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International tourism body to work with new Saudi sustainability center as it pushes for net zero carbon roadmap

Travel industry launches “net zero roadmap,” the head of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) told Arab News, adding that the organization would work closely with the new sustainability center of Saudi Arabia in the fight against climate change.

Julia Simpson was speaking on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh last week and outlined the challenges facing an industry devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Simpson praised the aviation and cruise ship industries for the steps they have already taken to reduce their carbon footprint, but argued that the technology needed for significant reductions is always “more advanced.” .

She also identified the hospitality industry as an area where more can be done to “decarbonize faster”.

Reflecting on the challenges the industry has faced since 2019, Simpson predicts that tourism will be a “comeback story” as the world continues to open up after two years of restrictions.

Discussing environmental issues, Simpson says, “What we are doing at WTTC is we are launching a comprehensive roadmap for sustainability and net zero.

“The net zero roadmap would be the first time we looked at the environmental carbon footprint of all of our individual industries in travel and tourism and add it all up and say, ‘What’s our contribution and what are our solutions? ”

“But what I will say is that we have tough industries in terms of carbon in our industry. You know, cruise ships and aviation, there aren’t really any technical alternatives. There is hydrogen, there is electricity, but some of them are further away and what these industries are doing in the meantime is amazing. “

“To be honest, when it comes to sustainability and preserving the environment, reducing the carbon footprint, I see the tourism industry doing it.”

She added: “But there are other sectors that can decarbonise faster, probably the hotel sector. I can assure you that among the 200 CEOs I speak to, sustainability is high on their agenda. And why is that? Because customers demand it.

Saudi Arabia is aware of this request, which led Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to launch the Sustainable Tourism Global Center at the Saudi Green Initiative Forum last week.

Global travel and tourism are responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the center aims to achieve zero emissions across the industry.

Simpson reveals that the WTTC plans to “work side by side” with the new center on several research projects.

The travel association will also hold its 22nd World Travel and Tourism Council World Summit in the Kingdom at the end of next year, Simpson announced last week at the Future Investment Initiative.

She said Saudi Arabia “has been instrumental in the recovery of a sector essential for economies, jobs and livelihoods around the world.”

Few industries have been hit harder by the pandemic than travel and tourism, but Simpson believes “we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The head of the trade body said the industry has grown by around 27% this year, down from a drop of 49% last year when lockdown restrictions from Covid-19 closed borders, airports and hotels.

The travel industry accounted for 10.4% of global gross domestic product in 2019, but that figure was reduced to 5.4% last year, according to annual data from the WTTC.

Simpson adds that at the height of the pandemic in 2019, global GDP fell about 3%, while travel industry revenues fell by almost half.

In the Middle East, tourism as a contribution to GDP fell 51.1% to $ 138 billion last year, but this is a better performance than Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Caribbean.

Simpson says, “Our industry has been devastated. It has been returned. But I am very, very hopeful that it will return. It will be a comeback story.

She adds, “People are starting to travel again because of the higher vaccination rates. But there are still around four billion people who have not received any vaccines – young people, those in parts of Africa and Asia. We must not forget them.

His association supports the United Nations Covax plan to distribute millions of doses of free vaccines from rich countries to developing countries.

As you can imagine, Simpson has had a lot of practice traveling the world and talking to influential people in government and at the top of business.

She spent 14 years with International Airlines Group, parent company of British Airways, before taking up her post at WTTC in August. Prior to working in the travel industry, she was a strategic communications advisor to then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, responsible for counterterrorism, home affairs, education and local government.

As the pandemic begins to subside, the travel official says the wealthiest people in the United States, Europe and the world are once again the first to board cross-border planes and trains.

She says, “The affluent middle class has had nowhere to spend its money, so there is pent-up demand there. They want to go out.

But Simpson doubts the industry’s rebound will be uniform.

She says, “The domestic markets have been very, very strong. If people couldn’t travel abroad, they chose to travel to their own country. This has been the main driver of growth.

“Second, I think the family was a great reason to travel. There are a lot of people who haven’t been able to see their families, and this has led to a lot of international pleasure travel. “

But she admits that business travel will take longer to return to pre-pandemic levels. Some observers say that the boom in virtual meeting software such as Zoom and Microsoft’s teams means this industry will never fully recover.

Simpson says, “I love Zoom. I use it. But you can’t do big business and shake hands on this software.

“If I am an investor and wish to invest in NEOM [£500 billion mega-city] project, i have to come to saudi arabia and see it and see the country.

The travel agency predicts that business travel will increase by 26% this year and reach two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels by 2022, in a report released this week. Business travel collapsed by 61% in 2020.

Global travel and tourism are on a long road to recovery, but Simpson and Saudi Arabia are confident they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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