Industry should sacrifice short-term profits for long-term gain, says Giles Hawke, chief executive of Cosmos and Avalon Waterways. 

It seems to be the season of conferences again. Social media is awash with pictures, stories and news from sun-kissed parts of the world and, depending on what you hear and who you believe, this has been a record year or an awful year, and 2019 is going to be amazing or horrendous.

Whatever the real facts, there are a few inescapable realities we all face as we hurtle towards 2019. As far as I see it, the two biggest challenges and opportunities for the travel industry in 2019 and beyond are Brexit and climate change, and I can see future conferences addressing these issues for a few years to come.

Brexit and climate

The uncertainty that exists over Brexit is undoubtedly affecting business and consumer confidence. It will inevitably lead to some failures as well as some new entrants and successes.

The pound is volatile and makes buying most goods and services from overseas more expensive. Brexit also sparks media debate over our ability to travel, and if we need different passports and driving licences and the like. These are all real factors affecting consumer propensity to buy. Some are ignoring this. Others are holding off booking until there is more certainty.

Climate change is arguably an even bigger issue, as it has such far reaching, worldwide implications. We, in the travel industry, can directly impact climate change and are directly impacted by it. Reading the UN and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports makes for worrying reading but does offer hope as it isn’t too late to do something. Unilaterally, the travel industry won’t be able to make a big impact, but we can all do our bit to reduce our footprint, act responsibly and encourage customers to do so.

There are some great examples of travel companies leading from the front: Virgin Atlantic’s recent biofuel-powered flight, cruise lines building LNG-powered vessels and tour operators supporting projects to replace forests and repair damage caused by tourism. These are good news stories.

One thing is certain. If we don’t do something, destinations will change drastically and we will have to react to changing landscapes, more ‘natural’ catastrophes and constant crises.

Conference call

I don’t believe all conferences should be focused on the challenges we face. But I do believe they should be focused on what is going to impact our industry and look to provide real solutions, alongside opportunities to debate what we can practically do about these very real issues. This is not the time for putting the telescope to our blind eye and saying “I see no ships”, but for working together to understand what is happening and how we can do something about it. Whether that be Brexit, climate change, the skills gap, diversity, equality or any of the other big issues of our time.

Our conferences should focus on helping us all deal with these – even, dare I say, at the risk of sacrificing short-term profit (if that’s what it needs) to bring about long-term benefit.

So, I challenge travel conference organisers to help delegates make sense of the really big issues so they are able to do something about them.