Brett Tollman is the global CEO of The Travel Corp. and founder of the TreadRight Foundation, a not-for-profit established to encourage sustainable tourism. He also served as vice-chairman of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
In the year the United Nations has designated as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, we need to ensure World Tourism Day, being marked on Wednesday, is given the attention it requires at such a critical juncture for the international travel sector.
I firmly believe that we – the world's travel industry and travellers alike – must follow the example set by the Paris climate accord, which brings together myriad competing entities in the shared goal of sustainability.
A conference earlier this month hosted by Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna brought together 34 countries in a bid to maintain momentum to implement the Paris accord as the United States acknowledged it will not attempt to renegotiate it.
In much the same way, we must use the collective momentum provided by the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development to use our sector's distinct influence and capabilities to help shape a more sustainable future for our planet. Otherwise, we will have to watch everything we value and cherish erode and disappear.
At the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly in 2015, 154 heads of state or governments adopted the bold and ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which included 17 Sustainable Development Goals that aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. Based on this universal, integrated, and transformative vision, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is working with governments, public and private partners, development banks, international and regional finance institutions, UN agencies and international organizations to help achieve these goals.
However, if the goals of the 2030 agenda are to be reached, the travel industry and travellers alike must make a deliberate effort to ensure their realization.
Canada has stepped into a leading role regarding the Paris accord, and Canadian-based companies and those operating within Canada have an opportunity to play a major role in this charge. When one considers that the Canadian travel sector contributes as much as 8 per cent to Canada's GDP – more than transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, forest products and mining, according to the most recent statistics available – it becomes even more apparent that Canadian travel and tourism businesses can influence this charge.
The travel sector's international influence is much the same. As one of the world's largest sectors, supporting 284 million jobs and generating 9.8 per cent of global GDP, we can help to increase public appreciation of the environment and awareness of the value of connecting with the natural world and other cultures and communities in a sustainable way.
Tourism can also contribute to environmental protection, conservation and restoration of biological diversity and sustainable use of natural resources. The beauty of the natural world is a vitally important asset for our sector; maintaining the vibrancy of natural sites is crucial to tourism organizations' ability to continuously benefit from their existence.
There are no causes easier for organizations and individuals to get behind than those that make emotional and moral sense, as well as practical sense. We in the travel industry believe that ensuring the health of the planet and its population is not only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, it's also something we have to do if we want to be able to continue offering travel experiences to the world.
There may very well be no industry with more opportunity to affect the positive transformation of the planet than the travel and tourism industry. Travel can help people see the fragile beauty of our planet and help influence decision makers. If the travel sector can move the world the way we move people around the world, then our influence can be incredible.
But we have to act now and we have to act together.