Carbon clouds could leave tourism gasping

By Dev Nadkarni

Copenhagen or not, the carbon mania continues to rage and is beginning to generate early signs of waves of panic not only in businesses and industries across the board but also several countries around the world.

Governments of a growing number of developed countries, especially in Europe, are pulling all sorts of rabbits out of their bureaucratic hats to disincentivise carbon emissions and promote green alternatives.

With carbon currency and complex systems to trade in them now a veritable fait accompli, there is little that the developing countries can do than whine and whinge while they wait in growing trepidation as the inevitable scenarios of confusion begin unfolding in the next twelve to twenty four months.

This will have repercussions on wide ranging industries around the world and countries furthest removed from Europe and the United States would be affected the most because of their sheer distances from those markets. Countries in the Pacific region, the remotest from Europe will be affected the most.

The concept of food miles is getting increasingly entrenched into the psyche of shoppers in some European countries, more so among the wealthier ones of the lot. As the green message gets across, people will be loathe to buying stuff that has travelled long distances because of the fossil fuels burned in getting them there, instead preferring local goods or goods from countries of origin that are nearby.

Those not turned on by ecological altruism to eschew buying goods that have travelled from afar will be fobbed off by the higher prices that these products will attract because of carbon taxation unless the original manufacturers have been able to offset them by proven green measures in their manufacturing processes.

New Zealand has great reason to worry because Europe is a large market for its dairy as well as other agricultural products. That is the reason why companies are in a mad race to adopt environmentally friendly raw materials, processes and transportation modes. There is a great big race to establish green credentials in preparation for the green winds that have begun to blow from the developed world.

What does the pristine, far less developed and even far less industrialised Pacific Islands region has to do with all this, one may ask. Plenty, unfortunately – and unlike New Zealand and Australia, the islands simply do not have too many viable alternatives to get out of the tangle.

The islands’ biggest or second biggest revenue earner continues to be tourism – well, at least for most of them. One of the biggest industries to be hit worldwide by the new carbon initiatives is the several trillion dollars worth tourism and travel industry, which also happens to be perhaps one of the biggest human resource intensive businesses in the world.

And one of the biggest impacts of the new carbon initiatives is going to be on the travel and tourism business.  To begin with, the European Union will start listing flights leaving or arriving any of ports in the European Union member countries in its planned carbon trading system from the year 2012.

The United Kingdom has already announced such a scheme and flights between there and Australia and New Zealand are expected to cost at least a hundred pounds more for the lowest class of travel when the carbon tax kicks in towards the end of this year. Vary and smart travellers will in all likelihood see this coming early and book well in advance because the tax is formally levied, postponing the full brunt of the system for some months but say, from about a year and a half out from now the effect on people travelling out of the United Kingdom will be near total.

Quite clearly, the system aims at putting growing disincentives against travelling long distances and though long haul tourists do not form a major segment of the Pacific Islands’ tourist profile, it is indeed significant and will have a telling effect – most of all on charter destinations such as French Polynesia and New Caledonia.

Discussing the impending scenario in a high level industry meeting recently, one aviation thought leader said the aviation industry had grown to become an easy and politically popular target for imposing all kinds of disincentives, particularly of the environmental variety, quite out of proportion to the carbon emissions it actually produces.

In the coming months, there is little doubt that different components of the travel and tourism industry will begin to make their voice heard in a more concerted manner, to speak nothing of contemplating taking legal action, which indeed will spin the whole carbon debate out of laboratories and government bureaucrats and accountants’ offices on to international law courts.

In fact there are rumblings that major travel organisations in different parts of the world are already examining a legal recourse. Regardless of the outcome – carbon tax or not – ecological awareness is here to stay and will probably change the way future customers view products, services, activities and places through a fast evolving ecological prism.

The moot question is, how can economically and infrastructurally fragile environments like the Pacific Islands prepare for these future scenarios?

[subhead] Traipsing through the islands is not all fun

It’s fun to let one’s hair down once in a while and throw caution to the winds. It’s great to get into the holiday mood, become a little more cavalier than usual in everything you do as you laze around in flowery, colourful clothes and jandals.

It’s terrific to forget the regimens of the western world and be as casual and carefree as you possibly can while you enjoy the balmy tropical climes in the islands soaking yourself in coconut milk and more sinister stuff. That’s the picture perfect stereotype of island life.

A while back as I inched forward in the exhaustingly sluggish immigration queue at Nadi airport, a Kiwi dad howled at his overly jumpy and noisy son, “Look kid, we’re not in New Zealand, this is Fiji – I can spank you right here, you hear?” He was clearly delighting in the fact that the little brat had no recourse to report his dad for abuse. It’s a free world here in the islands.

One wonders if that’s the sort of cavalier “anything goes in the islands” attitude that imbued the Television New Zealand reporter who made a rather sweeping comment that Samoa was “awash” with guns and drugs. Unsurprisingly, the Samoan government was livid and sued the broadcaster. New Zealand’s Broadcasting Authority fined the broadcaster and asked it to pay damages to Samoa and the Crown.

More on that elsewhere in this issue. The pity though is that the Kiwi reporter in question is Pacific born and bred.

First appeared in Islands Business, April 2010