Podcast | 02 Apr 2024

Greenomics – Ep. 9 | The nature of Travel & Tourism

Sarah Nelson

Senior Economist, Economics & Sustainability

A climate, sustainability and economics podcast from Oxford Economics

Anyone who has taken a holiday to a beautiful landscape, clear-water beach, or snowy ski resort, will know that the Travel & Tourism sector relies on a good state of nature. In this episode Sarah is joined by Chris Imbsen from the World Travel and Tourism Council, and Matt Tinsley and Jessie Smith from Oxford Economics to discuss the sector’s efforts to understand, quantify, and improve the relationship between Travel & Tourism and the natural environment. WTTC and Oxford Economics have developed a database of global Travel & Tourism environmenal impacts, available online here: https://globaltravelfootprint.wttc.org/.

Subscribe on: Apple Spotify | Soundcloud | By Email

Sarah Nelson
Hello and welcome to Greenomics, a podcast from Oxford Economics, where we delve into the complex relationships between climate, nature and our global economy. I’m your host, Sarah Nelson, in the Economics and sustainability team here at Oxford Economics. And together we’ll be navigating the changing landscape of the green transition. Each month we’ll be joined by a panel of experts to discuss one aspect of sustainablility and unpack what it means for businesses and today’s economy.

Today, I’ll be discussing the relationship between nature and one of the biggest sectors in the global economy; tourism. Anyone who has taken a holiday to a beautiful landscape, clearwater beach or snowy ski resort will know that a lot of tourism relies on a good state of nature. Joining me to discuss the industry’s efforts to understand, quantify and improve this relationship are Chris Imbsen from the World Travel and Tourism Council, and Matt Tinsley from Oxford Economics.

Chris is director of Sustainability at WTTC and has been working with destinations to promote sustainable tourism. Matt, as a lead economist here at Oxford Economics, where he’s been building out our economic understanding of the nature dependency of the sector. All three of us have actually been working very closely together over the last six months or so on a study of travel and tourism’s global footprint.

This study provides an enormous database of environmental and social impacts of tourism across almost 200 countries, and it’s available online, if listeners are interested. Chris, Matt, thank you for joining me on the podcast today.

Matt Tinsley
Hi. Thanks.

Chris Imbsen
Pleasure to be here.

Sarah Nelson
So I’d like to start by just unpacking the relationship between tourism and nature a little bit more. Matt, From an economic perspective, can you tell me what we mean when we say the tourism industry?

Matt Tinsley
Sure. So broadly speaking, the tourism industry is everything involved in helping people go to destinations and spend leisure time in tourism destinations? Now, inherently travel and tourism are all kind of very closely connected. There’s a lot of and therefore analyzed together. There’s quite a lot of travel which may not be for leisure purposes, but the whole of travel and tourism really encompasses everything involved in transporting people.

Often through flights or land transport, hotels and restaurants and bars, activities, people take part in things like that. When we’re looking at the economic terms, what we tend to do in these sorts of areas is follow the demand. And this really is based on what people are spending their money on. So they’re spending money on flights and hotels and meals and also activities and experiences.

Bringing all these things together and looking at that kind of economic footprint is really what we mean about the tourism industry from an economic perspective.

Chris Imbsen
If I could just add something there at WTTC, typically we don’t address it as the tourism industry, but rather the travel and tourism sector because it’s actually much more than the companies that make up the industry. It’s part of the economy that spans that private sector, but also the public and civil society across the functions, you know, that varied from tourism occasionally, but also culture, environment, interior, foreign affairs, transport, digital economy and so on.

So it’s just a much more all encompassing phenomenon.

Sarah Nelson
So that’s really interesting actually. So WTTC kind of looks at like a really broad definition of travel and tourism and all of the contributing factors in that. So, Chris, I mean, especially given that broad perspective, how do you kind of think about sustainability across travel and tourism?

Chris Imbsen
Right. Well, I think you can always go back to that very handy definition that sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. And that’s, you know, a helpful starting point. And then, of course, as with everything, the devil is in the details. But, you know, this sustainability that needs to be measured across what is typically referred to as that triple bottom line of environmental, social and economic factors.

And so that’s how we go about it. And I think that we’ll have a chance to dig a little bit more into, you know, our approach, our joint approach on trying to understand this phenomenon and quantify it together. But I just add that while this notion of sustainable tourism is great and sustainability in general, it’s an important notion.

