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Peter Ainsworth: Speech at Triton Conference

Tourism is a great industry, one of the huge economic successes of the last fifty years. According to Visit Britain, in 2005 tourism contributed £85billion to the UK economy .

Inbound and domestic tourism contributed £14.5billion to cash strapped rural communities (Visit Britain 2005). Tourism has made a huge difference, not only to places like Devon and Cornwall which have benefits from attractions like the Eden Project, but to cities as well.

I recognise that tourism is a vital economic drive in the developing world. But to be honest it is difficult, for a purely UK point of view, to extol the economic benefits of outbound tourism.

There is a huge and growing balance of payments deficit on the tourism account. It is one of the arguments that needs to be considered when looking at the Government's plans for airport capacity. We do need to think carefully about the net economic effect of enabling more people to spend more of their British earnings in some other economy. Of course I have a lot of sympathy for those who seek to flee the country at every opportunity given the current management. Your industry should stand by for a bonanza when Gordon Brown takes over.

I know that the travel industry is economically important - you are living proof of that. There are so many of my constituents who work at Gatwick Airport. It is the biggest single employer in my constituency. After Ann Summers.

But the arguments in favour of tourism are not just economic.

Tourism gives millions of hard working families a chance to escape the daily grind of the working world.

Britons work the longest hours in Europe. We deserve an escape.

At its best, tourism is about more then relaxation - it is about extending our horizons, learning, informing and inspiring.

Mark Twain argued in the 1800s that "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness". That is still true today.

But the sheer scale creates tensions.

Some tourist destinations have been landed with what can only be called cultural colonization.

The money tourism brings to Prague is welcome but the number of drunken tourists are not.

These tensions are nothing new.

As early as 60BC Seneca the younger complained that the Roman resort of Baiae was a "vortex of luxury" with "wine soaked beach parties lasting far into the night".

Over the past fifty years, these longstanding social tensions have been joined by a new, more threatening, challenge: the environmental challenge.

The quality of the environment, both natural and man-made , is essential to tourism. Why travel to somewhere horrible?

However, mass tourism is in danger of destroying its own original purpose.

According to the UK Office of National Statistics, in 1950 Britons took 4.5million trips abroad.

In 1970 they took 8.5 million.

Last year, 18 milion Britons took 68.4million trips abroad. Of course we are just part of a much bigger story. Worldwide, 842million tourists travelled in 2006.

That's a 20% rise in just three years.

The rise of the global middle class is, of course, something to be welcomed.

However, it is clear that the old "sun, sea and sand" model of tourism is struggling to cope with vast numbers of tourists.

The most popular resorts face a deluge. 50 million people from around the world visit Spain each year.

The sheer volume of people is threatening to overwhelm both the natural and physical infrastructure of popular destinations.

Beautiful landscapes are ripped apart by roads, airports, hotels restaurants, shops, golf course and marinas. I last came to the Algarve as a schoolboy in the 1970s. I remember fishing villages and small new resorts. I am not saying that is what has happened here. Too often, any ecological or cultural diversity has been ruthlessly expunged as developers scrabble to get the best plots, usually based on views and the fragile marine environment, for the cheapest price.

This rampant exploitation or overwhelming of natural ecosystems is deeply depressing from a cultural point of view. But it is potentially deadly from an from an economic perspective as well.

Over-development can cause irreversible damage.

Furthermore, cramming more and more people into densely packed resorts greatly stretches existing natural resources on which everyone depends. We have somehow convinced ourselves that the Earth's natural resources are infinite. They are not.

According to WWF, a tourist in Spain uses 880 litres of waster a day, compared to the 250 litres used by a local.

A golf course in Benidorm uses as much water at 10,000 people use in a year.

2005 was the driest year on record for Spain which lost €1billion in agricultural revenue and 36% of it hydroelectric power. (European Parliament, 12 May 2005)

Water is a precious resource. It is the world's most valuable resource. More valuable that diamonds, gold or oil. It sustains life for all of us. And tourism is a thirsty industry.

