Capital to host conference on sustainable tourism

The three-day event will see industry and government officials as well as academics considering how to protect ecosystems while encouraging visitors.

ABU DHABI // Tourism threatens to destroy 60 per cent of the world's ecosystems, according to the World Tourism Organisation. It may not be a topic of discussion during your next beach holiday, but for 3,000 tourism enthusiasts it is reason enough to jet to Abu Dhabi for the World Green Tourism Conference. The three-day event, which starts on November 22, will see industry and government officials as well as leading academics considering the future of sustainable travel.

As a tourist destination, Abu Dhabi is committed to setting high standards, Mr Oisin Commane, the group director of event organisers Streamline Marketing Group, said. "Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority [ADTA] is taking this initiative very seriously and setting strict environmental rules in the sector," he said. "Sustainability is not about the environment alone, it encompasses other important factors."

These factors include the effects of tourism on local culture, whether it helps to create jobs and whether it is economically viable.  "The issue of sustainable travel has been discussed before, but not at a level like World Green Tourism Abu Dhabi," Mr Commane said. He said global companies were more aware of consumers making conscious decisions on how their travel affects the environment.  This month, Abu Dhabi tourism sector received a B-grade for its first sustainability report.

The ranking was handed down by the Global Reporting Initiative after studying the goals of the emirate. The initiative tracks sustainability initiatives throughout the world. The aim is to encourage disclosure, and level B is just one below its full disclosure standard. "This report acts as a baseline from which our annual performance will be measured and presented," said Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, the chairman of ADTA.

In response to the grade, ADTA said it will focus on rolling out programmes by the end of 2010 such as the Green Hotels, development of risk management assessments and the establishment of a Health, Safety and Environment department. "Tourism is acknowledged as an economic diversification driver," said ADTA's strategy and policy director, Lawrence Franklin. "But Abu Dhabi's approach is that it must be managed carefully to minimise any negative socio-economic impact from investment in the sector."