More than 4,700 exhibitors had stands at this years WTM (World Travel Market) at ExCeL in London. Billed as ‘The premier global event for the travel Industry’ it provides a networking opportunity for airlines, tour operators, hoteliers and tourist boards from around the world. Seminars on the agenda included insights into the travel industry trends, debates, discussions and practical advice. The most notable day of events was Wednesday 11th November 2009, WTM’s “World Responsible Tourism Day”.
Beneath the glamour,bright lights and glossy brochures, the search was on for a definition of ‘responsible tourism’. It was apparent that every stand had its own interpretation but scratching deep beneath the surface only a small handful stood out as being contributors to responsible travel.
Consider the following scenario; 4,700 stands, with an average of 3 marketing leaflets per stand, and 50,000 visitors (based on 2008 statistics). With standard A4 copy paper, the estimated number of marketing leaflets that exhibitors would need to supply, reaches a phenomenal total of 705,000. If only half of the exhibitors also produce small 10 page A4 brochures, a further 1,117,500 pages would be required. Many of the stands were represented by more than one person. If between them, they brought a quantity of 5000 business cards (10 per A4) to exchange, the total of business cards alone would soar to 3.1 million sheets. A staggering grand total of paper used could be as high as 5.1 million pieces, not including business cards brought by the visitors, the event organisers brochures, the press release packs, printed tickets or the endless plastic nick-knacks like pens. It was not apparent whether the literature or business cards examined were recycled or from sustainable well managed wood stocks like FSC UK (Forest Stewardship Council).
How many trees does this amount of paper equate to?
Based on correct woodland management schemes in the UK and trees like
“…Sitka Spruce (yield class 12) planted at 2 metre spacing ….realistically the ‘average tree’ produces 2,300 sheets of paper (from thinnings) “ confirms the Secretariat of Public Enquiries (FSC). Therefore in conclusion, over 2,300 trees may have been felled in order to satisfy exhibitions needs such as the WTM, equating to over 7km2 for one event. The calculation is based on sustained forestry practices, understandably, the true cost to the environment will be much higher if other countries around the world are not adopting similar management strategies.
The Slovenian Tourist Board’s stand looked unexpectedly barren, clinical and uninteresting. However, on closer examination, it was evident that they had thought about their impact on the environment by exhibiting. Showing the country’s willingness to recycle and commitment to a ‘Green’ world, the exhibition stand itself was from managed wood stocks. Ingeniously, previous brochures were also put to good use by using traditional Solvenian craftwork. Hats and notebooks adorned with pencils were among the many items created by weaving old paper pages. Fortunately, only a small quantity of current leaflets were on display as preference was to direct customers to their website for information.
Exhibitions on such a grand scale should strive to provide alternative ways of marketing. At the very least, in future, exhibitors should opt for minimal literature, referring consumers and business contacts to their respective websites after the initial contact has been made. With modern technology available a virtual online exhibition could also be considered. Ahead of the Copenhagen Summit, global and local exhibitions must concentrate on reducing not only the amount of paper used but also the carbon footprint of the event itself and its participants.
Emphasis on ‘responsible tourism’ needs to be an holistic approach not just the latest ‘buzz’ words . The consumer buying a ‘responsible tourism’ package needs to be assured that the organisation has conducted its business from initial conception through to the end product with environmental responsibility and awareness, rather than using the latest two-word bait and hook designed to land unwary customers.