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IFA 2015Tourists: Onlookers or Participants in a Sustainable Future


As was underlined at the ITB Berlin Convention, the UN Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, today more than ever, the Anthropocene Age and its impact on tourism are facing a dilemma.

On the one hand, economic activity in industrialised and emerging countries harms the environment and affects the climate, thus making tourism in appealing destinations more susceptible to problems (natural disasters, hot spells, water shortages, hunger and migration). Yet on the other hand, global tourism is also to blame: The worldwide mobility of over 1 billion business and leisure travellers has a negative impact on the environment and climate. All in all, CO2 emissions, marine pollution and an eco-social imbalance in both classic destinations and developing countries are increasingly endangering the existence of vacation destinations.


Indeed, echoing the sentiment of UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai, Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation Dr Gerd Müller appealed during ITB Berlin to the tourism industry to actively address the lack of sustainable tourism. “This luxury sector must be capable of getting to grips with the issue,” the CSU member said in a stirring keynote speech at the ITB Berlin Convention. Müller confronted his audience with three demands: Tourism had to conserve and protect while offering beneFIts, it had to ensure fair employment and it had to do more to protect the environment.

But with all the cries of “We must do something!”, it’s very good to see that at ITB Berlin, some are actually proposing very concrete solutions to problems that haunt the industry. One of the best examples was also spotlighted at the Convention in the session, “The Cruise Industry – Fair To The Environment And People? Cast Off For More Sustainability”. Indeed, cruise tourism is booming, but it also comes in for some ack. Indeed, Minister Müller criticised the pollution often associated with large cruise ships. For destinations, the cruise boom thus offers not only huge opportunities for economic development, but also challenges in terms of sea and coastal protection. In order to help developing countries cope with these challenges, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has adopted a 10-point action plan, “Marine Conservation and Sustainable Fisheries”, which also calls for increasing cooperation with the tourism industry. Together with representatives from business, civil society and targeted regions, the BMZ discussed the possibilities and potential in order to set the cruise industry’s course in the direction of long-term responsibility.

Indeed, when we travel, we are not onlookers. And more than ever, ITB Berlin has played an important role in moving the industry in the right direction – for a better world.