Tourism for Tomorrow Newsletter July 2016
Tourism and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals #2: How can tourism help make cities better places to live?
Sustainable Development Goal 11 aims to 'make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable'. Continuing our series looking at the relationship between tourism and the SDGs, we explore how tourism can help this goal to be achieved.
According to the UN, half the world, some 3.5 billion people, live in cities. Of these, 828 million live in slums. All these numbers are set to grow, with 95 per cent of urban expansion over the coming decades to take place in the developing world.
Added to these figures for the resident urban populations are the ever-growing numbers of tourists that head to cities seeking sights and experiences as varied as those offered by the likes of New York, Rome, Cairo or Cape Town. These cities' attractions, combined with new trends in accommodation provision epitomised by the explosive growth of home sharing and rental websites, are increasing the pressure on urban resources and the very character that draws tourists in the first place. In just the last few months there have been growing signs of dis-satisfaction and protests against tourism in popular cities such as Barcelona and Venice.
More positively, however, there are numerous examples across the world of truly sustainable city tourism, from individual properties and visitor experiences, right up to urban destinations that have sought to develop what they offer to meet the needs of both locals and visitors.
In terms of accommodation, the traditional image of the eco-hotel as being an off grid idyll set in rural wilderness is being challenged by innovative urban retrofits and cutting edge new builds. This fresh approach is epitomised by the likes of Hotel Verde. Known as 'Africa's greenest hotel', it is the only hotel in the world to have achieved LEED Platinum certification for its design and construction, as well as operations and maintenance. It offers guest a carbon neutral stay, has a wetland and eco-pools, and sends zero waste to landfill. And it is 400 metres from Cape Town's airport.
Over in Spain, Ilunion hotels was the winner of last year's WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow People's award. It runs 3 and 4 star hotels in the country's major cities. As well as being fully inclusive and accessible to all people, regardless of disability, 10% of Ilunion hotels' staff also have a disability of their own. Nonetheless, they work across all the hotel's operations, in reception, human resources or the purchasing department. Furthermore, the company has created Special Employment Centres at two of its hotels - and at these a remarkable 70% of the staff are disabled in some way.
Innovative tourism providers are are also rethinking the sort of tours and experiences cities can offer, opening up new ways to discover urban centres while providing sustainable employment to some of the most disadvantaged sectors of society. Last year, Reality Tours won the Tourism for Tomorrow People Award for the trips it runs to discover the slum areas of Mumbai and Delhi, with 80% of its profits going to development projects in the communities it visits. In London, Unseen Tours enables homeless people to take visitors on unique trips through the UK capital, with the guides providing their own distinct perspective on the city whose streets they live on. And across continental Europe, Migrantour employs immigrants to take both residents and visitors on tours through nine different cities, showing them these cities as lived in and experienced by their migrant communities.
Seen together, these hotels and projects enable urban tourists to discover cities anew, while contributing to their sustainable development. The potential for collaboration is being further stimulated by organisations like Travel + Social Good, a UN supported initiative that is developing a network of city groups where entrepreneurs and organisations behind sustainable urban tourism projects can meet and share ideas and resources with others working with the similar aims in their city.
Finally, there are the destination level projects, where city governments and tourism boards have worked to use tourism to promote the sustainable development of the wider urban area. These range from projects such as this year's Destination Award winner Parkstad Limburg (whom we interview in this newsletter), where tourism has been successfully used to stimulate a previously struggling economy, to last year's Destination Award winner - the Slovenian capital Ljubljana. Over the past decade Ljubljana's transport network has been radically shifted out of cars and onto public transport and bicycles, while creating an ecological zone in the city centre, which is now closed for motorised vehicles. In the past five years, pedestrian areas have been increased by almost 620%, making a much more liveable city for residents and visitors alike.
As the world population continues to urbanise, it is solutions like these that tourism can bring to help ensure the process is as sustainable as possible.
Tourism for Tomorrow winner interviews: Parkstad Limburg, winner Destination Award, 2016. Using tourism for community regeneration in South Limburg
This year's Destination Award was won by the Dutch province of Limburg for its success developing tourism in Parkstad, a former coal mining region that had previously seen few tourists. Yet while Parkstad was suffering from neglect, the neighbouring Hill Country region needed bad weather attractions for new target groups. It was decided not to build these attractions in the beautiful hills as there was the risk of destroying the natural assets and being overrun The plan was to develop year round attractions in Parkstad that would simultaneously bring tourists there, while reducing seasonal pressure on the Hill Country. We spoke with Anya Niewierra, General Director of the Tourist Board of South Limburg.