I have really grown to like the idea of responsible tourism or stewardship, because to be honest, I think tourism can be and anything can be sustainable. Just by dumb luck. I mean take a destination. They, you know, it just might happen that they have very few and responsible visitors who go there in general or that they got lucky with their building materials or that water isn’t a scarce resource, for example, but with responsible tourism or with stewardship, this implies a conscious effort to improve the place where you operate.

And I think that this, you know, this need to demonstrate our ability to improve really came to the fore with the whole overcrowding debate that was there before COVID and now has come back as a know really top at top line issue in the travel and tourism space. So the onus now is on our sector to demonstrate that we are a force for good and that we can make places better places to live because ultimately a better place to live is also a better place to visit.

So yes, in short, I like this idea moving from passive to active.

Sarah Nelson
And I’d just like to touch on that idea of a sustainable travel and tourism sector. There’s, you know, quite a lot of coverage of kind of eco tourism destinations. And so when you want to describe a sustainable or as you put it, a responsible sector, is that that all destinations become eco tourism or is that all destinations adopt more kind of forward looking or sustainable practices in general?

Chris Imbsen
Yeah, I think that eco tourism is just kind of a niche within all of that, right? So I think that eco tourism conjures up images of a full engagement with nature, but there’s a lot of you know, and this is another area that we’re working on as well. It’s we like to call it nature positive travel and tourism, because you don’t need to be an eco tourism venture.

You just need to have these kind of nature safeguards within your operations. You can be operating fully within an urban context, but you have appropriate water practices. You’re not you’re not polluting the environment around you and affecting biodiversity and nature, for example. So you don’t need to think, Yeah, again, it’s much more than a direct engagement with a nature based activity.

Sarah Nelson
I guess this parallels to the wider economy where not everybody has to be in a green, you know, industry, but everybody going forward hopefully will have to adopt green practices.

Chris Imbsen
Precisely. That’s exactly what we want people to recognize and act on that.

Sarah Nelson
This is a question for both of you, Matt maybe starting with you. Why is it important to measure tourism’s environmental impacts so fundamentally?

Matt Tinsley
So fundamentally I think it comes from the idea that in order to improve anything, you have to understand where it is currently. So, you know, we talked about the kind of different channels of kind of economic footprint that the industry has, you know, understanding how that translates into environmental kind of whether it’s environmental concerns in the form of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s, you know, obviously in terms of kind of water use, there’s quite a diverse selection of ways in which the different components of the tourism industry can have environmental footprint. So simply going with assumptions or not having a kind of evidence based foundation means that in all likelihood you’re going to miss the most important perspectives. So really, building that evidence base, recognizing that the evidence base may look quite different in different places, whether that’s because of the different sorts of environmental assets that are locally.

As Chris mentioned, you know, the idea of, you know, the different priorities of somewhere that has, you know, water scarcity issues, but lots of, you know, kind of renewable energy compared to one that relies heavily on fossil fuel energy but doesn’t have water scarcity issues present very different pictures. Having those kind of new nuanced understandings across the range of impacts and the ways different destinations will vary is going to be very important in terms of knowing what to address.

Sarah Nelson
And Chris, from a WTTC perspective, is that line up with your.

Chris Imbsen
Yeah, absolutely. I mean if I could just give a little bit of background on the World Travel and Tourism Council. So we are the trade association representing the global travel and tourism private sector. And you know, as with any good superhero, we also have an origin story and that was that these four distinguished CEOs of AMAX, American Airlines, Marriott and British Airways, they met with the former Secretary of state, Henry Kissinger.

Of all people, to impress upon him the importance of travel and tourism. And he said that’s all well and good, but why don’t you come back to me once you have a common story backed up by evidence? And that really was how we formed 30 years ago that that is our is on that to to generate evidence to back up the importance of travel and tourism.

And we’ve been doing that pretty well ever since, you know, together with Oxford Economics, measuring tourism in terms of arrivals spend and GDP. But, you know, this data whilst it’s great. It’s not arguably not good enough any longer. That’s what our members who give us our mandate have told us. And they are the CEOs and presidents of over 200 of the largest movers and shakers within this sector.

They’re telling us we need to understand travel and tourism in a much more holistic manner. And so I mentioned earlier this this triple bottom line where we need to find the balance across that because, you know, in an ideal world, tourism has positive impacts across the board, but inevitably there will be costs. So we need to make sure that the trade off is acceptable, for example, and it is there will be some environmental damage.

