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Our View: Tourism policy should be looking ahead

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Is there anything duller than listening to the deputy tourism minister droning on about ‘sustainable tourism’ at the recent Malta conference at a time when the last pristine area of Cyprus is under threat?

Two generations of tourists have come and gone since the words ‘sustainable tourism’ entered the industry’s lexicon in the early nineties. In the meantime, the world has moved on but we continue to play catch-up rather than getting ahead of the game.

Globally, tourism is undergoing major changes due to perceptions surrounding climate change, rendering sustainable tourism rather passé and now being described as a “low bar” threshold. The new buzz words are “regenerative tourism” as the global industry looks to the next generation of travellers.

While the aim of sustainable tourism is to leave things as you found them, the new in-thing is for travellers to actively leave a destination “better than they found it”, like joining a beach clean-up or donating time or skills to a local NGO. These visitors would also use only travel agents, airlines and hotels with environmental and social credentials.

Couple that with coming changes to airline travel, individual carbon footprint tracking and after last summer, a trend to holiday somewhere far away from the scorching sun, still our main tourist attraction.

A recent report by Intrepid Travel and The Future Labs Institute, widely publicised in mainstream and travel publications, outlines how tourism will look by 2040, not all that long away if a country were looking ahead.

It forecasts that carbon passports will become the norm, limiting individual travel emissions to 2.3 tonnes per year. The current UK average is 11.7 tonnes per person. For perspective, a round-trip from London to Larnaca emits 1.1 tonnes per person.

Air Miles will be replaced by low-carbon points and rewards will be for less, rather than more travel. “Flight shaming” is already a thing.

Add to this the pressure on airlines to cut emissions and use more expensive eco-fuel, hiking prices and further restricting numbers. Cyprus is not considered a short-haul destination from northern Europe so more fuel, higher costs, expensive tickets.

Even more worrying for Cyprus should be the prediction that the southern Mediterranean will fall out of favour due to higher temperatures. Belgium, Slovenia and Poland are already being touted as alternatives to beach holidays, the report says, and where the trends go, so do travel agents and airlines.

It’s not really funny but it seems that every time we depend on one particular market, something really bad happens there. We had Brexit affecting the UK market, turned to Russia until that fell flat last year after which Israel became the focus and now that’s also questionable going into the new year.

Perhaps it’s time to pivot from chasing specific country markets to taking a more global perspective. Understandably with Cyprus being an island, that is not easy but given the future trajectory of air travel, we could end up with minimum tourists anyway.  Tourism policy should always be looking ahead, not struggling to catch up with outdated models.

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