Mauritius holds Africa’s first International Conference on Digitalization and Sustainable Tourism

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The first International Conference on Digitalization and Sustainable Tourism was recently held at the Le Méridien Hotel, Pointe aux Piments, in Mauritius. The two day high profile event attracted decision makers and stakeholders  from all spheres within the tourism industry internationally including a number of African countries, and was hosted by the Mauritius Ministry of Tourism with well over 400 delegates in attendance.

Tourism is a major source of income globally especially for smaller countries that have a rich diversity of offerings for international travellers, yet current issues of climate change, sustainability and digitalization together with super rapid progress in the data and information technology sectors are exerting a profound impact on tourism worldwide.

The conference provided an ideal platform for invited experts to share their views and insight in terms of balancing and paving the way forward in a digital age where all global tourism stakeholders will be able to harness opportunities while sustaining the tourism industry into the future.

Officially opened by Mauritian Prime Minster Pravind Jugnauth, in the presence of notable VIP guests such as  President Didier Robert of Reunion, Catherine Abelema Afeku – Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture of Ghana, Adil Hamid Daglo Mussa of the Republic of Sudan; Richard Via of Madagascar, Fekitamoeloa Utoikamanu – the United Nations Under Secretary-General and High Representative of the Least Developed Countries,  Dr. Dirk Glaesser of the UNWTO,  Alain St.Ange – former Seychelles Minister of Tourism, Pascal Viroleau – CEO of the Vanilla Islands, and the Mauritius Minister of Tourism Mr Anil Gayan.

Mauritian Prime Minster Pravind Jugnauth officially opening the conference

“What is significant is that between 5 and 8 % of carbon emissions come from tourism – the way that we use energy, the waste that we produce and the patterns of travel that we create.”

The conference offered a very impressive line-up of expert speakers, with the first plenary session and keynote address by Professor Geoffrey Lipman, President of the International Coalition of Tourism partners.

In an exclusive interview with Nomad Africa Magazine, Professor Lipman emphasized and heeded the call for climate change awareness and what needs to be done about the these challenges: “ In my presentation, I was trying to bring to this audience the realities of what climate change means for our world. The trends are very clear and we have been putting a blanket of carbon around the world in simple terms, and the consequence of that is that it is changing our weather patterns.”

“We are seeing more hurricanes, more flooding, more heat waves. We are actually seeing disruption and what is clear is that it is going to be more and more intense and irregular and the consequence of that is that we have problems with water and food production.”

Professor Lipman also emphasized an urgent need for co-operation and adherence to the Paris Agreement which aims to achieve the  long-term goals of global greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation to hopefully curb the increase the global average temperature to well below 2°C above of pre-industrial levels by significantly reducing risks and the impacts of climate change.

“With all the long term frame work targets in place, over time we will be able to moderate the reductions of carbon around the world – we cannot stop it but we can moderate it. To do that, we have to change our patterns of consumption and production. We have 30 to 40 years to do it but we have to start now.”

“What is significant is that between 5 and 8 % of carbon emissions come from tourism – the way that we use energy, the waste that we produce and the patterns of travel that we create.”

In terms of being sustainable in a digital age, what does it mean?

“We are arguing that there should be a new movement called Impact Travel. Until now we have been promoting travel as being something that is only doing good, but in the last 5-10 years we have come to understand the negative side – good impact and bad impact.”

Professor Lipman explained that tourism related travel should have 3 characteristics:

  1. Measure – “we have to measure the impact of travel, it is not enough to say it is good or bad – it has to be measured to what extent it is good or bad” he said.
  2. Green Growth Concept – “This should be a built-in mechanism, it has to be using renewable energy, low carbon, it has to inclusive and benefit not only people from outside countries, but also people and the communities within a country. It also has to take advantage of  technology and digitalization”
  3. Biodiversity & Nature-Conscious – “It is very important because these are the foundation of humanity”.

He emphasized that all of the above components have to incorporate long term planning so that the benefits are stretched over a period of time and not only for short term results.

