Green Recovery of Tourism – We have to act now! |24 September 2021
Green Recovery of Tourism is the talk of all countries depending on the tourism industry for survival. To know more about this much hyped topic, the British high commission in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tourism organised a symposium at the Eden Bleu Hotel yesterday.
Foreign Affairs and Tourism Minister Sylvestre Radegonde; Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment Minister Flavien Joubert; British high commissioner to Seychelles Patrick Lynch; principal secretaries of both ministries and representatives of the tourism and environmental sectors attended the programme.
Launching the event, Minister Radegonde noted that “Our islands’ tourism industry has seen international visitor arrivals to our shores more than double over the past two decades, creating employment opportunities and enabling new business opportunities while protecting Seychelles’ natural and cultural heritage along the way. The success and growth of our industry have made us too comfortable. Complacent, even! However, events of the last two years have shown us how rapidly our world is changing and how vulnerable tourism is to external factors, especially in a small island state”.
Minister Radegonde reminded us all that in 2020, Seychelles lost 62.5% of its tourism revenues due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with 114,858 visitor arrivals recorded compared to 384,204 in 2019. With the tourism industry in near-total collapse and our economic survival at stake, we had to take mitigating measures. Bold and calculated risks. And they have largely paid off. But we are not there yet.
“Full recovery demands that we adopt yet more measures – long-term measures. Measures that address not just the effects of the on-going pandemic and the increasing competition from similar destinations. But also measures that address our vulnerability to the effects of climate change and global warming. Their effects, in particular, coastal flooding, erosion and changes in rainfall patterns on our ecosystems, on our national infrastructure and, ultimately, on our tourism industry can and will have disastrous consequences if we do not act with urgency to mitigate them.”
Minister Radegonde added that we are also witnessing the rise of the more environmentally conscious traveller, who is increasingly expecting tourism destinations to offer more sustainable tourism options. For example, research shows that a growing number of people plan to fly less for their holidays in order to limit aircraft CO2 emissions and their carbon footprint. In addition, climate activists, led by Greta Thunberg, have embarked on an aggressive “flight shaming” campaign around the world, particularly in Europe, discouraging long-haul flights. These movements appear to be gaining traction. And they do not bode well for our tourism industry.
“We find ourselves at a crossroads where we must choose wisely for a sustainable future and, in particular, for nature-based solutions that is a central preoccupation in the run up to COP26. The choice is going green! It is marketing ourselves as a “green tourism destination”. Investing more in eco-tourism and nature conservation is not only central to this but can play a crucial role in turning our faltering economy around. Through greener fiscal policies and domestic spending. Through better connection to sustainable finance and infrastructure. This symposium today presents us with a unique opportunity to reflect on innovative ways to enrich tourism’s engagement in climate mitigation and adaptation, and environmental protection to underpin Seychelles’ long-term vision for a truly sustainable future. Let us seize it!” said Minister Radegonde.
As for Minister Flavien Joubert, he confirmed that “climate change is no longer a distant threat. Its impacts are here today. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Annual Report (AR6) released on August 9, 2021 makes abundantly clear, the existential threat of climate change is mounting and even our best efforts will not fully prevent disruption due to our warming world, causing more intense storms, floods, wildfires, droughts, coastal erosion, marine acidification etc.”
Minister Joubert talked about the various efforts made by the government during the last few years to abide by the environmental agreements the country signed. “In our updated Nationally Determined Contributions, we are committed to reducing economy wide absolute Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 293.8 ktCO2e in 2030 which is equivalent to 26.4% compared to business as usual (BAU) scenario. In this new and enhanced mitigation contributions, Seychelles seeks to achieve a substantial mitigation benefit, lowering the GHG emission relative to baseline emissions through interventions in the energy sector, including transport and waste; as well as a lasting adaptation impacts in terms of the blue economy and focusing on innovative ways in responding to the adverse impacts of climate change in the areas of water, coastal management, food security, human impacts and improved resilience across communities.”
With a growing population, noted Minister Joubert, the demand for electricity and water will also increase drastically. As such, Seychelles has set a target of 15.5% energy efficiency and 15% renewables in 2030. These targets are very ambitious for a small island developing state and Seychelles is currently producing 5% renewable energy and will need to scale to 10% in this decade, taking into account economic growth.
“We are currently working to raise the La Gogue dam by six metres, which once completed, will increase its capacity by 60%. We must act now. Even as we move forward with reducing global emissions, we must accelerate adaptation efforts to better manage the risks associated with climate change,” he added.
Offering the environmental and economic perspective from the UK, as co-chairs of the COP28 Global Climate Summit, and also as a major tourism market for Seychelles, British High Commissioner Lynch noted that in 2019 a campaign called the 'flight shaming’ movement was launched and quickly spread across Europe. It focussed on the carbon impact or flying, noting that a long-haul flight to destinations such as Seychelles could produce around 5 tonnes of CO2 for one person. This is more than double the emissions produced by a petrol car for an entire family in the UK for a whole year.
“Pre-pandemic, experts were projecting a 5% drop in long-haul travel year on year with nature-based destinations such as Seychelles suffering a steeper decline due to the type of tourists that visit here. Even if Seychelles was kept to this average projected annual 5% decrease, this would equate to fall in tourist numbers of 40% in the next ten years. But that of course, assumes that Seychelles does nothing to respond! So how does Seychelles respond to this economic threat?” asked the British high commissioner.
He explained that the answer is a ‘Green recovery of Tourism’ and the great news is that Seychelles is better placed, arguably than any other tourist destination in the world, to turn this consumer demand into an economic opportunity.
“The BHC is doing our part, in partnership with the Seychelles Parks and Gardens Authority. Under the Green Footprint Seychelles project, visitors can have the carbon generated by their flight calculated to a corresponding number of trees, in order to offset that impact. They can then pay a small amount to plant indigenous species while on holiday, or pay a little more and have trees planted on their behalf. The scheme is scientifically verified and has been developed into a very appealing activity product for visiting tourists. We will fund the first two hundred participants in this scheme and will then subsidise the scheme and help to market it to those tourists who otherwise might be hesitant to book a long haul flight,” explained High Commissioner Lynch.
He also talked about the already advantageous elements that the UK can learn from Seychelles’ expertise in the domain of bilateral relations with governments, how Seychelles’ central focus is on tourism and environment, with our understanding of the environment and our entrepreneurial spirit.
The participants were able to discuss various issues and how to implement the new ideas in their organisations / hotels.