If I were a tour operator I would be beginning to worry about this.

I would also be concerned about protecting the environment I was inviting people to spend money getting to. If you leave Croydon (a thoroughly fine place by the way) and find yourself in Croydon on Sea, what's the point? And will you go back?

I note for example, that tourist numbers in the Costa Brava have haemorrhaged as urban sprawl has taken root. Just 11% of the Costa's shoreline is now undeveloped, and tourists are seriously turned off.

I don't need to tell you that the Spanish package holiday market fell by 20% and the trend looks set to continue.

Over-development therefore leads to economic as well as ecological collapse.

Of course travel operators could simply move from resort to resort like locusts, leaving behind a trail of deck chairs and desertification.

There are some signs that this is happening, with the traditional resorts in the Mediterranean being replaced by destinations in Eastern Europe, from Montenegro (with 10 per cent growth in visitors a year) through to Croatia and Romania.

However, is this model really sustainable? The "sun, sand and sea" holiday was invented in the 1950s with just 25million tourists a year. (UN World Tourism organisation: http://www.unwto.org/newsroom/Releases/2007/march/globa_climate.htm )

Can it really work, long term , in a world of already 846million foreign tourists, with numbers growing by 4 to 5% a year?

There is another, and even more concerning reasons why this model of behaviour is unsustainable.

And that's climate change.

Despite what you may have seen on Channel 4, there is an overwhelming scientific consensus around the fact of climate change.

In February of this year, a UN funded group of climatologists, using the work of over 2500 experts from around the world, concluded that climate change was happening, and they were sure with a "90per cent degree of accuracy" that we were the cause.

Sir David King, the UK Government's Chief Scientist, has warned that climate change is a greater threat than international terrorism.

Sir John Houghton, the head of the MET Office, has called climate change a "weapon of mass destruction".

We don't know exactly how we are affecting the Earth's climate.

But we can see the impacts. For example, the costs of flooding, throughout the UK, have doubled in just five years. At the same time, the Saha area of Africa has got 20% drier.

And this is with just a 0.6 degree rise in temperature over the past 100 years. Scientists say that if we carry on as today, global temperatures could rise by as much as 6 degrees by the end of the century.

To put this in context, the Earth is only 5 degrees warmer than at the time of the last ice age. Last time the Earth's temperature rose by 6 degrees the Greenland ice caps melted. Most of Britain would be under water.

And the effects are likely to be felt by the world's poorest first. In Africa and Asia around a billion people are predicted to suffer water shortages because of climate change (IPCC). Bangladesh looks set to suffer flooding from rising sea levels. The result could be mass migration. There are enough regional tensions without that.

And in case you still think that this is someone else's problem. Most of Britain would be under water.

Our use of fossil fuels and wreckless destruction of the rainforests, amount to a massive gamble with the climatic systems which sustain us.

People talk about saving the planet. The truth is the planet will survive. What I'm talking about is saving human communities, civilisations, cultures and lives. I worry about it. I worry about the world that my children will inherit.

We may only have 10 years left to turn this around. As business people, but also as people with families and as representatives of the travel industry, I suggest that you also need to get on the case.

Tourism contributes to climate change in a number of ways.

First is land clearing. Look around at this pretty but inescapably urban landscape. Your industry devours virgin sites, removing trees and thereby releasing carbon. Globally, deforestation is responsible for a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Next is energy use. Building and running hotels, marinas, swimming pools, shopping centres and golf courses is immensely energy intensive. Given that the growth in the travel industry is mostly to low cost destinations much of this energy is likely to be from dirty sources, primarily coal, the cheapest fuel on the market and the worst in terms of climate change.

Tourism also contributes to the problem by using up resources which will become even more scarce in a world affected by climate change ; above all water.

And finally tourism, by definition involves travel, by road, rail boat or by plane. Aeroplanes in particular are bad for the environment because the emissions occur at high altitude and they produce a mix of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gas emissions from aviation currently represent 5.5% of UK total emissions, but their high altitude makes them up to 2.7 times more potent. And they are growing dramatically.