”It is a disruption because destinations are becoming more important than travel and travellers themselves because when the tourists go home, the destinations are still there and they are left to deal with the consequences and how it affects their lifestyles.”

President of the International Coalition of Tourism partners – Professor Geoffrey Lipman, delivering his keynote address at the conference.

According to Professor Lipman tourism is “a growing and substantive part of all economies of all countries in the world. Every country has the capacity to be an exporter of their own product.”

“We know it’s a particularly good thing for small island states and countries and we can make tourism a discipline in schools because up until now, tourism is regarded as a sub section of geography. Even at universities there is a limited amount of education around travel”

“Tourism has not been put together in a comprehensive fashion and therefore we think that there is huge scope around the world for bringing the concept of Impact Travel into our education systems.”

Professor concluded that if the tourism industry is to meet the demands of the modern world, it has to “prove its sustainability and the challenge of carbon emissions has to be put on top of the priority list.”

Very insightful words by one of the world’s leading experts and a former top executive of IATA  (International Air Transport Association), WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council), WTO (World Trade Organization) and current president of ICTP (international Council of Tourism Partners) and the Green Growth Travelism Institute.

Nomad Africa Magazine spoke to the Mauritius Minister of Tourism Mr Anil Gayan SC, who explained the implications of digitalization and the collecting data in terms of it affecting the tourism sector.

“I personally have learnt a lot, I am sure that all those who attended this conference will look at digitalization in a different way not only at what it can do to improve the industry and our daily life, but also the dangers that digitalization can bring.”

“There are a few trends worldwide towards digitalization on a massive scale such as the impact of China on the tourism market where millions of bookings for tourism are made on a mobile telephone, the enormous collection of personal data, as well as the implementation of The EU General Data Protection Regulation on 25 May 2018.”

Mr Gayan also emphasized the very important need for privacy data protection regulations and how it will affect tourists. The dissemination of such data is a sensitive issue which stakeholders will need to navigate through within the context of digitalization and how they conduct their business.

“All these are issues that prompted us to have this conference so that all stakeholders in the industry will be aware of what is involved and to prevent any mishaps in the handling of personal data. We think that our operators need to know all the implications of what is happening in the world.”

“I want to make it very clear that we are very concerned that there should be no attempt of any kind on the privacy of an individual. We need to protect the privacy of the individual but of course as modern life goes on there will be a lot of personal data that will be collected. We cannot get out of the system but whether – we get out of the system or not, and since we have no choice but to be in the system, we need to have an environment where we can protect personal data. If data is going to used, we have to make sure it is going to be used with the consent of the person and that the person always has control  over whatever personal data of his or her is in the custody or under the control of an operator in the tourism industry.”

In terms of Mauritius being technology ready, Mr Gayan went onto explain that although Mauritius is a small island, internet, computer literacy and information technology is already implemented in primary school level. He said: “We have, as part of our government program, focused on information technology as one of the great movers of the economy in the years to come.”

“Mauritius has no natural resources so we need to look for services that will bring value additions in whatever we do. Our workforce leans towards the IT sector, but there are things happening globally of which we have no control over, and of which we need to be aware of so that we can at least catch up and take the lead in our part of the world.”

Mauritius Minister of Tourism – Mr Anil Gayan SC in his interview with Nomad Africa Magazine

“I personally have learnt a lot, I am sure that all those who attended this conference will look at digitalization in a different way not only at what it can do to improve the industry and our daily life, but also the dangers that digitalization can bring.”

The conference was also ground breaking in terms of providing a platform for those countries that still need to get on the digital high speed train in a manner of speaking.

Mrs Gbian Moukaila, Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Sport of République du Bénin said: “Digitalization is a trend which will become a normal way of doing business in tourism. People are shifting away from human contact and travel agencies.”

“Tourism in Bénin is in its infancy so being here at this event gives us a broader perspective on the way tourism is progressing in the world. We will take everything that we have learnt here and implement it in Bénin. Not long ago we obtained the digital code for our country and we are one of the few countries in West Africa that has this. This will enable us to use digitalization in tourism and this is the reason why I have come here, to take advantage of the experience of Mauritius and all other participants of this conference.”

