Manual on Module V – Trends and Issues in the Tourism and Hospitality Industry
By Thomas Bauer, Ph.D. School of Hotel and Tourism Management The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
CURRENT ISSUES IN TOURISM The field of tourism and hospitality is a fast changing one. Because tourism is not a single discipline but is connected to many other aspects of life it is constantly changing. Think for a moment what has to happen for a person we shall call Ms. Wong in Hong Kong to become a tourist in say New York and you will appreciate how many factors are involved. First Ms Wong has to have an interest in leaving Hong Kong to become a tourist. This will require her to have a motive for traveling.
Why should she leave Hong Kong to go travel to another part of the world? What is there that she can’t find at home? If it is shopping that is her main interest why should she bother to travel to New York when there are thousands of shops in Hong Kong? To be able to afford to travel she has to save enough money to be able to pay for an air ticket and accommodation at the destination and she has to have enough days of paid holidays accumulated to be allowed to leave her place of work. She will need to arrange for air transport and for accommodation in New York, will require a permit to visit the United States (called an entry visa), and she will have to take the seasonality of her visit into consideration (will it be winter or summer when she arrives in New York?)
Tourism has a connection to many other disciplines including politics, religion, agriculture, economics, environment, health, finance, transport, society, immigration, and education just to name a few. All of these fields of human endevour are constantly changing and changes in one field will impact on other fields and hence also on tourism.
As a practical example you can think of the changes that were brought to Hong Kong tourism during the outbreak of the Severe Acquired Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003. Because of the fear that they may catch the disease when visiting Hong Kong, tourists stayed away. Our hotels, some of the best in the world, were empty; arriving flights carried only very few passenger; farmers in Guangdong Province were not able to sell their vegetables to Hong Kong hotels and employees of tourism related businesses either worked fewer hours or lost their jobs. This is a reminder that demand for tourism products can change very quickly, sometimes over night, and it is an industry that is very sensitive to changes and trends in its operating environment.
These fast moving changes require that tourist companies must be constantly on the alert to detect changes, trends and issues early so that they can make the necessary adjustments to their businesses. This includes being prepared for unforeseen circumstances and changes in their operating environment. One way of doing this is by constantly scanning the media for trends that may impact on the firm and by setting aside money to meet unforeseen developments that are out of the control of the company.
In the following pages we will look at some of the trends and issues that are current as of the time of the writing of this manual. Some of the issues we will explore such as the sustainability of tourism and climate change will be with the industry for a long time, while other trends, especially if they are driven by fashion will change, sometimes very quickly. Let’s explore.
ACTIVITY 1 Get a copy of the South China Morning Post and scan it for articles that relate to tourism. You will need to read the articles and draw conclusions because very few of them will actually have the word “tourism” in the text. Compare your findings with those of your classmates who have looked through different parts of the newspaper.
Sustainable tourism development A conceptual approach to sustainable tourism: As noted above, the concept of sustainable development is based on respect for the social and natural environment in which tourism takes place. On the environmental side there are several very important issues that we need to be aware of. Some of these are discussed in the following section.
The Big Environmental Issues It is now beyond doubt that our climate is changing and that humans are, at least in parts, to blame for those changes. Some experts (see the Stern report prepared by Sir Nicholas Stern of the UK) estimate that unless we act now, climate change will reduce annual Gross Domestic Product of the economies of many countries by 20 per cent. The movie production “An Inconvenient Truth” by former US Vice President Al Gore is a reminder that time to take action is running out and that all of us must act now to avoid further degradation of our world.
ACTIVITY 2 Watch ‘An Inconvenient Truth” under the guidance of your teacher and discuss the issues raised in the film. Pay particular attention to the tips provided on the inside of the front cover of the movie that gives you ideas of what YOU can do to help in the fight against our changing climate.
Sustainability and sustainable development What does it mean to make an activity sustainable? It basically means that an activity that is carried out today for the benefit of all involved can continue to be carried out indefinitely into the future without doing harm to anyone or anything involved or impacted by it. The opposite of sustainability is un-sustainability which involves activities that have a very short term horizon and that involve excessive profit and often greed as the major motivations without any regard to the long term.
Sustainability is about striking a balance between the rights of humans to a decent and meaningful life, the right to life for all types of animals and for nature to be protected for its own sake and for the sake of all other living things, including humans. Sustainable development is envisaged as leading to the management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support systems (World Travel and Tourism Council, World Tourism Organisation and Earth Council 1995 p. 30).
These pictures show the two alternatives: Short term greed and long term intergenerational equity. The latter involves a grandfather’s consideration for what is best for his granddaughter and her children and leaving the world a better place so that they can live meaningful and happy lives.
It was the World Commission on Environment and Development (also known by the name of its chairman as the Bruntland Commission) that in its report “Our Common Future” first raised the issue of sustainability when they said that: “Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable – to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Our Common Future 1987 p.8)
This coal-fired power station on Lamma Island supplies Lamma and Hong Kong Island with electricity on which most of us depend on a daily basis.
