A strong sustainability focus is key to major tourism expansion in the Middle East, said an industry expert. Tourism in an energy constrained world is a topic which does not receive the necessary attention at the moment given that energy is one of most important input factors into tourism, added Dr Susanne Becken, associate professor at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Dr Becken will discuss current global tourism growth projections at the second World Green Tourism Conference running from December 5 to 7 in Abu Dhabi. “The fact that World Green Tourism is hosted by an Arab country where oil export plays an important role adds to the opportunity of sharing my research findings on tourism’s vulnerability to oil prices and future oil constraints. The high profile nature of the summit will enhance the effect of my message,” said Dr Becken, who currently leads two government-funded tourism programmes in New Zealand.
“My research focuses on how tourism depends on energy and how the finite resource of oil may pose challenges to tourism in the future, in particular in connection with the problem of carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.” “I am amazed by the expansion and extent of tourism development in the Middle East, especially in the aviation industry. I sincerely hope that the current investments are made with sustainability in mind, and in particular energy efficiency, and renewable energy sources, and also efficient use of water resources,” she added. “I am slightly doubtful that global tourism will grow as expected over the next few decades and I would value discussion with Middle Eastern tourism experts on their views on this and how investments that are based on solid growth are made.” Organised by Streamline Marketing Group and taking place at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec), World Green Tourism, the first commercial conference and exhibition specifically for the sustainable tourism sector, is hosted by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) and the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.
Dr Becken will reveal to conference delegates why two New Zealand government funded tourism research projects she manages - ‘Tourism and Oil’ and ‘Preparing the Tourism Sector for Climate Change’ - are applicable in the Middle East. “Some of the more detailed research in New Zealand, for example how certain types of businesses or tourists are affected by higher oil prices, is likely to be applicable elsewhere in the world, especially the Middle East,” she said. “There are important aspects of the oil intensity of supply chains, for example energy embodied in water and food, which could be very relevant for the Middle East.” Tourism is New Zealand’s biggest export earner, attracting 2.5 million tourists a year with an average stay of 23 days, compared to just three days that tourists spend in the UAE. Dr Becken said New Zealand’s image as a clean, green country has kept it at the forefront as a travel destination of choice for holiday makers, and this is something Middle East countries can aspire to. But she warned that the image has been achieved through serious efforts towards sustainability, ensuring tourists do not accuse the country of “greenwashing’ to make it look more environmentally friendly than it is.
“The Middle East tries to portray an image of progress and new technology and this could be favourably worked into tourism developments,” said Dr Becken. “Innovation, creativity, renewable energy resources, zero waste are keywords that could be incorporated into a Middle Eastern tourism strategy,” she concluded.
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