x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Green growth is tourism dilemma

The only way to reduce the airline industry's carbon footprint is to limit landing rights at all airports, according to a former UK government advisor on the environment.

Jonathan Porritt, a former UK government advisor on the environment and a vocal campaigner on environmental issues, travelled from London to Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference this week and in doing so illustrated one of the problems. He paid US$780 (Dh2,868) for his train ticket but had he chosen to fly he could have made his way there for $30 (Dh107). "There are two issues here," he says, "the expense of the train journey and the cheapness of the flight. In combination, they force most people to do the wrong thing, even when they want to do the right one."

His conclusion? The only way to reduce the airline industry's carbon footprint is to limit landing rights at all airports. The result would be dramatic, and not just for carbon emissions; flight prices would soar as demand outstripped supply. The dilemma for the industry itself is how to be seen to be responsible and still to encourage growth. Keen to be seen to self-regulate, the World Travel & Tourism Council and the World Tourism Organisation jointly hosted an event in Copenhagen yesterday to showcase what the industry has already done in response to the threat of climate change. However the big question set to dominate 2010 is taxation.

Should governments support local economies by capping taxation on what is already a heavily taxed industry, or will the politicians and negotiators, post Copenhagen, put aviation at the centre of climate change? To put it into context, this year the travel and tourism industry is expected to account for 9.3 per cent of global GDP and to generate over 210 million jobs, or 7.4 per cent of global employment. In 2008, there were 922 million international tourists recorded globally, contributing US$944 billion (Dh3.46 billion) to local economies.

Airlines and the International Air Travel Association argue that the industry is already heavily burdened by tax and it has done nothing to reduce carbon emissions. British Airways (BA) has been raging that the controversial increase in UK airport tax, although presented as an environmental measure, merely added to general funds rather than being used for green projects. Willie Walsh, the CEO, is the most active supporter of self-regulation, proposing a global sector approach to cut CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2050. The only certain thing is that such decisions will dominate the agenda next year and define the future of the entire industry.

BA, of course, is now preoccupied with the proposed 12-day cabin crew strike over Christmas and New Year. Not only is the airline haemorrhaging money on a daily basis but they are the best-paid cabin crew in the industry, according to Walsh. I have mostly flown with Etihad over the last two years, but I was reminded of how the UK's flagship airline has failed to keep step with the competiton on my BA flight from Singapore last week - indifferent service, TV screens that didn't work and dreadful food. The threatened strike, like its service, is reminiscent of a bygone age.

Last week, a chance meeting with the general manager at the St Regis Hotel Singapore revealed what a small and interconnected world this is. Amadeo Zarzosa was the founding general manager of at the Atlantis in Dubai. Today, however, he could not be happier in his new surroundings, running 229 rooms instead of 1,539. "I had to get away from the madness," he told me. "It was great fun to do, but I am glad to have left it behind." Not that the St Regis is a stranger to celebrity - I observed the UK's Prince Andrew striding through the grand reception area, and Zarzosa confided that his speech for the Christmas party that afternoon started with "Welcome, your Highnesses". There was Middle Eastern royalty there too.

If you happened to be in the Hiltonia Beach Club on Sunday you may have wondered why it had been turned into a mini Africa. The answer is that the Kenya Tourist Board has set its sights on the UAE for both drawing in tourists and encouraging local companies to develop there. Last week saw the first ever "Kenya Week" in the Emirates - involving week-long promotional activities, including at the Le Méridien Hotel in Dubai.

The minister for tourism, Najib Balala, flew in and announced the opening of the Kenya Tourist Board's Middle East office in Dubai - a result of the recent increase in the country's popularity here as a tourist and business destination. For the first three quarters of this year, visitors from the UAE represented the highest increase in visitors to Kenya, 41.2 per cent up on the same period in 2007.

The government is also actively encouraging investment in hotel and resort developments in northern Kenya, especially around Lake Turkana district, an area highlighted as holding strong tourism potential but yet to be fully developed.

Also last weekend, a rather different programme at Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach resort in Fujairah. The target for this two-day event was the region's conservation, diving, fishing and boating communities, whom the organisers want to enlist to establish a photo ID database of whale sharks in the Arab world. According to the project leader Jonathan Ali Khan, a Dubai-based natural history filmmaker and founder of the Sharkquest Arabia Initiative, the whale sharks in the Arabian Gulf and Arabian Sea may hold the key to the survival of the species. Says Khan: "In light of the role that our waters play as nurseries and feeding grounds for whale sharks, this region may hold the key to the welfare of the Indian Ocean population of whale sharks ... We need to encourage support for regional research and international collaboration."

W Hotels unveiled the design concept for its London property this week. Sited on Leicester Square and due to open next year, the hope is that this ultra-cool, upmarket hotel will do just as much for the area as the area will do for the hotel. A byword for the most central location in London, Leicester Square has become rather sleazy and unattractive. The arrival of W is expected to attract other upmarket brands to give the square a touch more class.

The new hotel plays on the contrasting personas of the English at work and at play - during the day the exterior will display a restrained palette of white Portland stone and white stucco. By night, artificial lighting of every type and colour will be used to transform it. "It was decided that the hotel would have a cool, understated Englishness by day and then would glam up for a night in the vibrant West End," says John Whiles, director of Jestico + Whiles, the architects.

Hotel rates always rise during a major sporting event, but the price hikes in South Africa for next year's World Cup are eye-watering. Research on Hotels.com, an accommodation website, shows that the four-star, centrally located Cape Town Lodge Hotel, which is charging $110 (Dh405) per room, per night from from May 28 to June 5, is raising its rate on June 11 when the tournament gets under way, to $641 (Dh2,356) per night. Room rates at the five-star Compass House Boutique Villa in Bantry Bay, Cape Town, will rise from $95 (Dh348) per night to $506 (Dh1,860) - an increase of 438 per cent.

sryan@thenational.ae