Aviation could account for at least 25% of the UK's emissions by 2050.

This matters for all kinds of reasons. Not least because it will quite soon affect your bottom line. Last year, the Future of World Travel report found that, by 2020, large areas of land around the Mediterranean will be all but inhabitable in summer. Average Temperatures could hit more than 40°C throughout much of the year.

Then there's the decline in seasonality. Winter sports across Europe will be increasingly at risk from shorter seasons and unreliable snow cover.

As early as 2020, both summer and winter resorts could lose much of what makes them popular today.

But even if you are not convinced by the simple economic case for cutting emissions there are other reasons for taking action.

The first is the need to be prepared for future legislation. To date the political response has been half hearted, slow and inadequate. But that is changing. In the US, every Presidential candidate declared so far has said that they would put in place emission reduction targets.

In the UK there's cross party support for a Climate Change Bill.

In the EU, all member states are part of an international emissions trading scheme. In Phase II in 2012 we will see aviation introduced and in Phase III there are suggestions of adding road and rail.

It's about putting a price on carbon emissions.

The bad news is that requires the intervention of politicians.

Sir Nicolas Stern, in his report on the Economics of Climate Change, was clear that the costs of not taking action were massively greater than doing what needs to be done now.

Can I suggest that there are intelligent and stupid ways of responding to something like the Stern Report.

No sensible scientist ever claims to have the last word. And economics is more of an art than a science,

Sir Nicholas Stern is an economist, the former Chief Economist at the World Bank, and it is reasonable for other economists to delve into the detail of his analysis and question his assumptions. That's fair game.

What it is not intelligent, or helpful to your industry or anyone else, is to respond to a 700 page report by one of the world's leading economists as follows:

"A lot of lies and misinformation has been put about by eco-nuts on the back of a report by an idiot economist"

If you cannot guess the author of this remark let me give you a clue from another of his soundbites:

"I am far too busy doubling Ryanair over the next few years to be joining any carbon emissions trading scheme"

If industries do not get the message, or fail to participate in combating climate change they risk ending up being frog marched into compliance. I suggest that it might be far better to be ahead of the curve and go green anyway.

Here's one example of why anticipation is better than reaction:

A few years ago Sony ignored calls from the Dutch Government for them to clean up batteries, which were toxic. The Dutch Government brought in a regulation instead.

This meant that Sony was suddenly unable to sell the Playstation in Holland. The total cost of this stand off - to Sony - was 110 million euros in sales and 52 million euros in profits.

Not anticipating future legislation could be a very costly mistake.

Another reason for going green is that, even if Governments don't make you're your customers will.

Businesses such as HSBC, Sky and Vodafone have already gone carbon neutral. They are not doing it out of charity. They see where the market is going.

There is already evidence that travel companies will not get on retainer lists unless they can make a similar commitment.

Isn't it interesting that Richard Branson has just launched Virgin Biofuels? This is a $2 billion company, which will use profits from Virgin Airways to develop low carbon fuels. Sir Richard has always seen which way the commercial wind is blowing.

In the UK last year, more money was spent on ethical goods than on "sin" goods such as beer and cigarettes. According to Visit Britain as many as 12% of travel customers chose a travel operator based upon their green credentials. OK it's only 12%, and of course, people won't stop travelling altogether if the tourism industry doesn't go green.

But my message is this: be careful. The public is wising up to climate change and you don't want to become a pariah industry.

Look at what happened to Barclays over Apartheid.

Or look at the 30% fall in Shell's profits in 1995 after it attempted to dump a toxic oil rig offshore.

Your industry more than any other rests on the power of your reputation. No company wants to be seen as the bad guy.

And nowhere is there more of an issue than with aviation.

I know that some people in the travel industry feel that aviation has been unfairly singled out.

I can understand this view.

