The world's largest travel fair opened this week in London with a strong focus on green issues highlighting the ever-increasing pressure on the tourism industry to promote environmentally friendly ways of seeing the world.
Other trends identified at the opening of the World Travel Market 2007 included the rise of Halal tourism in the Middle East, the role of mobile phones in revolutionizing the Asian travel industry and the growth of "voluntourism". The four days gathering in London's docklands business district has attracted tourism officials, government delegations, tour operators and airlines from more than 200 countries focusing on the promotion of sustainable tourism described as the planning of trips around humanitarian purposes. North Africa was identified to become one of the world's tourism hot spots, with Libya and Algeria the latest countries predicted to have the potential to share in the boom that neighboring countries such as Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia are enjoying. Australia was at the top of the Country Brand Index followed by the United States, Britain, France and Italy, while Croatia, China and the United Arab Emirates were presented as the three ''top rising stars,'' or those that will become major tourist destinations in the next five years. The potential for a boom in Halal ("permissible" under the Islam) tourism in the Middle East is fueled by intra-regional travelers encouraged in part by the difficulty of obtaining visas for Western Europe and the United States. Forecasts are for 66% growth in inbound tourists by 2011 to 55 million people. The possibility of a Halal startup airline was also considered following on the budget airline experience of the Vatican earlier this year to transport pilgrims to holy sites. A Halal airline could provide food prepared according to Muslim religious requirements, include prayers and provide separate sections for male and female travelers. Even an "ice bar", with no alcohol served, as in some Arab country flag carriers. The role of mobile phones in Asia in the tourism industry as a potentially explosive trend that could eventually be exported to the United States and Europe was also analyzed. Mobile phones have penetrated Asia-Pacific markets more than the Internet, opening up access to lower-income consumers because of low-cost monthly packages. A number of regional travel operators have already caught on to the use of text messaging, with Philippine Airlines and Cebu Air providing SMS ticketing while Singapore Airlines sends SMS confirmation services to its local customers. The conference hosted a UN World Tourism Organization summit on climate change and launched the World Responsible Tourism Day. Organizers handed out responsible tourism awards and a panel discussion on whether wildlife tourism in India can save the tiger was one of many green-themed talks. Steve Ridgway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., said that the airline industry had made significant progress via technological progress and voluntary change to promote greener flying but has "done a bad job talking about it". Ridgway said the industry needed to balance the economic benefits of tourism with the cost to the environment. "Where would the Caribbean economies be without the jet engine? They would be nowhere", he said. "But that is not to say that we don't have a responsibility". Mike Forster, director for strategy and development at British airports operator BAA reiterated his support for an EU plan for airlines to join an emissions trading system. Tourism depends on energy-guzzling jumbo jets, air-conditioned hotel complexes and swimming pools kept pristine with environmentally damaging chemicals. But with the sector contributing to some 5% of global carbon emissions, its impact cannot be ignored.