Travel: Green Channel

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Green Channel

This week the tourism industry has been obsessed with "E"s. The first "E" was Environmental. Wednesday night saw bigwigs in the industry flocking to the Banqueting House in London to see the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards for projects "which have made a positive contribution towards their local environment or heritage". Winners included a nature reserve in Hawaii, a hotel in India, the St Lucia Marine Park and the waterfront rejuvenation in Birmingham (see story, page 9).

The second "E" was Ecological. On Thursday afternoon, environmentalists and tourism industry executives debated whether there should be no-go areas for tourism. The event, held at the Royal Geographical Society and chaired by David Bellamy, highlighted interesting issues - such as whether there should be areas that no one is allowed to visit, since they are just too ecologically sensitive. Or would that simply deny local people the right to earn a living?

And anyone who thinks they understand anything about E knows that it gives you the energy to rave on all night. So on Thursday evening the green revellers moved on to Radio 4 to record a debate linked with the travel exhibition, Destinations '98, at Olympia this weekend. Led by Julian Pettifer, the panellists took on another "E" - Ethics. Can we travel to Burma with a sound conscience if the military are forcing people to build the tourism infrastructure without pay? Is the new-found environmental awareness just green tourism marketing hype, or practical reality? What will happen when people from countries such as India and China start travelling? Do we have the monopoly on travel, just because we did it first?

The grandaddy of environmentalism, David Bellamy, insists that the tourism industry is getting greener - slowly. "Think how quickly package tourism ruined the Costa del Sol. Tourism is now the world's largest industry - it has ousted the petroleum industry from first place ... but they are beginning to put their house in order. The problem is that the high-rise hooligans and cheap package boys are always three steps ahead, and ready to ruin another destination. Our challenge is to keep up."

Radio 4's debate on ethical tourism will be broadcast on 7 March at 11.30am

Sue Wheat