It is continually frustrating to me that the debate around climate change comes down to three issues: 4x4s, nuclear and aviation.

Given the global nature of climate change, each of these issues is in truth, marginal.

There will be no solution to climate change that is not a global solution.

But I can see why aviation has attracted such attention.

Every other industry has been told to slash its emissions.

Most of them can; the technology is there.

For aviation there is no quick technical fix in sight.

I know there have been efficiency gains. But all of the efficiency gains made so far have been eaten up by the astounding growth in air traffic.

As a result, aviation is the only sector of the economy where emissions are actually predicted to grow,

I don't want to stop people flying. If I did, I wouldn't have flown here myself.

I do want to ensure two things: that where possible travellers use less polluting modes of transport; and I do believe that aviation should pay for the long term costs it is imposing on society and our children,

At present, aviation not only doesn't pay for its emissions: it does not pay even most of the taxes demanded of cleaner forms of transport.

Why should it be cheaper to fly from London to Manchester than take the train?

Why is the most popular destination out of Heathrow Paris - even though we have the Eurostar?

Anomolies like these need to be corrected if we are serious about cutting emissions.

It was for this reason that in March, the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne launched a consultation on aviation taxes.

I want to stress that this was a consultation - we do genuinely want your views on this.

However, it is clear that the current Air Passenger Duty is not fir for purpose. It is a stealth tax rather than a green tax, because it bears no relation to carbon emissions.

As you know, Gordon Brown has just double APD. This discredits the whole idea of green. If green taxes are just stealth taxes dressed up then we make life harder not better. Governments can incentivise green behaviour through the tax system by taxing the bad and rewarding the good. We have also made it clear that any green taxes introduced by the next Conservative Government will be replacement taxes, not new taxes. Any rises in green taxation will be compensated by reductions elsewhere - for example in taxation on families.

To summarise so far:

- Tourism can be a powerful force for economic and social good

- However the growth in the number of tourists from 25 million worldwide to over 860million today is leading to growing environmental pressures.

- The degradation of tourist sites is bad for tour operators economically and bad for the environment

- Climate change is happening rapidly, and it is unlikely that some existing resorts will be able to adapt

- Public and political pressure to embrace environmental issues is mounting

- It is therefore essential that the travel industry faces up to these issues, as this debate so encouragingly suggests that you are.

And I am delighted that the Triton Conference has offset the carbon emissions arising from this gathering.

And I am glad that you are doing so. It is clear by the mere fact that we are having this debate. The Triton Conference has offset the carbon emissions arising from this gathering.

I can't pretend to have all the answers, but I can sketch out a picture of what a sustainable holiday destination would look like.

The resort would be a small scale development with high rates of local ownership, entirely in keeping with its natural surroundings. Reforestation would replace any trees felled during the clearing.

The resort would use local resources as much as possible, especially food.

The would be particular attention paid to the efficient use of natural resources. In hot countries, solar power is an absolute no-brainer. Likewise, water efficiency is cheap and easy: grey water recycling can capture rainwater and filter it through reed beds to produce water for baths or showers.

The resort would encourage sustainable travel wherever possible, from rail instead of air through to low carbon vehicles.

If this sounds like wishful thinking, it is not: it is the future.

And it is already happening here in Portugal.

The Mata de Sesimbra project south of Lisbon is being constructed according to WWF guidelines, with the help of Bioregional, a British company I am pleased to say. It is heralded as the world's first ever integrated sustainable building, tourism, nature conservation and reforestation programme.

I wish this project every success.

But it doesn't need my good wishes. As a concept, it is hitting the public's button, it's got the market on its side. It is the future.

And I wish you all success.

I'm a Conservative.

I believe in enterprise.

I believe in the power of the market to create positive things.

But we need politicians and businesses to join forces to meet the most serious challenge we have ever faced. We need to work together now, more than ever before. We are all in this together, whether we are travel agents, holiday makers or politicians.

Our children will not thank us - not even for all those sunny holidays we take together - if we fail

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