“Although tourism is not something new in Bénin, government action towards tourism has been increased by our new president. The authorities do understand that tourism can increase our standard of living, our economy and the well-being of the population”

 

“Mauritius has no natural resources so we need to look for services that will bring value additions in whatever we do. Our workforce leans towards the IT sector, but there are things happening globally of which we have no control over, and of which we need to be aware of so that we can at least catch up and take the lead in our part of the world.”

 

Mrs Moukaila told Nomad Africa Magazine that since being elected 2 years ago, Béninese President Patrice Talon has been very progressive in recognizing that the tourism sector needs to be expanded. Cultural tourism offers historical elements of slavery and vodun religious practises which feature very prominently in Béninese society. Roads, as well as new infrastructure and museums are being built to cater for an expected upsurge of tourism in the future.

The minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture of the Republic Ghana Catherine Afeku said the conference was “very informative and an eye opener.”

“Looking at what they were sharing at the conference, and how ICT revolutionized the future of tourism, I am walking away with a sense of optimism. A new generation is actually going to make tourism more robust and more exponential. I would like to use the word explosive for Africa.”

The minister said this is all the more relevant since Ghana is emerging as a tourist destination. “The new government that has come into office has seen the potential of tourism as a tangible product that will outlive recession. With the younger generation and middle income spending power that is coming into the continent (Africa), we see tourism as a viable economic growth curve and if we put resources into it, it can and it is already generating jobs. It is a policy and a sector with a lot of focus now by the current government.”

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth speaking to Senegalese Tourism Representative Mr Ba Babacar at the conference

The ground breaking conference concluded over 2 days with some very important decisions coming from the participants with the underlying fact that all stakeholders need to acknowledge that sustainable tourism implies amongst others issues:

  1. the optimum use of environmental resources;
  2. respect for the socio-cultural authenticity of the host communities;
  3. viable, long term economic operations
  4. the provision of socio-economic benefits including stable employment

Addressing digitalization the conference achieved various objectives, specifically also launching an appeal to  create a Working Group on Digital Platforms aimed at “identifying, analysing and proposing a balanced approach, exchanging best practices and helping in developing regulatory framework and policies to create a level playing field for tourism service suppliers”.

What this means is that digitalization will be key in how the tourism industry conducts itself, insofar that all stakeholders will have to eventually transition themselves into a digital environment. It is not a question of if but of how best can this be achieved within a new gigantic digital matrix that needs to be carefully managed and steered well into the future by all.

At the conference from left to right: Dr. Dirk Glaesser – UNWTO, President Didier Robert – La Reunion, Mr Anil Gayan, SC – Minster of Tourism Mauritius, Alain St.Ange – former Minister of Tourism Seychelles Prime Minster Pravind Jugnauth of Mauritius

“Travel and Tourism Industry shall take proper steps in collecting consumers’ data with their explicit consent and protecting same during any transfer from Europe to any countries”.

It was also very significant and notable that the conference resolved “to ensure compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation of the European Union” and that the “Travel and Tourism Industry shall take proper steps in collecting consumers’ data with their explicit consent and protecting same during any transfer from Europe to any countries”.

This is seen as being very important in abiding and supporting the trends that were already investigated and adopted a while ago by the EU  whose countries are now having to co-operate on a grand scale digitally with regard to servicing the tourism industry.

The Mauritius conference on Digitalization and Sustainable Tourism certainly has paved the way forward in a very positive and optimistic for international delegates and specifically African countries to go back to their countries and lay the groundwork and plug-in mechanisms that will ultimately secure their own tourism sectors into the future.

For a complete overview of the Mauritius Declaration on Digitalisation and Sustainable Tourism go to: https://www.tourismconference.mu/sites/default/files/videos/declaration-final-and-adopted-amended-25.05.18.pdf

 

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