Thursday, March 09, 2017

Forget Tourism, It's The Sustainability Industry

An odd thing about travel fairs is that they have official destination partners. Of all the countries represented, one rises above all the rest. Maybe they have a draw to decide which one, though I doubt it. The official partner for the Berlin ITB fair is Botswana. Lucky old Botswana. Will Spanish representatives refrain from going to the Botswana stand and asking about elephant-hunting packages? Ones fit for a king (a former one)?

Botswana would be a prime case for a sustainable tourism makeover, though it has almost certainly already had one. Sustainable consultants and advisors will have been sustaining themselves for some years, providing reports and recommendations to facilitate sustainable virtues. The sustainable tourism industry is a subsidiary of Tourism Industry International Inc, and it is a subsidiary that is doing very nicely for itself. It is self-sufficiently sustainable and capable of seemingly infinite sustainable growth.

The World Tourism Organization (WTO), the UN's über-advisor to Tourism Industry International Inc, champions sustainability. It has provided the support and wherewithal for the likes of Botswana to pursue sustainable tourism development. Indeed, it may have been that Botswana had been in mind when the founders of sustainability - some thirty years ago - invented the concept. It was originally all about development in the underdeveloped and developing worlds.

Nowadays it is far more than this. Far, far more. Hard-nosed businesspeople from hotel chains, airlines and tour operators subscribe to the WTO sustainable doctrine. As fully signed-up partners within Tourism Industry International Inc, they need to be. Tourism as globalisation has to portray its greatest benefits, as these businesspeople colonise parts of the globe which - once upon a time - one only heard of if they had stamps, were engaged in wars or were suffering from famine.

This colossus of an industry now principally has one thing on its mind (apart from money). Sustainability. This is why the subsidiary is doing so well. There may come a time when sustainability acquires such strength that it buys out Tourism Industry International Inc and becomes Sustainability Inc. Tourists will no longer be tourists; they will be sustainers. The world will sustain itself courtesy of this ultimately virtuous global industry.

In the Balearics we are of course doing our own bit. I say we, when I really mean the government. Not that everyone agrees that even the government is doing its bit. It's all bluster, say environmentalists such as GOB. If there were true sustainability, then the government would have reduced the number of sustainers (tourists) by now. The government, as in the tourism ministry and its promotional agency, has naturally therefore bought into the WTO's latest "big thing". And what could be bigger than the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development? The Balearic Tourism Agency was one of the first to climb aboard the sponsors' merry-go-round for this international year. Does this cost anything? Have Podemos been informed?

Such is the unstoppable growth of sustainability that it touches all parts of the tourism industry. Everything has become affected by the desperate requirement to display the sustainable badge of honour. This everything includes the stands in Berlin. There is, I kid you not, a whole page in the ITB exhibitor guide devoted to "sustainable trade show presence".

In a way this isn't surprising. The Germans more or less invented sustainability in that they were first movers in environmental do-gooding. How well I remember the old days of this with fondness. The local company in charge of waste was referred to as the "gestapo". Their inspectors would sneak around, checking the contents of rubbish containers to ensure everything was in its rightful place. The same company oversaw the town's dump, an industrial-scale operation with gigantic containers for every conceivable type of junk. The inspectors checked the contents of your car boot and directed you to the several containers you would need. More inspectors stood guard to watch the actual dumping. This was sustainability in action. Environmentally sound and rich in employment creation. There was a small army of inspectors.

The Balearic Tourism Agency will have taken due note of the page in the guide when it came up with its new stand and when it was taking account of the management of the stand. Its personnel at ITB will doubtless comply with advice to use certified organic products, to separate its waste diligently and put it in the corresponding recycling containers (remember the gestapo). The stand will be made from environmentally friendly building materials and paints. The agency will, if possible, "go paperless".

And when a jury of thirty junior tourism experts from the Cologne Business School go to evaluate the stands and make the best exhibitor awards, sustainability will be high among the criteria. After this, and when it's all over, the Balearics contingent, the Botswana people and everyone else will ... . Ah yes, get on a plane. I knew there had to be a catch.

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