But is that offset by an increase in local income and the ability to reinvest in conservation, for example? And also we need to make sure that we’re continually reducing that cost. And that’s why we’re so excited about this data that we’ve created together with Oxford Economics and with the generous support of Saudi Arabia. Because essentially this tells us for every dollar that travel and tourism generates in the economy, what was its corresponding footprint across a whole range of environmental and social indicators, from greenhouse gas emissions to water to pollutants to material extraction, the age wage and gender profiles of tourism employment.

And with this data. So just to give you an example, in practice of what it’s telling us now and how we can move forward with that? Well, the good news is that across the board we’re seeing a decoupling of resource use from growth. That’s what we want to see, Right. So, for example, in 2010 0.62 kilos of greenhouse gas emissions were emitted for every dollar that travel and tourism generated in the global economy.

That’s now at 0.48 kilos in 2021. So we’re seeing that the intensity is going down, but we need to move much, much faster. In fact, intensity can still go down whilst absolutes go up. What we need to see is that absolutes go down. So we have this messaging and we also see where these impacts are being felt. So for example, in greenhouse gas emissions, 40% unsurprisingly, is in transport, 20% is in utilities.

Where you get most bang for your buck probably is in new generation fuels, SAF, electrification of transport or renewable energy on our grids. Same with water we saw that 81% is in the supply chain of water use and of that 81%, another 81% is in agriculture. So we’re where we get bang for our buck. There is working with our supply chains sourcing sustainably.

You know, I don’t think we’re saying anything revolutionary here, but you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Right. So and this data is really helping us paint that picture very clearly.

Sarah Nelson
How responsive are the destinations that you work with or as you said, the supply chains that you work with to this data and to adopting new practices to try to reduce their impacts?

Chris Imbsen
Oh, that’s a that’s a good question. So the data is relatively new, right? So and it’s very expansive. So we’re currently in in a process of socializing this data, making people understand what they have at their fingertips. And we have worked together with one destination. I think I can happily say who they are here; Puerto Rico who have used their report and have found that this has been an incredibly useful engagement to the DMO.

The NTO, then National Tourism Organization, has used it to engage with port authorities, with aviation authorities and so on. It’s they’re bringing evidence to the table as they discuss their plans going forward. So we know that it has enormous potential for being used. But beyond that, sustainability data, that’s that is a very, very big subject and a complicated one and one that is preoccupying a lot of people, I think primarily because of the shift now towards mandatory reporting requirements, particularly in the EU with the CSRD.

So that’s top of mind of, you know, if not CEOs, at least your CSOs across the globe.

Sarah Nelson
Now I guess an evidence base, as you put it, like this will just become increasingly important as people have to make those changes over time.

Chris Imbsen
I mean, yeah, if you have the evidence to show that the need is required, then there’s not much argument against it any longer. Right, you know, otherwise it’s hearsay.

Sarah Nelson
To understand what Oxford Economics is doing, to measure tourism and its impacts and dependencies on nature, I spoke to Jessie Smith, an economist and tourism economics practice. Jessie, thank you for coming on the show today.

Jessie Smith
Thanks for having me.

Sarah Nelson
So tell me, what does tourism economics do exactly?

Jessie Smith
So tourism economics offers a variety of services which kind of cover expertise in and around the travel and tourism industry.

We cover both kind of data subscription side and then also consulting work. So within our subscription side, we’d offer products like the Global Travel Service. So that looks that kind of country level travel forecasts that look at visitor numbers and spending and then kind of some more granular indicators as well as GCT, which is a city level, similar forecast APF Air passenger flows.

And then we’ve recently launched a cruise service too. And then on the consulting side, we offer a really quite broad range of bespoke consulting pieces. They kind of cover economic impact, market studies and visa policy analysis.

Sarah Nelson
And your modeling, is it driven by kind of tourism demand?

Jessie Smith
Yeah. So we kind of have a multi-pronged approach of we bring in our macro drivers and from the Oxford Economics macro model and then combine that with more tourism specific drivers.

So within the macro side, you have things like middle class incomes. We kind of view tourism as a luxury good. So middle class incomes are kind of that the proportion of the population of a given country that we see are prospective outbound market. And then we also look at previous tourism data. So what are the top level visitor flows, What are up, what’s our BOP data showing for kind of inbound travel spending and transport?

And then we kind of marry those two together, along with keeping an eye on markets and looking at kind of visa policy changes and that kind of thing that might not necessarily be captured in the two things that been previously mentioned.

Sarah Nelson
So it’s a combination of historical trends and demand drivers as well as sort of regulation layered on top of that.