Imagine your daily life without electricity and think of all the things you could not do such as watching TV, playing computer games, recharging your mobile phone, taking the lift to your high-rise apartment and reading a book at night. As you will agree, we need electricity and hence the question is not whether or not to have power stations but what the best and cleanest way is to produce electricity so that we do not unnecessarily harm the environment while we produce it.
ACTIVITY 3 Find out what fuel sources Hong Kong power companies use to generate electricity. Investigate alternative energy sources that could be used to produce cleaner energy and discuss the merits and potential problems associated with each energy source.
Sustainable Tourism It has long been known that there is a close connection between tourism and the environment but whether this nexus is sustainable in the long run has only relatively recently been discussed. If we want to have tourist destinations that can prosper from tourism we need to shift our thinking away from a simple marketing approach. As Bauer (2003) said,“The major issue for many destinations will no longer be to attract increasing numbers of tourists but how to manage them once they have arrived.”
Many writers have addressed issues that concern tourism and the environment. Some of them are: • Cohen’s (1973) ‘drifters’ • Young (1973) "Tourism: Blessing or Blight" • Budowski 1976 'Tourism and Environmental Conservation: Conflict, Coexistence or Symbiosis?" • deKadt (1979) “Tourism: Passport to Development?“ • Mathieson and Wall (1982) ‘Tourism: Economic, Physical and Social Impacts’ • Hector Ceballos Lascurain (1984) “Ecotourism” • As noted above, the Bruntland Report is the defining document. The United Nations (UN) set up the World Commission on Environment and Development (Bruntland Commission and its report Our Common Future (1987) formed the basis for Agenda 21 and the subsequent Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
The report addressed the state of the global environment and defined sustainable development as:" Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” By 1995 the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), a body of the top executives of some 100 of the world’s biggest travel companies, joined forces with the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the Earth Council to formulate a tourism industry response to the challenges posed by the Rio declaration. The result was the publishing of “Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry: Towards Environmentally Sustainable Development.”
Definitions of sustainable tourism In 1995 the World Tourism Organization defined sustainable tourism as: “Sustainable tourism development meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future.” In its definition the WTO included environmental, socio-cultural and economic sustainability: Make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation. In 2004 the World Tourism Organization added: ”Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and/or corrective measures whenever necessary.”
Today a variety of sustainable tourism initiatives have emerged. These include: • Various environmental accreditation schemes that certify that companies are as environmentally friendly as they can be. Some of the schemes benchmark a company’s performance (for example energy and water consumption per guest in a hotel) against industry norms against the industry standard. • PATA Sustainable Tourism Advisory Committee which encourages all parts of the tourism industry to conduct there activities in a sustainable fashion
Blue Flag that classifies beaches in Europe. Classification helps these beaches to be marketed to environmentally sensitive consumers • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assisted international tour operators with the establishment of the Tour Operator Initiative that seeks to put pressure on the suppliers of tourism products to make their products sustainable. • ISO 14001 which establishes Environmental Management Systems (EMS) for companies. In Hong Kong we have 4 hotels that have undergone certification.
When we discuss issues of sustainability and sustainable tourism some important questions need to be asked. These include: • What does a tourism destination want to maintain (sustain) in the long term? • The culture and the life-style of local people? • The local natural environment? • The local economy including jobs? • At what levels does the government want to sustain tourism at the destination? This leads to the question of how many tourists, from which part of the world a destination want to attract. More tourists are not necessarily better and many destinations are now looking to attract fewer but higher spending tourists. • What is the connection between sustainable tourism and the broader social, cultural and economic development of the destination? Is it possible that in an effort to achieve sustainable tourism we may put other sectors such as agriculture under threat by encouraging people to leave the land and to get involved in tourism? • These are difficult questions to answer and each tourist destination will have to come up with its own answers.
When we talk about sustainable tourism development we also need to ask whether there are limits of growth for tourism and where these limits are. Questions that should be asked include: • What is the optimal/best level of tourism at any given site or destination? • Have we already exceeded the carrying capacity at certain sites and should tourism activities be excluded from certain places? • Do we need much stricter rules and regulations for visiting sites? • Do we need to install reservation systems for our most treasured natural and cultural sites? We use such systems for cinemas, theatres and sports events but not for visits to beaches, mountain sites or many cultural attractions.
There are no easy answers to any of the above questions because they will depend very much on the local situation and on how tourism is handled on the ground. Policies set by governments set the guidelines for tourism development and how tourism is managed at a destination will make the difference between success and failure of a destination.
There is no doubt that if tourist destinations want to be sustainable, that is successful in the long term, they will have to maintain or improved the environment in which tourism takes place while at the same time taking the needs of the local population into full consideration. Tourism that only benefits the tourists is unsustainable.
ACTIVITY 4 Look at some of the above questions and discuss with your class mates what some possible answers could be in the Hong Kong tourism context.
Protection of World Heritage Following the end of the Second World War, there has been increasing international concern that precious cultural and natural heritage sites around the world were vulnerable to threats from wars, natural disasters, environmental catastrophes and industrial development. This worldwide awareness has led to the adoption of the famous Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage by the General Conference of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at its 17th session in Paris on 16 November 1972.
