Rather than cost, the Middle East’s luxury travel sector should focus on the long-term gains offered by decarbonisation, waste reduction, and community initiatives. That was the assessment of experts speaking on the opening day of Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2023, which will run at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) until Thursday 4 May.
Sustainable Luxury: At What Cost?’ included a range of insights into how luxury travel is leading the tourism industry’s sustainable change in the Middle East. Moderated by Joe Mortimer, Editor-at-Large at Destination of the World News, panelists included
Nadia Ibrahim, Member of the Board of Directors of the UN Global Compact; Amir Golbarg, Senior Vice President of Operations – Middle East & Africa at Minor Hotels; Candice D’Cruz, VP of Luxury Brands at Marriott International; and William Harley-Fleming, Vice President of Operations for JA The Resort and Indian Ocean.
Commenting on the growing demand for sustainable offerings among consumers, the UN Global Compact’s Ibrahim said: “Luxury and sustainability have not always gone hand in hand, but this is changing. We are encountering a new generation of travellers that wants high-end experiences that do not compromise sustainability. This is why airlines, hotels, travel agencies, and tourist destinations are thinking about how sustainability can be integrated into their existing services, and how it can be used to attract more customers.”
Referencing the approach Minor Hotels’ Anantara brand has taken to sustainable luxury, Golbarg said: “Globalisation opened the doors to the world, but I think localisation is now equally important. We took the decision to go indigenous as a lot of the costs associated with sustainability relate to the importation of goods. It’s all about how you benefit the communities in which you operate. We need to shift our focus away from short-term costs towards long-term gains.”
Marriott International’s D’Cruz told attendees these considerations are increasingly reflected by consumers. “We are seeing that luxury travellers want to spend more time really connecting with the places they visit. They also want to be involved with brands. It’s no longer a one-way conversation, and if you’re having two-way, how transparent are you being? Luxury consumers tend to be less forgiving; they want to connect with brands that reflect their values, and sustainability is definitely one of those values.”
JA The Resort and Indian Ocean’s Harley-Fleming emphasised the necessity of positive action, noting there is a genuine business case for sustainability. “This is not ‘Plan B’,” he said. “It’s not a choice anymore; it’s something we must do. The cost of not [investing in sustainability] can adversely affect your business and its reputation. And at the end of the day, our industry does generate jobs, so we’ve got to act right now.”
Day one of ATM 2023 featured 20 sessions across the Global Stage, Travel Tech Stage, and Sustainability Hub. Other highlights from the day included the Technology: The Enabler of Sustainable Travel session, the funding of sustainability, and Enhancing the Customer Experience Through AI. The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance also touched on the importance of protecting the locations, livelihoods and communities in which hotels are based, in the Achieving Net Positive Hospitality session.
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