That is the message of Leo Hickman, journalist and author of The Final Call which examined the trade’s attitudes to responsible tourism and sustainability, who was in the HOTseat for World Responsible Tourism Day for this year’s World Travel Market, the leading global event for the travel industry.
With the industry predicted to explode in numbers as the Chinese and Indian markets emerge, he said the industry must be better prepared to cope with the numbers and protect the destinations.
He said: “I can’t emphasise enough how little evidence there is about what people are doing for the future.
“To me that is indicative of an industry that totally lives in the present , it doesn’t look to the future
“It is incredibly short term thinking, to totally believe everything is going to be hunky dory.
“They (travel companies) all have their responsibilities, if you are going to sustain that growth there are going to be some big decisions needed to be made.
“If the industry is to preserve itself it has to protect the people and the natural habitats in the destinations.
“The industry needs to be more honest with itself, there are some very potent examples of bad practice.”
Nor does Hickman believe that many of the sustainable travel and responsible tourism schemes set up by the industry are as effective as are claimed.
“Of all the industries that I’ve studied, tourism is the guiltiest of green wash,” he added.
He also said journalists had a role to play in asking more difficult questions of the travel industry to ensure it is doing everything it can to protect the very product it sells.
However, Hickman admitted this will be difficult in practice due to the expense in sending reporters on trips which means they are mostly paid for by the travel industry and which compromises the journalist’s objectivity.
“If you pick up any of the travel supplements, newspapers or travel magazines it is simply advertorial,” Hickman said.
“Because it is such an expensive business … the industry has to be the gatekeeper. You have to end this practise otherwise you’re not going to be impartial.”