Jessie Smith
Yeah, exactly that, Yes. And looking at things like if we see sort of expansions in air routes and that kind of thing where we might not be able to capture that until it comes into the data otherwise. But yeah, it’s kind of marrying up a few different, few different sources. Sounds there very comprehensive.

Sarah Nelson
Sounds there very comprehensive. I mean, as you know, this topic, the topic of this episode is sort of nature. So what is TE doing in kind of nature sphere?

Jessie Smith
So while natural resources have always been a factor within our thinking about the relative destination attractiveness, more recently we’ve kind of begun to think of the absolute attractiveness of a destination and owning not only to its natural resources, but also to a range of other factors such as environmental, sustainability and climate.

So as has been previously mentioned, with our kind of demand drivers, a destination, attractiveness is something that we already have in there and that’s been in that for a while. But we’re looking at flexing that more in line with climate scenarios to try and kind of capture that change. So to go into that a little bit more, we have the destination competitiveness indexes which are within our demand drivers and they cover a few things.

So natural and cultural capital, environment and infrastructure, prioritisation of travel and tourism resources, I.T. readiness, that kind of thing. And they kind of look at a given country relative to the global average. So looking at how relatively competitive a destination is. Now we’ve had them in the model for a while, but they have been more static than dynamic and we’re now looking at kind of expanding them out over various different climate scenarios so that we can look at how a destination’s competitiveness under one of those pillars changes under different scenarios.

Sarah Nelson
So I understand the sort of underlying assumption there is that the conditions of nature affect how attractive a destination is for inbound tourist.

Jessie Smith
Exactly that, yes.

Sarah Nelson
Does it also take into account any sort of dependency of the tourism industry of like, you know, continuing production or any supply chains or anything like that at this stage? Is that something you’re looking at?

Jessie Smith
Yeah, I think. Is that something that’s kind of more in the pile of things that we will need to look at. Yes, because I think, yeah, when you start considering how the climate affects tourism demand, the so many different directions that we can start going in so kind of outside of those environmental pillars and alongside kind of bringing in the macroeconomic drivers.

So obviously we have the climate service so we have a lot of macroeconomic drivers that we have in our model. We can pull scenario specific drivers from the Climate Service, but then even within that, we know that we see divergence between top level macro trends and travel trends, right? So like if you look at the pandemic, that’s a prime example.

And so we won’t quite capture everything we need to capture there. So kind of we have, you know, we’ve got a macroeconomic layer, we’ve got our kind of destination Competitiveness index, another kind of strand of things that we’re looking at is pricing. So obviously pricing is that pricing is a crucial consideration and we’re in the process of bringing in staff costs into our Air Passenger Forecast.

Sarah Nelson
So that’s sustainable aviation fuel.

Jessie Smith
Yeah. And so kind of the Air Passenger Forecast is something I’ve mentioned previously, but we can use our Air Passenger Forecast model to look at how we expect our bilaterals that source market mix changes in our kind of environmental or like our climate forecasts. So stepping that back, if we look at how we change sustainable aviation fuel as a share of our total and the impacts we see that come in through the pricing mechanisms, we can look at how our demand for different bilateral paths changes and then

we can kind of feed that through into our and Global Travel Service so that we then have kind of our pricing impacts coming through in that dimension too, because obviously we’re expecting to see that that is something that will change quite considerably under different climate scenarios.

Sarah Nelson
That is super interesting, sort of technological sort of micro example of a massive macro trend, which I think is fascinating and will be super sort of relevant to both destinations and travel companies and, you know, anybody who’s looking at how aviation can continue in a world that trends towards net zero.

So yeah, great example and really sort of great to hear about what you’re doing over there.

Jessie Smith
Yeah, and then I think maybe the final thing to cover would also be that, you know, climate in itself is an inherent driver of destination demand. So like take Spain for example, Spain’s climate as well as a myriad of other factors are destination drivers like for a specific destination, right?

So we’re utilizing the Tourism Climate Index Framework, which is kind of an academic framework to look at temporal change in different destinations under different climate scenarios. So that then we can kind of dig a bit more into the temperature elasticity of demand. So yeah, which is kind of like another layer to what where we’re covering.

Saarah Nelson
So for the non economists out there, the temperature elasticity of demand to confirm is kind of the response of tourism demand to temperature in different destinations.

Jessie Smith
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, exactly that. So and obviously that comes with a host of different things because even just within a given year you see temperature demand. So say we look at Europe in the past year, we saw Spain hitting 40 having been 40 degrees for the first time in kind of known history. And there was a lot of discussion about how is that going to change travel trends now, one of the kind of most immediate things is people can start traveling a little bit more in the shoulder season.

