Admittedly, Professor Geoffrey Lipman is one of those persons whose professional experience and biography are more suited for a book and hardly fit into a single interview. His story is certainly among the most intriguing we have come across so far in our interview series with sustainable tourism thinkers, shakers and doers.
A “Creative Disruption Architect”, Geoffrey Lipman has held many posts, has been at the helm of some of tourism’s most reputable organizations – and judging by his enthusiasm for GreenGrowth and the SUN project, there is no end in sight for his career as facilitator and entrepreneur.
- Persons and events which inspired Geoffrey Lipman throughout his long career in travel;
- His main professional insights and lessons learned;
- What Travelism is and what role it plays for sustainability;
- Which were the early sustainability issues in tourism, and what happened to them;
- The key ingredient for sustainable tourism solutions;
- The key to solving issues with climate change;
- The purpose and mission of Green Growth and the Sun Program;
- Which books on sustainability and tourism he highly recommends;
- What he’d do different, given the chance to start over again.
Geoffrey, when and where did your sustainable tourism journey begin – when did you discover your passion for sustainability?
In Geneva in 1991 – prior to the Rio Earth Summit the following year – I had a number of meetings with the late Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the Summit, to discuss the place of Travel & Tourism in the meeting. That began a friendship and on my part, learning experience. It’s not only what Maurice taught me – simple, obvious things – but his steadfast belief in the principles of planetary co-existence, rights and duties, as well as the role that Travelism (Travel & