Travel industry said to be stumbling on sustainability

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Former U.S. President Barack Obama said millennial travelers will be less interested in an attraction if it is not conservation-conscious.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama said millennial travelers will be less interested in an attraction if it is not conservation-conscious. Photo Credit: James Abarke/WTTC

SEVILLE, Spain -- Travel leaders at the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit have a message for suppliers: Ignore sustainability at your peril. 

"Consumers are starting to demand these changes," said Gary Knell, chairman of National Geographic Partners. "They are no longer content with merely visiting places. We need to answer that demand to make a real impact in our world."

The younger demographic is especially demanding of this, said keynote speaker Barack Obama. 

"You have to be environmentally conscious," he said of attracting the millennial traveler. "If they feel as if the nature of the attraction or site in a city is not conservation-conscious, they will be less interested." 

Suppliers attending the summit admitted they should be doing better. 

"Plastic straws is big news? Come on, let's do something more," said Kike Sarasola, founder of Room Mate Hotels. "Sustainability is lacking in this industry. We should be leading sustainability programs and we're not." 

Knell called on the industry to "make sustainability a priority now" and warned that while there is tremendous growth opportunity for tourism that will also have a significant impact on resources. 

"Long-term planning is essential to the survival of the industry and the environmental systems it depends on," he said. 

Keith Barr, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, said that "the customer is in front of governments. I really believe that they are looking at operators and destinations and going, how are you delivering this to make sure it's more and more sustainable?"

Former president of Mexico Felipe Calderon Hinojosa said governments are failing to tackle climate change, even though "the evidence is clear."

"The impact is mounting and we are not taking enough action," Calderon said. "The perception that you can't have economic growth and tackle climate change is a false dilemma. We can do both. We need to change the narrative."

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