So it might be that we don’t see a total volume change, but actually when within the year when people actually do travel does change. So people prefer to be in May and September, October rather than in a peak temperature month of August, for example. So obviously there’s quite a lot to consider here and kind of the common type of holiday destination that a destination might be is really important.

So, you know, beach versus city and versus snow and also like how much that temperature change might affect that destination is also really important. So, you know, if we’re looking at a skiing destination at a temperature shift that goes over kind of your snow limit has a really, really detrimental effect where, you know, a similar temperature change in a beach destination or city destination might not be so much before we even get into kind of and building adaptation and what the building stocks like for kind of different temperatures.

Yeah. So that’s kind of the final part of the bits that we’re digging into at the moment. But it’s quite, quite wide ranging.

Sarah Nelson
Quite wide ranging indeed. Well, I’m really looking forward to sort of seeing the outputs of that research, Jessie, and thank you so much for joining me today and just describing what you’ve been doing in Tourism Economics.

Jessie Smith
Well, thanks for having me.

Saarah Nelson
So one thing that came up in the conversation with Jessie is that environmental, state or environmental attractiveness is a key determinant of tourism markets and tourism prospects. Matt How is tourism generally dependent on a good state of nature?

Matt Tinsley
So nowadays tourists have a lot of choice about where they might go in the world, where they might travel to and what activities they might engage in. If I’m looking at going on a scuba diving holiday, I care quite a lot about the quality of marine life, the broader quality of nature and the destination, and therefore the attractiveness to me as that type of tourist is going to be very much driven by the quality of nature and also the reputation.

Obviously that’s how I as a tourist might be hearing about it from overseas. So I think these sorts of push and pull factors that determine whether a tourist might go somewhere are often very much focused on nature. And there’s a real risk factor that comes with any kind of environmental degradation, a negative reputation that a destination might have simply because tourists have enough choice to go to other destinations and get something potentially better.

Sarah Nelson
So this is kind of reflects a discussion that I had in an earlier episode about the financial sector. But it seems like tourism impacts on nature, as we’ve just discussed, but nature also impacts on tourism. Do you think about it in this kind of bi directional relationship?

Matt Tinsley
Yeah, So I mean double materiality, which is really what you’re describing, you know, is what exists when an organization or industry both contributes to an environmental concern such as Climate Change or biodiversity loss as well as being impacted by it. Now virtually every driver of economic activity is it has some sort of environmental impact, tourism’s environmental impacts, though, can be seen on a few different levels.

Yes, there’s Climate Change through greenhouse gas emissions, but actually within specific destinations to use one of Chris’ words that stewardship of nature in a given destination will determine how attractive that destination is. Therefore, they’re having an impact as well as being impacted by through the, you know, the attractiveness to tourists. So there is that two way relationship.

I think what’s really missing is an evidence based focus on that two way relationship. The real risk comes that in order to try and maximize income in revenues through tourist arrivals, destinations kind of run down their kind of local amenities, the quality of nature where they are, to the extent that actually the economic losses is kind of set in and that it can’t be recovered because nature can’t bounce back quickly enough.

So that’s what the real risk that comes with a failure to understand the importance of nature to attract tourists and the real kind of nuances of that double materiality.

Chris Imbsen
Yeah, if I could add to that, you know, we have been running a kind of a nature positive tourism initiative within WTTC and now together with UN Tourism and the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, and we’ve carried out a great number of consultations as part of that and we’ve developed some guidance. And, you know, I think I think it’s come out very clearly that that there is a general understanding amongst everyone that tourism and nature depend on each other.

So we mentioned tourism as a key role to play in nature conservation and regeneration. And I mean, after all, what other sector gives nature an economic reason to continue to exist more or less in its original state? I can’t think of many other sectors that that do that right, you know, if managed well. And of course, nature is critical for tourism.

Research shows that 80% of the value of travel and tourism goods and services are dependent on nature’s resources and ecosystems. The exploration of nature accounts for over half of all tours and nature based tourism is predicted to generate $665 billion annually by 2030. These are these are big sums, and we saw what happened during COVID when this income dried up.

You know, there was an increase in in poaching. There was less money for guards, less money for maintenance. So, you know, one way to think about it is that nature is the book and tourism is the publisher, and they depend on each other fully. You can’t publish without a book. And if you have a book without a publisher, well, you know, it’s not going to get very far.

