PATA CEO Speaks at UNWTO Green Event

PATA CEO Martin Craigs addressed the UNWTO high level regional conference on Green Tourism in Chiang Mai Thailand on May 3.

The event was attended by Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Tourism Minister and UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. Craigs told the audience: “Tourism cannot go on always being Mr Nice Guy and left in the waiting room (or in queues at Heathrow); we need to speak up with a unified voice and avoid division and fragmentation.

“Excellency the Honourable Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, Minister, my new good friend and mentor the Secretary General of the UNWTO, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning!

It is a great pleasure and indeed a privilege to share this stage with leaders of such influence on the travel and tourism sector and to share the wisdom that will no doubt be generated here over the next three days.

For over 60 years PATA has been the voice of Asia Pacific travel and tourism, and with the rapid development of Asia over the last few decades, we moved our operations from our long-standing home in San Francisco to Bangkok in 1998 in order to be in closer contact with our members and of course closer to the action!

We were of course, warmly welcomed by the Thai government and related commercial concerns.

In addition and like all long established associations today, we are reinventing ourselves as next generation PATA to stay relevant and value adding in the Internet age.

PATA also looks forward to continuing to work closely with the Thai government on issues of mutual interest as we do with the UNWTO, IATA and the WTTC as well as with all of our friends and colleagues and friends in the private sector of the travel and tourism industry.

Personally, I am profoundly gratefully to Taleb Rifai for welcoming me as the new, and some might say still green (in tourism management experience), CEO of PATA, a role I assumed since the 31st of October last year. Taleb you are an outstanding example of the outreach and empathy that UN agencies require and demand from their leaders.

You are a world-class orator and a listener as well and I know your speech will well demonstrate that you are a man on a vital mission when it comes to finding both the path less travelled and an intelligence balance between PROFITS, PEOPLE and PLANET.

I also wish to use this very special moment, ahead of the T20/G20 in Mexico and the COP-18 in Rio to reinforce PATA’s view that travel and tourism remains a vital sector of the world economy but as such has, particularly in recent times, been under appreciated, over-taxed and illogically regulated by many western governments.

The UK government via its Air Passenger Duty (APD) – which I maintain is a detention tax in all but name – is a prime example of precisely these collective ills.

A UK family of four now has to pay over US$ 500 in APD for permission to take a holiday here in Thailand or around the ASEAN region. I also wonder if any meaningful amount of the 3-billion-plus pounds collected by HMG will go to green initiatives as was envisaged when the APD started in 1994.

Remember also that this tax began at five pounds per head in 1994 but is now 90 pounds per head to Zone D the Asia/Pacific region.

PATA is very vocal on this and similar issues and has been speaking out at a multitude of international platforms in recent months. In addition, we will be hosting a dinner at the British House of Parliament on Monday the 5th of November to further raise awareness and confront the culprits, as you all also need to do.

Tourism cannot go on always being MR NICE GUY and left in the waiting room, (or in queues at Heathrow); we need to speak up with a unified voice and avoid division and fragmentation. This is yet another reason why I am delighted to support Taleb’s advocacy activities with the WTTC in Mexico later this month. Tourism will, via this process, be fully and formally included on the agenda of the leaders of the G20 when they meet in Mexico in June. The COP18 follows in Rio and PATA will also be represented there, with we hope, the charismatic support of Bruce Poon Tip who electrified the closing session of our AGM in Kuala Lumpur just two weeks ago.

Travel and tourism remains an essential part of the Thai economy, creating as it does close to 15% of jobs in the Kingdom and forming a platform for building increasing prosperity.

However as the conference title very appropriately demonstrates, priority must be given to building future travel and tourism business with sustainable strategies generated by open and enquiring minds showing us all how to employ win-win green practises.

It is also a pleasure to be back in cheerful Chang Mai, a historic city I first explored as a young and somewhat naive Airline sales executive in 1982. Short Brothers, my company at that time sold 30 seat commuter airliners to Thai Airways, whose distinctive pink colour scheme was seen on very short haul routes to Chang Rai and other regional tourist and business centres within a radius of 200 miles.

In my naivety I wondered how the airline could attract passengers, assuming there were fast and wide highways between Chang Rai and other cities and towns.
My point in reflecting on this 30 year old learning experience is to highlight the need for aviation as a link and a life blood to build business and unite societies across the vast topographically challenging land mass and archipelagos of Asia Pacific.

Aviation’s carbon footprint needs to be mitigated and its dependence on fossil fuels changed, we all know and accept that, but aviation is one industry that does have a credible plan and clear targets and is one that has rapidly embraced and invested in bio-fuel testing. Thai International Airways in fact was the first airline in Asia to complete a bio-fuel powered commercial passenger flight with TG104 last December.

Finally I would like to remind everyone that PATA has been at the forefront of pioneering work on the ‘green agenda’ beginning in the early 1970s and with the creation of the PATA Foundation in 1984.

We have also undertaken many Task Force evaluations and studies, including a number of sustainable development and responsible tourism (or eco-tourism as it has been called in the past), both in Thailand and in other PATA member destinations across the region.

And rather than rest on our laurels, we plan to become even more deeply involved in championing the development of travel and tourism in a manner that is sustainable, rewarding and protective of cultures, heritage and our extensive biodiversity. Obviously we cannot do this on our own so I warmly welcome you to join with us all as we venture further down this road.

In conclusion PATA next generation looks forward very much to a continuing collaboration with Taleb and his hard working team.

Thank you very much for the invitation to be with you all here in uplifting and lovely Chang Mai.

Happy landings to all!”