Tourism comes with an inherent dilemma. The industry is both a victim and a cause of some of the world’s greatest challenges. This was evident in the Covid-19 pandemic: travel was not only initially blamed for spreading the virus, but the industry became both one of the hardest hit and slowest to recover from the impact of the lockdowns seen the world over.
The same can be said for climate change. Tourism is responsible for roughly 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, but many tourist destinations are at severe risk from climate change and rising temperatures. This includes winter sports becoming less viable and the vulnerability of coastal tourism to rising sea levels.
Edmund Bartlett, who has served as Jamaica’s tourism minister since 2016, believes a potential solution would be a global fund to help low-income tourism-dependent countries respond to these shocks.
“The industry that drives us most is, interestingly — if not paradoxically — also a huge contributor to global warming,” he said in an interview with fDi during a recent trip to London.
“More money and resources have to be put into building the capacity of countries to recognise and track disruptions to be able to mitigate, manage and be able to recover quickly,” he added.
This week, Jamaica is hosting an inaugural conference about how to boost tourism resilience, taking place from February 15–17 in the capital, Kingston. On February 17, the world’s first Global Tourism Resilience Day will be recognised at the event.
Mr Bartlett believes that the “heart of sustainability is resilience” and has called for more attention to be placed on resilience in global climate conversations: “If the elephant in the room is climate change, and we’re not managing that, then tourism is going to disappear.”
The 72-year old veteran politician understands this issue better than most. In 2017, he established the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre at the University of the West Indies in Kingston. The centre, which tracks global disruptions to tourism and ways to prepare, manage and recover from their impact, has since opened satellite sites at universities in Kenya, Jordan, Canada and the UK.
While disruptions in countries vary by geography, demographics, geopolitics and economics, Mr Bartlett stresses there is much to be learned from sharing best practices and tools for identifying problems and allocating resources towards resilience building.
The pandemic underlined the importance of the response of tourism to shocks. Prior to the pandemic in 2019, tourism and travel represented 10.3% of global gross domestic product (GDP) and supported about 333m jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. In 2021, the industry had only recovered to 6.1% of global GDP and about 289 million jobs.
Mr Bartlett’s proposal is to set up a tourism-funded global resilience fund. In practice, this would involve something similar to a gross consumption tax on tourist activities with funds distributed to destinations based on their number of tourists arrivals.
He says this is not a carbon tax on tourism, but rather about “personal social responsibility” as consumers can contribute to the mitigation and adaptation strategies that have been adopted by countries.
However, he admits that the idea “may take a little time to bear fruit”, especially given that it would require shared responsibility globally. “The business of building resilience and sustainability is at the heart of the future of planet Earth,” he notes.
Developing countries vulnerable to the effects of climate change have long called for more financial assistance for climate mitigation and adaptation. This tourism fund would be a way of reducing reliance on aid and support from large developed nations, Mr Bartlett adds.