Right. So that understanding is there. But as I said, this kind of systematic measurement, for example, of ecosystem services, you know, we haven’t seen that. The question is not really whether they’re related. It’s how to better understand and manage that relationship. Right. You know, beyond understanding the income can be used to fund conservation. How do companies start to really understand their impacts and dependencies?

And that double materiality that we’ve been talking about and that really is a complicated situation that requires collaboration at destination levels between because tourism businesses aren’t conservation NGOs, they aren’t biologists, they’re tourism businesses. They need support in trying to understand these issues as well.

Sarah Nelson
And have you worked with any particular company? I know if you can, you know, name names, but have you worked with any particular companies who are doing particularly well in understanding or moving particularly quickly and understanding their nature? Dependency?

Chris Imbsen
Yes. I mean, there are many companies and I don’t want to name one or two, because that would at the risk of leaving out a bunch of others. Right. You know, at WTTC,

we have a very a lot of very forward thinking members amongst our membership who are taking this whole issue of nature positive, very seriously. And many of them, you know, are forerunners of the whole eco tourism movement, right.

You know, switching nature based tourism into a meaningful type of tourism that supports local communities, that supports local ecosystems.

So there’s a whole bunch of them. But I think that where you see that working best is where the destination gets it too. You know, it’s not enough for just a business to go in and do it. There needs to be that destination, connect and so, you know, one destination with this has worked very well, for example, and is where we held our summit at the WTTC annual summit last year in Rwanda.

So in the 1980s there were under 200 mountain gorillas left in the world. They were at the brink of extinction from poaching and deforestation. And today there are over 1600. And the reason the gorillas were saved is simple it’s tourism. And since that 1994 genocide, Rwanda’s government has pursued a strategy of tourism led development. It’s using its biodiversity, its nature and particularly its USP, the gorillas, to high value ecotourism and working with those businesses that operate there.

To do this properly, to reinvest that revenue in conservation and communities. So farmers who once used to earn a living turning forests into fields, are now making more replanting at people who once used to poach and now getting by as forest guides or guides for the tourism companies that are that are operating, their revenue gets poured into community infrastructure.

It all improves the overall tourism experience. And it’s an inspiring example of how tourism, conservation and development can go hand in hand. But it’s not just the business. It has to be the connection.

Sarah Nelson
And the wider economy sort of in some of this relies on, as you put it earlier in the episode, the broader definition of travel and tourism. Some of that relies on policy on other sectors in the economy. It’s quite complex.

Chris Imbsen
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, those supply chains are incredibly complex. And, you know, we’ve touched on double materiality. We’ve very briefly flirted with this, you know, the new reporting requirements coming out, the mandatory ones. And what’s, you know, particularly interesting at the EU level, in particular is that companies that fall under the scope of this reporting will not only need to report, carry out double materiality reporting, but they’ll also need to report on their supply chains.

And so getting to grips with that is going to be a big challenge going forward.

Sarah Nelson
Matt, that’s something that I know that we work on in our team. So where is the industry at in terms of developing quantification tools for understanding, You know, the tourism impacts throughout the supply chain and dependencies throughout the supply chain.

Matt Tinsley
So that’s one of the things that we’ve been focused on in our analysis with WTTC historically, we’ve done quite a lot in the economic footprint in looking at supply chains, understanding how money that spent in one part of the economy creates value in other parts of the economy. What that means is that, you know, the agricultural businesses, you know, whilst they may not be direct recipients of tourism, money will actually be beneficiaries through the kind of supplying, you know, hotels and restaurants, things like that.

Now, understanding the mapping of those relationships is quite important. You realize quite quickly that actually the economic benefits are a lot more significant than just the people, you know, immediately employed. The other side of it would be the benefits that come through kind of wages being earned and therefore that kind of rippling through the economy. So quite quickly, you have, you know, entire community that’s very dependent on local tourism and therefore all the risks that come with the potential loss of tourism through things like the energy degradation, really ripple through an entire community rather than simply being focused on the immediate kind of companies, you know, for example, hotels and restaurants.

Sarah Nelson
One thing that you touched on there is the kind of social aspect, and it’s come up various times to this episode. But I’m an environmental economist and I usually think about the environment, but obviously tourism has a massive, you know, social footprint and a massive potential to improve social outcomes. Chris Is there anything on that WTTC is particularly focused on.

