Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Report #1: Costas Christ on Sustainable Tourism

It was a thrill for me to hear and then interview Costas Christ (pronounced Krist), well-regarded international expert on sustainable tourism (ST) who delivered a thorough synopsis on the development of ST as a world-wide initiative.

Even though he is Global Travel Editor of National Geographic Adventure’s blog Beyond Green Travel, and was one of the founding members of TIES who helped coin “ecotourism” in 1990, Christ remains appealingly modest – and dedicated to authentic green travel.

“Sustainable tourism is no longer an experiment,” Christ said. “The thing is, how far can we take it to be a catalyst for change within a profitable business model?”

Regarding whether or not people ought to travel, he explained, “A fundamental environmental reason for travelling is actually counter-intuitive.” Without the travel industry, the Serengeti would face immense pressure from development overnight. Believe it: tourism there prevents destruction.”

Therefore, he said the questions we really should be asking ourselves are, “How do we travel? And, how can we fly right?” A main consideration is buying carbon offsets – but only from Gold Standard companies, he advised.

It’s appropriate to be considering the authentic greening of travel. Look at Toyota’s green company strategy, Christ suggests. In the late 1980s/early 1990s Toyota’s design team researched the consumer market and recognized there was a vertical niche sector interested in buying environmental products – by 2000 the company launched the first Prius.

Meanwhile, he observed, “As we know, GM ignored this strategy one hundred per cent. Instead, they said ‘That’s not us! We’re tough guys in tough trucks!’”

Therefore, GM corporation missed an immense opportunity. CEOs failed to embrace a massive, global sea change and because of it, declined to lead the automotive sector into a sustainable direction on the North American front.

As a result of this strategic error, said Christ, “For the first time in the history of car manufacturing, the United States is not making the most cars in the world. Now, GM is in catch-up mode. Such deliberate corporate decisions as theirs, about not pursuing environmentally sustainable cars, are game-changing scenarios.”

Later, during my interview with him, Christ explained, “There is a lot to be hopeful for in the travel industry, but the risks of failure are huge. Any companies that don’t embrace sustainability will go down – look at the difference between Toyota’s vision and GM’s.”

Regardless of the challenges ahead, Christ remains optimistic about the future of travel. “I believe travel is a fundamental human right; it’s the same right as education and freedom of speech.”

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