The vulnerability of global tourism to oil prices, concern over future oil constraints and whether sufficient investments are being made in sustainability, is coming under increasing scrutiny.
Leading industry researcher Dr Susanne Becken, associate professor at Lincoln University, is set to raise questions over current global tourism growth projections at the second World Green Tourism Conference in Abu Dhabi this December.
Currently leading two government-funded tourism programmes in New Zealand, Dr Becken will speak on ‘Tourism in an energy constrained world’.
“This is a topic which does not receive the necessary attention at the moment given that energy is one of, if not the, most important input factors into tourism.
“The fact that World Green Tourism is hosted by an Arab country where oil export plays an important role adds to the opportunity of sharing my research findings on tourism’s vulnerability to oil prices and future oil constraints. My research focuses on how tourism depends on energy and how the finite resource of oil may pose challenges to tourism in the future, in particular in connection with the problem of carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.
“I am slightly doubtful that global tourism will grow as expected over the next few decades and I would value discussion with Middle Eastern tourism experts on their views on this and how investments that are based on solid growth are made.
“Some of the more detailed research in New Zealand, for example how certain types of businesses or tourists are affected by higher oil prices, is likely to be applicable elsewhere in the world, especially the Middle East,” she says.
“There are important aspects of the oil intensity of supply chains, for example energy embodied in water and food, which could be very relevant for the Middle East.”
Tourism is New Zealand’s biggest export earner, attracting 2.5 million tourists a year with an average stay of 23 days, compared to just three days that tourists spend in the UAE.
Dr Becken says New Zealand’s image as a clean, green country has kept it at the forefront as a travel destination of choice for holiday makers, and this is something Middle Eastern countries can aspire to.
But she warned that the image has been achieved through serious efforts towards sustainability, ensuring tourists do not accuse the country of ‘greenwashing’ to make it look more environmentally friendly than it is. “The Middle East tries to portray an image of progress and new technology and this could be favourably worked into tourism developments. Innovation, creativity, renewable energy resources, zero waste are keywords that could be incorporated into a Middle Eastern tourism strategy.”