This year's ABTA Convention (ABTA is the Association of British Travel Agents) took place in October in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria - the first time ABTA had gathered on the island.
A major theme of the convention was the issue of innovation in tourism. But environmental concerns have taken center stage in world politics and business development with greater frequency over the past few years. Much of the discussion, both formally and informally, centered on eco tourism and sustainable tourism. This was especially true in light of a special address by Prince Charles.
The travel industry and ABTA in particular have been addressing issues like sustainable tourism for some time. In 2007 ABTA launched a program that directly challenged the industry called 'Reduce My Footprint'.
The program encourages both businesses and individuals to determine their carbon footprints. The goal is to increase consumer awareness and lessen the impact of travel and tourism on destinations.
A special video address by Prince Charles was featured at this year's convention. Prince Charles reinforced the need for eco tourism and the continuing development of sustainable tourism. The Prince is no stranger to issues involving the environment. He has long championed governmental and individual efforts in pursuit of reversing what he has referred to as 'the greatest challenge to face man.'
The prince has led by example in this effort. His Home Farm in Gloucestershire produces organic food and drink, as well as a line of luxury body care products under the label of Duchy Originals. He is credited with producing one of the first brands to market organic foods in Great Britain. All of the proceeds from Duchy Originals goes directly to The Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation. Duchy Originals makes about a million British pounds profit yearly and is still growing.
Prince Charles echoed ideas he stressed in addressing business leaders a year ago. He likened the need to use innovation and creativity to combat global warming in much the same way that business leaders rose to the challenge of World War II. The Prince expressed enormous faith in big business and its ability to use their combined power to make a significant difference.
By inviting business leaders to rise to the challenge Prince Charles was able to enlist pledges from a majority of his 110 member audience to do more. For example the CEO of EDF Vincent di Rivaz pledged to reduce the utility's energy use by 30 percent with another 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2012. Prince Charles hoped to generate the same kind of response from the tourist industry in his video address.
The agenda set forth at the ABTA conference was certainly in sync with Prince Charles' address. The conference was set to debate the future of tourism over the next decade and a half. A key theme was change in relation to environmental issues and economic swings. ABTA is the most important yearly convention in the travel industry and always attracts participants from large and small firms alike. Several of the largest travel companies have already entered into a long-term agreement with Forum for the Future. Forum was co-founded by long-time environmentalist Jonathan Porritt, who was the former director of Friends of the Earth.
Eco tourism and sustainable tourism are all about lessening the carbon footprints that have contributed to the interruption in ecological and cultural growth. The challenge facing the travel industry is that until now eco tourism was a very small part of the market. More and more individuals and small groups do want to experience an environmentally friendly holiday, but it is hard to ramp up tourist visits to include large and continuous groups.
The things that attract people to the eco friendly tours are the very things that are put at risk when large numbers of people are involved even though they may be well-meaning. The combination of natural beauty and the fragility of the terrain will make it much harder to maintain when large scale tourism is thrown into the mix.
Judging by the ABTA conference, the travel industry seems poised to seriously address these issues. Industry leaders are well aware of what is at stake for their industry and seem determined to do everything in their power to come up with workable innovative solutions for sustainable growth. The buzz words floating around Gran Canaria in informal discussions definitely included eco tourism and sustainable growth. Tourists and booking agents alike should be paying close attention to the kinds of getaway holidays that will be popping up the near future in the wake of the ABTA convention.
It may be one measure of how serious industry leaders are about implementing ideas put forth at the convention and the direction that travel may be taking.
More information about the island of Gran Canaria is available with travel guide yourgrancanaria.net
A number of companies who can do late deals and cheap holidays in Gran Canaria are on-line, and at the other end of the travel spectrum are villa holiday companies.