Hollywood actor Edward Norton hit out at “greenwashing” and “non-sustainable versions of luxury” in tourism when he addressed the World Travel & Tourism Council summit in Riyadh on Wednesday.
Norton called for certified standards of sustainability in tourism and urged travel agents and the travel media “not to accept what brands put out about themselves”.
He told the summit: “The defining challenge of the 21st Century is adapting our economies to be ecologically sustainable and to put the brakes on global warming. This challenge has to be met by the tourism industry.”
Norton argued: “An ensuite plunge pool is a non-sustainable version of luxury. The fact that someone comes to look at the wildlife at your camp does not make you an ecotourism operator.
“Tourism gets credit for the positive connections it promotes but it can be an extractive industry with negative environmental and social consequences.”
Norton recounted visiting “the niche eco-resort” of a well-known brand which he said used a grant from the USAID agency to build a 70km pipeline from “a strained community water source”.
He argued: “That is not acceptable. You can’t call yourself an ecotourism operator if you’re pulling water from a community source, and that goes on all the time.
“We have to raise the bar higher on sustainability standards for the tourism industry.”
He argued: “The travel press and travel agents have to go deeper. You can’t just accept what brands put out about themselves. We need a travel industry standard on sustainability and not just to regurgitate greenwashing.
“We need real standards and to have them audited.”
Norton added: “People talk about the economic benefits [of tourism], and employment is a real benefit, but we all know the private equity returns on travel nearly all go not only out of the community but out of the country.”
He said: “We have to have a planet that can sustain our life and if this industry doesn’t play its role, given the number of people who get on planes, it’s not going to happen.”
Norton also told the summit: “Travel and film are close cousins. Film offers a potential introduction to a wider world and, if a film works, you project yourself into the lives of others. That is what we want from travel – an experience of being somewhere wider.”