ATM Virtual: Tourism professionals discusses the sustainability and growth of alternative stays

Published on : Thursday, May 27, 2021

Under the theme of ‘A new dawn for travel & tourism’, the Arabian Travel Market Virtual event continued on day two (Tuesday 25 May) and after the morning hotel and aviation sessions, the focus turned towards sustainability.   

Danielle Curtis, Exhibition Director ME, Arabian Travel Market, remarked that sustainability in travel and tourism is vitally important for the future of their industry, with growing concerns about the industry’s impact on the environment. This is the issue of the hour. Hotels and destinations will have to balance short term financial recovery coming out of the pandemic, with a mid to longer term eco-friendly business strategy.

During a virtual conversation with top industry sustainability professionals, moderator Harold Goodwin, who is Responsible Tourism Advisor to the World Travel Market, presented a session entitled Responsible Hospitality in a Perfect Storm.

During his opening comments, Goodwin sought opinion from the panel about the environmental challenges facing hotels over the next decade, especially when the pandemic, has hit hotels hard financially, with many still focused on survival.    

In response, Eric Ricaurte, Founder and Chief Executive of hospitality consultancy Greenview, said: “By 2030 at the latest, hotels will be expected by their stakeholders to be net zero (emissions), 100% renewable energy. So, the problem at the moment is really coping with the pace of change to get there.”

According to Singapore-based Ricaurte, the key to keeping pace with say retrofits or renovations, will, in part be dictated not only by consumer demand but by potential new green regulations, “Hotels will need to plan ahead for new regulations, allocating enough reserves through their CAPEX budgets.”

On the issue of measuring their sustainability performance and being transparent about the results, Inge Huijbrechts, Global Senior Vice President Sustainability, Security and Corporate Communications at Radisson Hotel Group commented: “All major hospitality companies have been tracking their (sustainable) performance and we’ve all been setting reduction targets.

“But you need to recognise each hotel is different, there’s such a wide scope – you have resorts, boutique, upscale service, limited service, that an absolute number doesn’t really mean anything necessarily.

“I do believe that we need to build a framework, with agreed set sustainability criteria and that we should share that information transparently. Also, if travellers are interested, there is a very good framework created in collaboration with Cornell, where all relevant information is put into a database per destination.”

Moving away from traditional hospitality and bricks and mortar resorts, the ecotourism industry, which is expected to achieve growth of CAGR 8% in the medium to long term,

has been evolving, with some aspects such as ‘glamping’ even accelerating during the pandemic.

A special on demand session moderated by James Wrenn, Associate Director, Colliers Hotels MENA, looked at alternative lodging, under the heading of, ‘From luxury cabins to eco tents’ – one of the fastest growing touristic offerings.

According to Colliers, the evolution of the Eco, Wellness, Agri, and Adventure (EWAA) tourism industry can be attributed to the increased demand for sustainable lodging options, the change in people’s lifestyle, and the increased awareness of the impact of tourism on the environment.

Simultaneously, the MENA region is in the process of establishing itself as a key destination for EWAA tourists with numerous developments underway. While initial EWAA projects were centered around individual luxury desert resorts particularly in the UAE, we now see the UAE, KSA, and Oman leading the development in this market with several projects and government masterplans.

Talking about financial performance, panelist Chris Nader, Advisor, Experiential Consulting, commented, “Ras Al Khaimah’s Jebel Jais camping resort had exceeded its budget (last year) which had actually been set before the pandemic. Local families in particular enjoyed the high-end, larger tents with space for distancing and privacy.”   

Elsewhere on the agenda at ATM Virtual 2021 and rather appropriately wrapping-up the three-day online event, was the GBTA Conference @ ATM 2021 Ready! Safe! Travel!

This “big picture” segment examined just how ready the region is for its return to international travel, looking at GBTA’s BTI Business Travel Outlook for the Middle East; industry forecasts and looked at how governments had responded to the pandemic and their own readiness, in terms of border controls; travel restrictions and the roadmap out of the pandemic.

Featured speakers included Iyad Rasbey, Executive Director, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority; Catherine Logan, Regional Vice President – EMEA, GBTA and Derek Sadubin, Managing Director, CAPA – Centre for Aviation

The Middle East Tourism Investment Summit organised by ITIC in partnership with Arabian Travel Market 2021 will also take place virtually tomorrow 27 May.


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