Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

19 Nov, 2007

Signs of Trouble Emerge for PATA CEO Challenge Summit

LONDON – In spite of the announcement that Dr RK Pachauri, Chairman of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize-winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will be a keynote speaker at PATA’s summit on Climate Change, strong signs are emerging that the event to be held in Bangkok in April 2008 is unlikely to meet either of its revenue or attendance targets.

Interviews with various industry CEOs and PATA members at the World Travel Market generated a lacklustre response, especially in view of the asking registration price of US$1,200 per head.

With a mere five months before the conference, the PATA website last week contained only a list of “endorsements” from various industry chiefs and an invitation to “register interest” in attending it, with no concrete information about programme, pricing or structure.

At the London WTM, PATA President and CEO Peter de Jong sought to drum up support by telling a conference on climate change organised by the UN World Tourism Organisation that the PATA event would be an “industry-led, solution-driven sharing of best practises” and a platform to hear, see and share “lots of great ideas” by the travel & tourism industry in addressing climate change.

However, two other high-profile WTM events on climate change provided ample indication why the PATA CEO Challenge could face a serious challenge itself.

A Responsible Tourism Day saw an outpouring of best practises and awards for environmentally-friendly travel companies. Being free of charge, the event was attended by a standing-room only crowd of industry executives, academics, activists and non-governmental organisations, many of whom robustly challenged the speakers, especially in a lively session on the controversial issue of aviation emissions.

It was further spiced up by Stephen Sackur, the BBC Hardtalk host, who moderated some of the panels with penetrating and often embarrassing questions. A Moroccan tourism executive was hard-pressed to explain why his country needed so many golf courses, and how were they going to water them

In the session on aviation, Mr Sackur asked for a straw poll of the audience to indicate whether they felt the cost of air-travel would have to rise in order to reduce the carbon footprint by the fastest growing segment of the transport sector. A majority of the audience raised their hands.

This flies in the face of PATA’s now public position to side with the International Air Transport Association in opposing any taxes or controls on air-travel, inspite of overwhelming evidence that the sheer volume of pollutants emitted by aircraft, given present rates of travel growth, will cause massive damage to the earth’s atmosphere.

In the other event, organised by the UNWTO, senior government representatives of India, Bangladesh, Brazil and Uruguay – all developing countries – expressed vigorous opposition to various points of the UNWTO’s so-called “Davos Declaration” and argued strongly for a more developing-country focus.

And other countries such as Australia and New Zealand said they would oppose any curbs on long-haul air-travel because, as remotely-located island countries, that was by far their major source of tourism revenue.

The best part came when another journalist, Richard Quest of CNN, ripped into the attending ministers and asked them point-blank if they themselves were reusing the towels in the hotel rooms, and commuting by public transport to the convention centre rather than in their limousines.

Even as the debates raged, there was no shortage of information about industry best-practises. The WTM itself produced a glossy publication about its award-winners. In the media room, just about every second press kit was rife with destinations clambering on to the ‘green tourism’ bandwagon.

A single-sheet pamphlet circulated by PATA about its CEO Challenge was picked up by several executives, but contained no details. Mr Ashwini Kakkar, managing director of India’s Mercury Travels, initially indicated interest in attending but his enthusiasm waned visibly when told of the price.

Mrs Dawn Drew, a PATA board member and Publisher of National Geographic Traveller, said the biggest challenge facing the PATA CEO Challenge would be to make it an interactive debate on real issues, and challenge CEOs to prove that they were not paying lip service to environmental issues for the sake of their corporate social responsibility profile.

She said she had not decided whether to attend but if she did, it would be more for the sake of supporting the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the event’s main host and a major financier.

Another board member laughed when asked if CEOs would allow themselves to be challenged thus. “This is going to be nothing more than a mutual-admiration club because those with the capability of asking hard questions will not be there,” he said. “It will be more interesting to see how PATA dresses up the numbers to make it look like a grand success.”

In another blow to the association, its Assistant Director for Communications Ms Min Ming Wong resigned after less than 11 months on the job. Another PR consultant has been hired to drum up support for the conference.

Comments are closed.