and so on, when they were trialled during his time working for Kent county council.
He also worked at Wigan Pier (and as a result, apparently never bought his own drink in pubs – the locals loved the attraction that much). Sadly, he said, Wigan didn’t use the pier as a platform for other projects, and it was forced to close down in 2007.
Swarbrooke’s entertaining 15 minutes preceded another panel discussion, this time on the future priorities of destination management organisations (DMOs) – the organisations responsible for the management and marketing of destinations.
Nick Brooks-Sykes from Bath Tourism Plus explained how Bath’s visitor economy was worth £357m a year, and argued that the town was the “birthplace of DMOs”. Social mingling in the 18th century came long before 21st century social media, he said.
Tony Gates, chief executive of the Northumberland national park, spoke about the role of national parks. They’re there to “conserve and enhance” the environment, culture and biodiversity; they promote “understanding and enjoyment” through visitor information and public access; and they provide “sustainable social and economic wellbeing” in local communities.
From a national park perspective to one of a city, Emma Tatlow from the Visit Lincoln Partnership – a relatively young DMO at just three years old – said how the organisation was tasked with changing the perception of Lincoln. Next year’s 800-year anniversary of the Magna Carta – one of only four surviving original copies is on show in Lincoln – is a big milestone for the area, she added.
Coming into the discussion very much from a global perspective, Nikki White, head of destinations and sustainability at ABTA, detailed how politicians from all over the world are approaching tourism.
White’s colleague at ABTA, Caroline Brown, then closed the morning session with a keynote speech about why destinations matter to ABTA agents and tour operators. With the UK the sixth biggest international tourism destination by visitor numbers and seventh by expenditure, she claimed it was essential that destinations are managed properly to ensure it stays among the leaders.
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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