“World Heritage” refers to various kinds of heritage sites that have undergone evaluation and have been approved by UNESCO to be inscribed in The World Heritage List, according to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage ( for more information on World Heritage click into http://whc.unesco.org/en/about/). Refer to http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/ for details on the criteria for selection. At present, World Heritage is classified into five categories: Cultural Heritage, Natural Heritage, Mixed (Cultural and Natural) Heritage, Heritage of Cultural Landscape and Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage. See Appendix 1 for additional information on the protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage in China and Hong Kong.
Requirements for sustainable tourism Because tourism is made up of so many different parts, it is vital that all participants in tourism make great efforts to ensure that their activities are as sustainable as possible. Let us look at some of these component parts.
Buildings Buildings such as the Sydney Opera House (above) were not originally designed with environmental best practices in mind and they therefore have to undergo some changes before they can be fully sustainable. New developments such as new airports, hotels or shopping centers can be designed to meet strict environmental guidelines making them more sustainable.
Transport Travellers an often select from a diverse range of modes of transport. Depending on where they are traveling to they can walk, cycle, or use a car, coach, ship, train or aircraft. The various forms of transport have different impacts on the environment. Obviously walking and cycling have the least negative impacts on the environment because no fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) are burned and hence no green house gas emissions occur.
Hiking Tai Mo Shan is a sustainable activity provided that hikers stick to the established paths and that these are well maintained Small motorbikes are very popular modes of transport but they depend on petrol and contribute to pollution
The next best form of transport is mass transport where the energy used is shared by many other passengers. The new Airbus A 380 in the picture above consumes less than 3 liters of fuel per passenger per 100 km and only generates 75 g of Carbon Dioxide per passenger kilometer. This compares to the European car industry’s aim of 140 g of Carbon Dioxide per km in 2009 (see http://www.enviro.aero/A380casestudy.aspx)
Sustainable natural destinations Respect for wildlife in all its forms is required to make natural attractions sustainable. In the past Australian salt water crocodiles were hunted to near extinction. Today these animals are one of the major attractions in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.
We need to develop a greater respect for wild places even though they look like they are of no immediate use to humans. The coastal rivers in the above images in the Australian tropics meander through coastal mangroves. They provide spawning grounds for many species of fish and protect the hinterland from disastrous floods.
We have choices: Rice production for human consumption (China) or golf course development (Kenya) for the elite. Golf courses use lots of water and fertilizers to keep them green. This can cause problems in areas where there is a water shortage.
Hong Kong is a highly developed city. Because of the constant need to accommodate more and more people the apartment blocks of the city have grown taller and taller. This is especially so in the new town of Tin Sui Wai. To compensate for the loss of natural areas the government of the Hong Kong SAR has constructed some artificial wetlands that are now incorporated into the International Wetland Park.
We have to learn to live in harmony with nature if we do not want to threaten the very existence of humanity (Australian Museum, Sydney)
Towards sustainable tourism The current model of mass tourism means that success is measured in increases in tourist arrivals from one year to the next. If there is no, or only a small, growth in visitor numbers the destination and its managers are seen as having failed in their duty. We need to move away from such a thinking that is only focused on quantity to one that is based on quality. Not how many visitors we attract but how they are treated, what experiences they have at our destination will matter most. Of course how positive their economic impact on the destination is also needs to be considered.
To maximize the positive benefits and to minimize the negative environmental impacts we need to be aware of the consequences for a tourist destination when additional people visit. More tourists generate more income and employment for residents but more people also can put severe pressure on a destination’s natural, social and cultural resources.
Tourism development can have many impacts on the environment. As visitor numbers rise there will be an increase in: • Demand for fresh, clean water • Demand for electricity • Creation of waste and sewage • Increase in vehicular traffic • Crowding • Land, sea and air pollution • All these aspects need to be evaluated and planned for before a destination can become sustainable.
Crowding on the Nathan Road sidewalk creates an unpleasant experience for visitors and local people.
Air pollution combined with cloudy skies can reduce the attractiveness of a tourist destination. At times it is impossible to see the other side of our beautiful Victoria Harbour. Air pollution can reduce the attractiveness of a tourist destination. Hong Kong often uses images of its skyline but they never show the city when it is blanketed with smog. This can lead to visitor dissatisfaction, especially if they are keen photographers who want to take a photograph like the one above that they have seen in brochures that advertise the city.
ACTIVITY 5 • Establish where and how Hong Kong obtains its water for residents and tourists. • Establish how and where Hong Kong’s electricity is generated. What fuels are used to generate electricity? • Find out where Hong Kong puts its solid waste? • If you get a chance to talk to tourists, ask them what they think of environmental conditions in Hong Kong.
OBSTACLES TO CHANGE OR WHY IT IS SO DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE SUSTAINABILITY We now know that the more people visit a destination the greater the impacts will be. So we need to ask ourselves what can be done to manage a tourist destination in a way that it is sustainable and we need to discuss the obstacles that stop destinations from becoming sustainable. There is also a need to establish guidelines for sustainable tourism development that limit the damage we do to the environments. Measures we not to investigate require that destination managers first get an understanding of the limited capacity that all sites have to accommodate tourists. This concept is usually referred to as the concept of carrying capacity.