WTTC: What does it mean for the people of your region to have won
Anya: It means a lot. We are from a former coal mining region which has really suffered in recent decades - we had some of highest incidences in the country of drug abuse and unemployment, and were suffering from shrinking population. When we proposed developing tourism in the area in 1995, there was lots of scepticism, with people wondering who would want to come to what was seen as the ugliest part of the Netherlands. But we did it. We went from black to green and became a touristic success in only 15 years, but still the perception was low of what an amazing job was done. Yet now that have won this international award, both our own perception of our region, and the perception of outsiders has changed profoundly. To see ourselves as one of three finalists, alongside Swiss Parks and Cape Town's V&A Waterfront was in itself amazing, but then to win overall was truly inspiring. It has become a great source of pride.
WTTC: What have you learned about growing tourism and keeping the local people happy?
Anya: This whole scheme grew out of concerns that developing new tourist attractions in the Hill Country would destroy the attractiveness of the hills as our limits of growth would be crossed. Back in 1998 we realised that when you make something beautiful too crowded, you take away the reason for people to come. Of course it would have been easier to continue developing in the Hill Country. But instead we took the challenging option, namely to go to the 'ugly region' and transforming it into a new tourist destination. What we achieved is that we have set a new definition in tourism on what is ‘beautiful’: we proved that former coal mine regions can be beautiful in their own way, with city beautification, intelligent urban planning and green on the right spot.
Actually this development has been guided by ten principles, all designed to preserve and promote the best of our region for a sustainable future. One of these principles is that: "We are honest about the fact that there ARE limits of growth. So we dare to say ‘NO!’
I fear that in places like Barcelona and Venice that line has been crossed and it means they risk only attracting tourists who want cheap entertainment. This is not what we want to do: we want to make sure we give a beautiful place to the next generation.
So, for example, Parkstad recently has created an ambassador system that ensures that local businesses who have no relationship with tourism also are engaged in what happens. At the same time, businesses have to be aware that they are privileged to operate here. And we believe that if you invest in good guests, ones who feel comfortable being part of our community, then they come back again and again, invest in our region, and accept that we have set our limits on how we will grow. Thankfully Parkstad is not even close to its limits - we have a huge space for growth.
WTTC: What plans do you have to keep building on your success?
Anya: Following the award, we have developed a new communications programme. We used to say that developing a coal region to be somewhere beautiful and attractive to tourists was moving from Black to Green. Now for the next stage we go from Green to Gold. We have provided businesses with a toolkit so they can support this development and be part of getting the message out.
There are three big developments that we are focussing on. First, in two years we will open a 4-lane ring road around Parkstad that will improve our accessibility and will release the pressure from increased traffic on the residential areas that built up around the old coal mine sites and where we have built our new attractions.
Next, in 2020 we will become the first region outside Germany to hold an International Building Exhibition (IBA). IBAs have been held in Germany for more than a century, and they are much more than exhibitions - rather they are a tool for visionary urban development where people can envision and develop new sustainable urban architecture.
And finally, we hope to develop Nature Wonder World on a former coal slag heap. It's still in the planning stage, but the aim is for it to be the first carbon neutral theme park in Europe.
Hilton announces winners of 2016 Travel with Purpose Grants
Hilton Hotels has awarded more than $320,000 to members of its group that are the recipients of its 2016 Travel with Purpose Action Grants. Examples of the 117 awarded projects include a partnership between the Conrad New York and food bank City Harvest to provide free food to hundreds of families in the local neighbourhood; a mentorship programme at the Hilton Garden Inn Davos for local refugees, who will receive exposure to career opportunities available within Hilton; and a professional training curriculum that will be developed by a team at DoubleTree by Hilton Hangzhou East for youth at the Hangzhou School for the Deaf.
"The grants are a clear demonstration of our team members' spirit of creativity and hospitality in addressing local social and environmental issues," said Maxime Verstraete, vice president of sustainability, Hilton Worldwide, "which has enabled us to expand the program and increase our community investment year over year."
INNOVATION FOCUS: Can mobile apps help tourism become more responsible?
Apps are revolutionising the travel industry. They hold our boarding passes. We use them to check in to hotels and check which restaurants are worth visiting. They even help us identify everything from bird songs to star constellations. It's hard to imagine tourism without them.
Might they also be used to help make the industry more responsible? Two current news stories suggest ways this could happen, and warn of a few unforeseen challenges ahead...
