As the SLOW LIFE Symposium – one of the travel and tourism industry’s most exclusive and prestigious events – draws to a close, it pays to reflect on the past few days. The Symposium drew Hollywood A-listers, top business CEOs, a head of state and senior environmental campaigners together in the Maldives to discuss how to make tourism a benefit rather than a threat to the planet’s environment. The aim of the event is to progress sustainability in travel and tourism, particularly in small – and climate-vulnerable – island states. To what extent did the event succeed?
The Symposium, organised by the luxury resort company Six Senses, drew actors Daryl Hannah and Edward Norton, business leader and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, the heads of two solar power companies and green thinkers Jonathon Porritt and Tim Smit to Soneva Fushi resort in Baa Atoll, Maldives.
They were joined by President Nasheed of the Maldives, who has committed his country to becoming carbon neutral by 2020, and delivered a keynote speech outlining the progress his administration has so far made towards achieving the goal. This includes publishing an online plan for carbon neutral electricity, moving towards a 60% solar power goal and changing import duties to encourage electric vehicles.
President Nasheed told delegates that what the Maldives is doing should be a model for others. “Interest in new technology is a blessing for the Maldives,” he said. “We won’t save the world by becoming carbon neutral – we emit nothing compared with other countries – but if we can demonstrate a low carbon development strategy that can be copied elsewhere, it will be a step in the right direction.”
Overall the aviation industry accounts for more than 5% of greenhouse gas emissions, which are responsible for causing global warming – more than the whole continent of Africa. Virgin Group entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson told the Symposium that dealing with aircraft emissions was a must: “We have been diverting our profit from airlines into developing fuel for aircraft that won’t damage the environment.” Since leaving the Maldives, Branson has announced a new target for making several Virgin Atlantic routes carbon neutral by using new fuels.
The tone of the conference was extremely positive, with many speakers emphasising the opportunities inherent in making tourism sustainable. Branson said that winning the climate battle was the “biggest entrepreneurial opportunity of our lifetime”, whilst President Nasheed also emphasised that he saw green growth as an opportunity for his country rather than a cost and hoped that the Maldives could become a laboratory for new clean technologies appropriate for tropical island locations worldwide.
The actor Edward Norton – whose world-leading work with the Maasai people in Kenya is already helping tourism raise millions to fund conservation – congratulated President Nasheed on his policies. Norton also showcased his work with the Baswood company, which pioneers ecologically-friendly sewage treatment options for islands and cities alike. Daryl Hannah focused in particular on marine biodiversity, praising the new designation of Baa Atoll as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Six Senses is now working with other resort companies in the atoll to pioneer a funding model to conserve the coral reefs and the fish species in the area through no-take zones and other measures.
Six Senses has also committed to making Soneva Fushi a zero-carbon resort by 2013, and is in the process of installing a second large solar photovoltaic facility on the island. Both business leaders and politicians – including the Maldives environment and tourism ministers, both also present at the conference – are now discussing ways to bring multi-megawatt solar power generation to more Maldives islands on an accelerated scale.
Six Senses CEO Sonu Shivdasani, host of the meeting, said: “The SLOW LIFE Symposium brought together some incredible minds in the field of sustainable tourism and business. I fully expect some wonderful initiatives to come out of the work done last week.” Mr Shivdasani added that he was already thinking of next year’s event, and hoped that returning attendees could report back substantial progress.
A number of significant proposals were made during the Symposium. As details are finalised, and progress made, reports will be made throughout the year on this website. Watch this space!