Yeoh Siew Hoon attends PATA conference sessions in Macau listening to experts talk about the environment and China, and draws parallels between the two discussions.
In one room, two of the world's leading environmentalists were lamenting the state of the environment.
Professor David Suzuki – speaking at the PATA Annual Conference in Macau last week – felt that not much progress had been made since he last spoke at a PATA conference in Bali 10 years ago.
Referring to the conference, he said, "Since my first invitation to speak at this conference, I have been receiving material. Our bags are filled with papers everyday."
In jumped Professor David Bellamy, who said, "And each day you have rows of shuttle buses with the air-condition on and engines running while they wait to transfer delegates."
Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler added, "And hotels – they tell you to leave your towels on the rack if you don't want them washed but what do they do? They wash them anyway. And the soap bars, why do they need to change them everyday?
"If you are really serious about the environment, you've got to get your act together," he told the half-filled room.
Across the hall, in another much more crowded room, another panel was sharing insights into how to tap the world's biggest market.
A market that will soon unleash millions upon millions of travellers onto the world – travellers who will all need to fly fuel-guzzling aircraft, sleep in energy-hungry hotels and move about in various forms of petrol-thirsty transportation.
A market that will produce millions upon millions of consumers who will want to buy cars, televisions, computers, and all forms of goods our world has in store for them.
A market that will have the single biggest impact on the environment the world has seen in recent years …
It was an irony that wasn't lost on me as I sat, listening to the panel, which included Wheeler, calling on us in tourism to get as energy-efficient as we can, to educate our customers to become better tourists and for each of us to become better citizens.
"We've got to make people want things, for example, only staying in lodges in Nepal that use solar-heating. It has become a selling benefit for them," said Wheeler, who believes that money can be the driving force for companies to become more environmentally-friendly.
Suzuki, however, believes some things are sacred and while money and profitability are important, it should not be the bottomline.
"No industry or government has a god-given right to exist – you don't mess with the environment. If you have a product that degrades the environment, you have to pay to clean it up."
He called it "full lifespan accounting".
"You have to put the entire costs into the product. If we did that, a lot of businesses would not be in business."
There was one thing Wheeler and Suzuki agreed on. Responsibility rests with the individual. It starts with us as consumers.
"We need to demand things," said Wheeler.
Suzuki said, "Before you shop for anything, you've got to think about it. Cotton clothes, televisions, cars – your purchase has repercussions."
Later, during the repeat session on sustainable tourism, John Morse, former managing director of the Australian Tourist Commission, brought up the China factor, shared some numbers and asked the panellists, how is the industry to manage this growth?
Saying he had been unaware of the scale of China's tourism market, Suzuki said that while he had been sad before about the state of the world environment, now he was depressed.
The China panel also touched on the possible repercussions on tourism of the current anti-Japanese protests in China. Panellists said that if they weren't contained, there could be longer term impact.
In the coffee break area, a Japanese delegate shared a local saying with me. "When you spit in the wind, it comes back in your face."
It sounded very similar to what Suzuki had said, when he urged us to become more discerning consumers, "What we do comes back and affects us."
That night though, all worries about China and the environment were thrown to the wind as delegates donned chicken feathers in their hair, posed with scantily-clad ladies and drank and danced the night away.
In the morning, I ran into a photographer at the airport. Lamenting his lack of sleep from the night before, he said, "God, I love those late night parties with themes. Those scantily-clad ladies last night – everyone wanted to take photographs with them. It made my job so easy."The SHY Report
A regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry by one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, Yeoh Siew Hoon.
Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection". She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'. Contacts: Tel: 65-63424934, Mobile: 65-96801460