Showtime: Tick the carbon credits box

SINGAPORE, 15 January 2020: Mulling over where I should travel this year, particularly conferences and travel trade shows, I tumbled on a travel association telling its members they can now buy carbon credits from its “Neutral Together” programme.

The US-based Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) programme rolled out 1 January claiming to be the first of its kind for the adventure travel industry. Just how many travel associations have carbon offsetting programmes in Asia, I wonder?

I have to admit in all the decades of travel, I have never paid a cent for a carbon offset. I suspected carbon offsetting was simply a speculative venture that sold trees planted on an imaginary plot of land in some obscure part of northeast Thailand.

I checked out the list of reliable carbon offsetting agencies. They are mostly registered in the US and promise your dollar donations will help to fund trusted projects to appease your carbon transgressions. One project close to home caught my attention. It provides eco-drinking water filters in Cambodia while another supported a wind farm in northeast Thailand.

Tourism’s global carbon emissions stand at around 8% of which airlines generate 40%, while the damage caused by the tourism industry going about the business of selling travel is minuscule in comparison.  Still, we can make a difference if travel and hospitality companies voluntarily pay a carbon offset when they assign staff to attend a travel show or conference.

We could start by attending only those travel shows that offer a carbon offset programme in the registration. It would need to be as easy as ticking a box on a registration page, and companies would need to authorise the additional travel expense on behalf of their staff.

This week, close to 800 travel and hospitality executives flew to Brunei to attend the ASEAN Tourism Forum for no other good reason than they fear their trade buddies might forget them if they give it a miss. It’s a weak argument as they have at least another 50 events lined up in the year to enjoy buddy reunions. We have Facebook and trade show friends with whom we exchange hail and hearty greetings, but at a trade show,  back slaps, hugs and pecks on the cheek punctuate our greetings. It’s called face-to-face networking. How many pecks on the cheek do you get in a year if you are on the travel show circuit?

A more pertinent question would be how many trade show delegates buy carbon credits? Probably very few. Like so many trade shows, the ATF is already a carbon emission disaster from end-to-end when you consider the mountains of paper, plastic, food and booth decoration waste. Sustainable tourism might be a show theme, but it certainly is not practised by the ATF organisers who are more comfortable with what critics call “green lies” and no one is in a hurry to conduct an audit on a show’s impact on the environment any time soon.

Instead, trade show organisers concentrate on revenue streams and boosting profit. Paper is consumed to produce non-news show dailies when there are perfectly acceptable alternatives in the digital age. ITB Asia saw three dinosaur print dailies circulating at the show last October (one official, two clandestine) when delegates were happily glued to their mobile phones reading the same news online.

Why do we accept this money grasping nonsense in the digital era?

My New Year resolution; stay clear of shows that continue to plunder with dinosaur print dailies and condone other forms of waste banned elsewhere decades earlier. Give us clean, green shows or get out of the events business.