Chris Imbsen
So social footprint of travel and tourism is a hard nut to crack. I think that destinations and stakeholders around the world are grappling with this question as we all know, this overcrowding has re-emerged as a big issue. And I don’t think anyone has solved it in a neat and awe inspiring manner that is to be replicated across the rest of the world.

Right. But there are some, you know, issues that lie at the heart of this. And that is local satisfaction with travel and tourism. Now, I don’t think that that is a particularly easy thing to measure systematically. I think it involves surveys possibly to see where they stand. But then how do you actively encourage local satisfaction? So let me just take a step back.

Also, just say if you don’t have local satisfaction, what we see is that it becomes mediatised and the moment becomes mediatised. It becomes politicized at the moment because politicized. Well, yeah, yeah. And things become much more complicated than they need to be. So, you know, it’s all about prevention, Right? And there is a very interesting study that came out in in Bruges several years ago before COVID, they were looking at overcrowding in the destination and the tolerance for overcrowding at the time.

And they found that of the various measures, you know, that helped that tolerance to help to increase it. The one that really stood out was political empowerment. So in other words, people feel that they have a say in the matter the moment they feel that they have been engaged, consulted, simply consulted, they feel that they’ve been a part of that process, their tolerance increases when they feel disenfranchized marginalized, that tolerance drops precipitously.

So I suspect a large part of the solution lies precisely in that making sure that your community, communities, your local people feel somehow empowered in the whole tourism growth debate.

Sarah Nelson
That’s really interesting. The idea of sort of democratizing the sector, that’s great. I have one final question for you and we’ve sort of touched on it a few times, but looking forward, imagine you had a crystal ball and you know where we’ve made a lot of progress to this sustainable tourism sector, travel and tourism sector more broadly. What do you think that will look like in 2040?

Chris, I’ll start with you.

Chris Imbsen
I envisage myself diving in pristine coral reefs.

Sarah Nelson
Don’t will I hope we’re there.

Chris Imbsen
No, I just hope that my kid has the opportunity to see the things that I’ve seen, you know, that’s already a win and, and that’s already up in the air. Very much so. So I’ll take that.

Matt Tinsley
Yeah. I mean I think that’s a really nice way of looking at it. And in many ways, you know what we’re talking about, you know, having kind of the frameworks to understand kind of the cost to nature, the cost, the environment, you know, if those things are able to cause the minimization of that, those costs, then actually kind of it becomes a lot more sustainable, not just for local communities, not just for the environment, but actually for tourists themselves.

And so, yeah, hopefully a position where, you know, we can find solutions to these problems that aren’t simply stopping people traveling or making it inhibitively expensive.

Sarah Nelson
So having the evidence base and the policies and the actions and the options to get to a world where us and our children can enjoy all of the tourism destinations.

Chris Imbsen
And where sustainability isn’t the premium option is the default option.

Sarah Nelson
Well, I think that that is a really great way to end it. But before let you go, I’m going to have to subject you to the Greenomics Gamble. And Chris, believe it or not, you actually stole one of my statements that I was going to give you when you’re giving some of those numbers, which serves me right for looking at WTTC.

But anyway I have two statements now, one of which is true and one of which is false. And so I’m going to ask you to sort of guess which one is the lie. The first statement is that the US’s national parks, that a record in 2021 with 300 million visits over the year touches on the Overtourism point perhaps.

And the second statement is that 1 in 20 people globally work in jobs linked to tourism. What do we think?

Matt Tinsley
I feel like, Chris, I feel like Chris probably knows the answer.

To The second one from what.He’s wheeled out before.

Chris Imbsen
I think in 2019, at its peak, one in ten jobs were contributed by travel and tourism, and it’s now at 1 in 11 or something like this. Following COVID. I should know that, number one off the top of my head.

Sarah Nelson
Yeah, this is feels a little bit like asking Well, ask the expert exactly the statistics that he does. Yes, that is absolutely correct. 1 in 20 was a big underestimate. So thank you very much for sharing all of those insights and a really interesting discussion. Both. Yeah, Thanks for joining me on the show.

Chris Imbsen
Thank you.

Matt Tinsley
Thanks.

Sarah Nelson
Thank you also to the listeners for tuning in. Please do subscribe on Spotify, SoundCloud or on our website and feel free to email us at [email protected]. That’s it for today on Greenomics from Oxford Economics, where we know that money might make the world go round. But sustainability makes it a much nicer place to live to an extent.