Launched last month, a new app called TraffickCam enables users to anonymously photograph hotel rooms and upload the data to a database used by law enforcement and investigators to locate victims and their pimps. Features such as the carpet pattern, furniture, room accessories and window views are matched against a growing database of traveler images to provide law enforcement with a list of potential hotels where the photo may have been taken. Early testing showed that the app is 85 percent accurate in identifying the correct hotel in the top 20 matches.
TraffickCam has been launched in the US, and so far is only available in that country, although the universal applicability of its technology and its early success rate makes it suitable to be used anywhere in the world. Already the database contains 1.5 million photos from more than 145,000 hotels in every major metropolitan area of the US. (As the app has only just been launched, most of the photos collected so far have been “scraped” from internet travel sites such as Expedia.com.)
While the benefits of Traffickam's identification abilities are beyond doubt, it is not always so clear cut. An argument is growing in South Africa over the use of wildlife sighting apps in the country's national parks. Self drive safari tourists increasingly use apps such as Latest Sightings to post photos of animals they discover and share the locations with other users. In so doing it becomes easier and quicker for anyone using the apps to find high profile and rare species such as lions and leopards. However, as anyone using the apps can get the same information, it also makes it more likely that others will drive to the same sighting, thus lessening the chance of the intensity of experience that comes from being there alone.
Furthermore, in early June, SANParks, which manages the country's national parks, including the iconic Kruger National Park, released a statement expressing its concern about how the use of these apps was changing the way people behaved in the park, resulting in "an increased rate of lawlessness in the Parks including speeding, congestion at sightings as well as road kills caused by guests rushing to and congregating around these sightings."
According to SANParks' executive Hapiloe Sello, “Most guests appreciate the leisurely drive through the parks and the potential reward of a good sighting as a key element of the visitor experience." However, she added, "this is an experience that SANParks commits to protecting and therefore the usage of these mobile applications is in direct contradiction to the ethos of responsible tourism espoused by SANParks.”
However, the developers of these apps have challenged SANParks' criticisms, making it clear that they don't allow the posting of rhino sightings because of the high number of poachers targeting the species, while also providing cases of the apps being used by tourists to alert park officials to injured animals caught in poaching snares, thus potentially saving their lives.
“Benefits of sightings apps and social media to wildlife and tourism should not be discounted,” said a statement from Latest Sightings. “If in fact there are unforeseen consequences of their use, we would like to work with SANParks to solve the problem. Attempting to ban wildlife apps and social media is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
Whatever the arguments on either side, with the Kruger covering 19,485km², enforcing any sort of ban would seem to be next to impossible. SANParks will have to rely on people choosing not to use the technology at their disposal.
We can lie on the ground and marvel at a starfilled sky, and know the names of next to none of them. Or we can hold our phones above us and quickly identify them all. The power is now in our hands. Which experience we choose depends on the relationship we want with the world around us.
Carlson Rezidor partners with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to build greener hotels
The Radisson Blu Hotel at Accra Airport has become the first hotel in Africa to receive the EDGE green building certification, after it achieved 30% water savings, 25% energy savings and 28% less embodied energy following the use of EDGE's eco-analysis software. The hotel's achievement is an outcome of Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group's new partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which developed EDGE. EDGE includes free eco-modelling software that helps users understand the business case for using less energy, water and embodied energy in materials. Through the partnership, Carlson Rezidor will now use the EDGE eco-analysis software for all of its future hotel projects in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. With 40% of global carbon emissions being generated through the construction and operation of buildings, developing greener hotels helps the industry in its efforts to meet its COP21 targets.
“Our landmark partnership with Carlson Rezidor marks an important step toward greening the growing hotel business in Africa and other emerging markets," said Prashant Kapoor, Principal Green Buildings Specialist for IFC and the inventor of EDGE. "IFC hopes that other leaders in the hotel industry will follow Carlson Rezidor’s example and consider adopting EDGE.”
GSTC announces details of 2016 Global Sustainable Tourism Conference
GSTC's annual conference will take place in Suwon, South Korea on 5-8 October 2016. The themes this year are: marketing sustainable tourism, urban tourism, cultural heritage destinations, and sustainable MICE. Speakers include Xavier Font, Jane Ashton, Benjamin Lephilibert and Geoffery Lipman.
The global conference has been planned to coincide with the Suwon City Cultural Festival. Post-conference field trips that are offered to attendees free of charge include trips to the demilitarized zone, Everland Theme Park and the Samsung Innovation Museum. For the latest details on the conference go here.
Written and edited by Jeremy Smith
Tourism for Tomorrow in the news : A selection of news articles from last month