Safety the key to protect tourism

A climate change and tourism industry official from Sweden says the tourism model on the Gold Coast must be restructured to comply with international environmental standards. But Gold Coast Tourism says jobs and the safety of tourists take priority.

SPEAKING at the recent Tourism Futures Conference, Stefan Gossling believes the environment needs to be factored into the equation if the Coast is to reverse its current industry slump.

“When the economy emerges from the current recession, Australian tourism should look to re-launch itself with a more environmentally compatible business model,” says Gossling, a professor at Lund University.

“Such a refocus would see Australia abandon targets for increasingly high volumes of tourists. The only strategy for success into the future is in an industry where visitors stay longer and spend more.”

But Gold Coast Tourism CEO Martin Winter, says traveller security and jobs, not eco-marketing objectives will provide stability in the short-term.

“At the moment, we are focused on the maintenance of jobs and I don’t believe that now is the time to change the way that we market the destination,” says Winter.

“In the long-term, we agree that it’s (eco-marketing principles) going to be the most important factor. Since the economic crisis, business events on the Gold Coast have dropped off, but they are soon to be reactivated.”

Winter says the key and emerging markets of China and India do not base travel plans on the eco credentials of a destination, but rather value for money and proximity.

The bigger picture challenge is mending Australia’s strained diplomatic relationship with China. Declining tourist numbers are hampering a $2.2 billion market, with visitor numbers down 80 per cent over the past three months due to concerns over swine flu and the global recession.

Tourism Australia’s latest Global Market Monitor report, shows incoming tourist applications from China — Australia’s fastest-growing tourism market — have collapsed by up to 80 per cent over the past three months.

“From my perspective, those people in our growth markets are an emerging middle class who are looking at price, access and value for money, whether they believe we are a carbon neutral destination or not,” says Winter.

Gossling is one of the world’s most highly-regarded academics specialising in the impact of climate change on the tourism industry. He says tourism will be among the most severely affected sectors since it’s highly dependent on climate.

“Consumers are keen to support green destinations and green products, although it is not clear if they are willing to pay extra for such items,” he says.

“Some businesses have started carbon neutralising schemes, and while many have failed I think there is enormous scope to ‘harvest’ the financial support of the travelling public.”

Gossling believes that if the tourism industry can work strategically and embrace the emissions challenge, tourism profits will increase.
One of the challenges, according to Gold Coast tourism is safety. Winter says safety remains as one of the barriers and GCT is working on an initiative that will improve safety with added security and the banning of glass in pubs and clubs.

“Safety is the most concerning issue and we will be working hard to improve it. All it takes is one front page headline regarding a serious assault and it can potentially undo countless dollars spent on investment,” he says.

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