Our Panel
Sarah Nelson

Senior Economist, Economics & Sustainability

+44 (0)203 910 8000

Sarah Nelson

Senior Economist, Economics & Sustainability

London, United Kingdom

Sarah is a Senior Economist in the Economics & Sustainability team at Oxford Economics. She works with clients to understand their environmental impacts and dependencies, and helps them achieve their sustainability goals. She has professional and research experience in the economics of decarbonisation, energy policy and environmental and economic impact assessments.

Prior to joining Oxford Economics, Sarah worked in economic consulting in Sydney and London, where she worked on energy regulation, anti-trust, carbon forecasting and social welfare assessments. She holds Bachelor’ degree in economics and physics from the University of Auckland, and a Masters in Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she was a Fulbright Scholar. Sarah completed a PhD in climate economics and policy from the University of Cambridge in 2021.

Matthew Tinsley

Lead Economist, Economics & Sustainability

+44 (0) 203 910 8000

Matthew Tinsley

Lead Economist, Economics & Sustainability

London, United Kingdom

Matt joined Oxford Economics’ Economic Impact team in 2014. In his time with the company, he has worked on a diverse range of Economic Impact studies, including in the creative industries, tourism and retail sectors.

Between 2019 and 2022, Matt was based in our Singapore office, supporting the development of a specialist Economic Impact team there, before relocating back to London to work in the Economics and Sustainability team. Matt holds both a BSc (Hons) and an MSc (Hons) in Economics, from the University of Bristol.

Jessie Smith

Economist, Tourism Economics

+44 1865 268 900

Jessie Smith

Economist, Tourism Economics

Oxford, United Kingdom

Jessie is an Economist within the Tourism team, publishing research and analysis on tourism and travel trends, with a particular focus on the Americas region. Jessie has also been involved in consultancy projects for a range of clients including Airbnb, Booking.com, and the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Jessie joined Oxford Economics after graduating with a first-class honours degree in Economics from the University of Exeter along with industry experience. After completing her placement year at the Department for Work and Pensions, specialising in Universal Credit strategy around children, Jessie also rebranded the Government economics schools outreach programme, improving the diversity of students studying economics in further education. 

Christopher Imbsen

Director of Sustainability at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC)

Private: Christopher Imbsen

Director of Sustainability at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC)

Christopher Imbsen is the Director of Sustainability at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), responsible for ensuring that WTTC and its Members work with destinations to promote sustainable and inclusive growth that contributes positively to the communities, natural ecosystems and cultural heritage. From 2012-2019, Chris was the Deputy Regional Director for Europe at UN Tourism, handling relations with the organization’s European Member States. Prior to joining UN Tourism, Chris worked as a consultant for international, public and private sector clients on tourism master plans, strategies, marketing and business operations. Chris has extensive experience of engagement of government and industry leaders on tourism policy and strategy issues, as well as on-the-ground project management experience from initial planning, development and funding stages through implementation and monitoring.

See more information on WTTC here: https://globaltravelfootprint.wttc.org/.

Sign up for the latest podcast straight to your inbox

Previous episodes

Greenomics – Ep. 10 | Out of the frying pan? Climate impacts and adaptation opportunities

How does extreme heat affect human health and the economy, and what is being done about it? Shilpita Mathews, Senior Economist at Oxford Economics, joins our host Sarah Nelson to discuss adaptation. Shilpita speaks to guests Jane Gilbert, Chief Heat Officer of Miami-Dade County and Emilie Mazzacurati the Co-founder and Managing Partner of Tailwind about the risks that extreme heat poses for our economy and the landscape of solutions available to help cities, communities and individuals adapt to a changing climate.

Find Out More
Greenomics – Ep. 8 | Hydrogen hype: a low-carbon climate solution?

A discussion of the crucial role of climate-ready buildings in the global push towards a net-zero future. They delve into sustainable construction practices, the importance of regulations, retrofitting existing buildings, and behavioural changes to create environmentally friendly homes. The conversation also touches on the economic challenges and choices associated with transitioning to sustainable living.

Find Out More
Sustainability Trends to Watch for in 2024 | Greenomics – Ep. 7

Join Sarah Nelson for an insightful exploration of the sustainability landscape in 2024. In this episode, she engages with leading experts in politics, technology, and sustainable business to unravel the key trends poised to shape our journey towards a greener future.

Find Out More
COP28 Roundup: More action needed, and more quickly | Greenomics – Ep. 6

In this episode, Sarah is joined by Dr Mark Winning and Dr Karla Cervantes Barrón to discuss the takeaways from COP28, what they mean for businesses and emerging economies, and whether COP is the right forum for decisive action.  

Find Out More