News on Sunday

Dr. Robin Nunkoo : “Climate change is the biggest threat to sustainable tourism, threating the survival of the tourism industry”

An Associate Professor in the Department of Management and the Head of the International Center for Sustainable Tourism and Hospitality at the University of Mauritius, Dr Robin Nunkoo explains that the tourism sector is doing well but there is need for a long-term strategy. In light with the shark’s attacks, he believes that there is a need for the authorities to conduct scientific studies to monitor shark movements on a longitudinal basis. 

How is the Mauritius tourism sector doing at present?
The tourism industry is doing well. Tourist arrivals is on the increase and expected to reach more than 1.2 million by the end of this year. Although this number is impressive, there is a need for a long-term strategy to sustain the sector. Such a strategy should take into account a number of factors. Mobility will be affected by a range of factors over the next decades. Our strategy should recognize that world economic power is shifting. Currently, the G20 countries represent approximately over 85% of global GDP and 80% of world trade. The economy of the G20 is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 3.5%, rising from $38.3 trillion in 2009 to $160 trillion in 2050 in real dollar terms.

However, over 60% of this expansion will come from the MBRIC countries (Mexico, Brazil, Russia, India, and China). MBRIC countries will increasingly become more important as outbound travel increases from these countries. While Mauritius cannot exploit effectively the opportunities present in these economics concurrently, there are opportunities to increase arrivals from China and India. However, this requires re-inventing the tourism industry in terms of product diversification and development with a focus on health, education, culture, and shopping. Of course, the whole debate on tourism expansion should be situated within a sustainability context. The growth versus sustainability nexus remains the biggest challenge for any destination, including small island economies like Mauritius.  

Do you believe that our “open sky strategy” can help boost this sector further?
The ‘Open skies’ strategy emerged in the 1970s when the United States started liberalizing its freight and passenger services, with the aim of making regulations more flexible for airlines to achieve a free environment with the least government intervention. Since then, several countries have adopted open skies policies because it was clear that bilateral air travel agreements between governments were not very successful. Open skies policy brings a number of benefits to tourism and trade.

Bilateral agreements based on open sky strategy removes any vestiges of tariff controls while encouraging the expansion of existing airlines onto new routes from which they were previously barred by the regulatory regime, increasing connectivity, pushing down airfares, and stimulating tourism development. Open access also fosters the development of low-cost airlines, decreasing air travel costs even further.

However, open skies mean increasing competition in an economic environment where the government may find it difficult to protect the national airline. If the objective of open skies is to encourage greater competition and increase connectivity for tourism and trade benefits, then regulations appear to be important to ensure that the increased competition is effective and is not undermined by anti-competitive business practices or the abuse of dominant market positions.

If the objective of open skies is to encourage greater competition and increase connectivity for tourism and trade benefits, then regulations appear to be important to ensure that the increased competition is effective and is not undermined by anti-competitive business practices or the abuse of dominant market positions.

Can the frequent shark sighting in our lagoon play against us as far as tourists are concerned?
The frequent appearance of sharks in our lagoon has been associated with aquaculture development. However, whether marine farming attracts sharks is a proposition that still needs to be confirmed as evidence from the scientific literature is inconclusive. Although some studies have found an association between aquaculture farming and presence of sharks, they conclude that the threat to human safety is minimal.

The simple presence of sharks is not likely to cause problems for our tourism industry, but if shark attacks become recurrent in Mauritius, this will have an impact on perceptions of lagoon safety and security among beach users, although it may not have a substantial adverse consequence on tourist arrivals and the reputation of the destination.

In the light of the development of aquaculture in Mauritius, there is a need for the authorities to conduct scientific studies to monitor shark movements on a longitudinal basis. We also need baseline information for comparison. Short-term and unfounded conclusions are not likely to work, and will only perpetuate the conflicts among the various stakeholders of the tourism sector. 

What other challenges can the tourism sector face?
There are local-level challenges and global-level challenges. At the global level, climate change is the biggest threat to sustainable tourism, threating the survival of the tourism industry. The current growth of tourism is unsustainable for any reasonable future, posing serious threat to climate change mitigation strategies. In 2005, tourism was responsible for around 5% of all CO2 emissions, of which 75% were caused by passenger transport. With 1.8 billion international tourist arrivals predicted by 2020, the sector will contribute to rapidly growing emission levels, and increasingly interfere with global climate policy. Air transport will have to grow slower than other transport modes, to the point where growth stagnates or even declines. It is difficult to imagine a cause more tragic and destined to fail than climate change actions.

