Glasgow Declaration: Interview with Tim Fairhurst, Secretary General, Director of Policy, European Tourism Association (ETOA)
The European Tourism Association (ETOA) releases first climate action plan.
Interview with Tim Fairhurst, Secretary General, Director of Policy, European Tourism Association (ETOA)
Q: What has been ETOA’s climate action journey to date, and is this ETOA’s first climate action plan?
A: This is our first Climate Action Plan (CAP), published 14 months after declaring a climate emergency. Like others, we struggled to give it sufficient priority. From first exploring the merits pre-pandemic to making a public declaration took nine months. In 2021 we identified priorities for reduction and mitigation. In our 2022 budgets we ring-fenced commercial income to fund offsets.
Prior to 2020, we recognised action was needed, but we lacked knowledge and, perhaps, clarity of purpose and policy goals. For example, we do not represent airlines or the cruise industry, each with engineering challenges related to propulsion, emissions, and efficiency.
We represent operators who buy air, land, and water transport as well as other tourism services. ETOA members also include DMOs and the supply chain: a variety of organisations and business models.
The operators and intermediaries who package and resell product have a problem: how to manage down supply chain footprint, keep control of quality and cost, and be competitive. In part, our CAP is a response to the urgency of that problem’s resolution for our members.
Q: Can you describe the process ETOA went through to produce your 2022 climate action plan?
A: Early 2021 was a time of optimism. Recovery would take root in Spring. Our CAP would develop with industry’s fortunes. Then Omicron struck. Sensitivities to commercial jeopardy added complexity. Arguing for senior management focus on long-term strategic interests is hard when the main concern is funding next month’s payroll. But a trade association must take the long view. With that in mind, ETOA’s Board and Advisory Council support our playing a more active role on topic.
Our internal priorities were to manage down the carbon footprint of in-person events and general operations: if we could not do so, we’d lack credibility in our advocacy for transition throughout the sector and the necessary strategic support. Our climate partner, Terraverde Solutions, helped us to benchmark our activity. They and our climate action advisory group (member operators with in-house competence) provided valuable reality checks and challenge as the plan evolved.
Q: What do you see as ETOA’s main contribution/role as a “supporting organisation” of the Glasgow Declaration?
A: Long-term, helping to ensure the visitor economy is part of the solution: maximising socio-economic benefit; minimising adverse impact. We aim to align the interests of industry and destinations, accessing policy and technical expertise to inform discussion and build consensus for action. ‘Business as usual’ will not be an option under a regulatory environment calibrated to deliver net zero, whose eventual scope and nature remains a matter of much speculation. Meanwhile, the 2030 reduction targets become more pressing: industry-led initiatives are essential.
Short-term, it’s about raising awareness, encouraging stakeholders to declare a climate emergency, make meaningful plans, and seek any support they need.
Q: What is ETOA’s biggest challenge relating to climate action and how might this be overcome?
A: The biggest challenge is making ‘doing the right thing’, or at least managing down negative impact, both easier and more engaging. It needs to make sense commercially as well as environmentally. If the choice is between being right and useful, useful has a lot to recommend it. There is broad spectrum of opinion among consumers and business, and moralising is not motivating, especially in tough times. Some of the early adopters recognise this, are quick to offer support and share good practice, and slow to criticise. Others please copy!
For our own operations, most obviously the in-person trade events, the scope for reduction and mitigation is clear and we have made progress. While not all our vendors will be able to provide verified carbon measurement for the services we buy, we ask all of them about their climate action. Striking the right balance between sufficiently detailed KPIs and their consequent administrative burden is important: we are still working through that.
Q: What advice can you give to other supporting organisations – and your own members – who are just beginning their climate action planning?
A: Well done for making a start. Many have not. Make sure climate action is felt across the organisation as a practical commitment to change, not a box-ticking exercise. Focus on measurement: metrics should be practical and verifiable. Share your success stories, and your struggles.
This is not about having all the answers, it is about sharing knowledge, building momentum, and growing a collaborative community - as Tourism Declares and the Glasgow Declaration have shown. For every organisation, public and private sector, it is also about pragmatic self-interest. Increasingly, the interests of climate-friendly tourism and commercial competition will converge. Those that adapt sufficiently will survive.
This interview was conducted within the framework of the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action.