Their inherent unpredictability, long-term timeframes, lack of directly tangible consequences or clearly identifiable villains, the powerful vested interests involved and its cost implications in an era of chronic economic uncertainty complicate climate change initiatives. Further complications arise specifically within the tourism sector from the rudimentary state of knowledge about the relationships between tourism and climate change. 

At the destination level, sustainability remains the biggest challenge for tourism development. Environmental sustainability and social sustainability is vital for the long-term well-being of our tourism sector. The government faces the challenge of ensuring sustainability in the process of economic growth. The development of tourism has many costs, one of which relates to protests by the local population against the privatization of our public beaches.

When tourism development leads to the privatization of the so-called “public goods,” the consequences are serious. If poorly managed now, it will lead to a hostile attitude that would be detrimental to the tourism industry and the image of Mauritius. Declining social acceptability of tourism by Mauritians and the degrading natural environmental, including marine resources remain the biggest challenges of sustainable tourism for Mauritius. Adoption of new technology to promote sustainable tourism is another issue. Mauritius has yet to make use of new technology such as carbon calculator, community informatics, computer simulation, destination management system, environmental management system, and intelligent transport system to stimulate environmentally and socially sustainable tourism development. 

With the rise of environmentalism world-wide, tourists are becoming more environmental friendly, and some evidence suggests that they are likely to choose destinations and hotels that market themselves are ‘sustainable’

Otherwise, where do we stand concerning “Green tourism”?
The concept of green tourism, also known as ecotourism is a contested concept. It is too utopian! How can tourism be ‘green’ when any tourism activity and form of tourism results in some adverse consequences for the environment in terms of emissions and other impacts? So, I personally do not believe in the concept of green tourism. A more realistic term is ‘low-impact’ tourism, acknowledging that such a form of tourism development results in some adverse consequences for the environment, society, and, the economy, but that these are mitigated through proper tourism planning. Green tourism should not be seen as a distinct form of tourism, but rather ‘green principles’ should be introduced in all aspects of tourism development from land-use planning to tourist behavior. This is a better strategy to promote sustainable tourism in Mauritius.

Communicating “green” seems sometimes difficult than being green. How can our hotels promote the “Green Concept”? 
Understanding tourist needs, preferences, and behavior is the first step in promoting the various environmentally friendly practices adopted by the hotel sector. With the rise of environmentalism world-wide, tourists are becoming more environmental friendly, and some evidence suggests that they are likely to choose destinations and hotels that market themselves are ‘sustainable’. Understanding the sources of information travelers use when searching for information on a destination is crucial to determine how to market environmental friendly behaviors.

The provision of sustainable travel products should aim to bridge the gap between growing awareness of environmental issues and the desire to travel in a sustainable manner. But the consumer will ultimately have to decide whether the environment or freedom to travel is of greater importance. However, focusing uniquely on the environmental benefits of sustainable travel are not likely to be successful; rather environmental and health co-benefits of sustainable travel should be emphasized by destinations in any communication to travelers to foster sustainable travel behaviors.


It seems that there are few people that understand all the implications and dimensions of the tourism activity. Should tourism professionals have a more general vision of tourism beyond their specific field?
Yes, definitely. Tourism, by its very nature is a fragmented industry, comprising of such sectors as transport, banking, agriculture, food, health, insurance and others. Tourism is therefore multidisciplinary and broad in context and therefore, touches upon a wide range of issues such as economic development policy, technology, environmental matters, social factors, and the structure of the international tourism system.

Our tourism strategy should be integrated with other key sectors of the national economy. Having clear strategic visions, defining key objectives, and adopting an integrated approach to tourism planning and development remain crucial for the survival of the sector. There is a need to develop comprehensive long-term plans that extend beyond the political cycle while maintaining the flexibility to adapt to evolving priorities, providing the consistency and certainty that the industry needs and a platform for sustainable and inclusive growth.

This also demands that our pool of tourism managers, planners, and policy-makers is diverse, consisting of individuals from different education and professional background such as economics, environment, marine science, sociology, information technology, marketing, sociology, planning, architecture, and engineering.

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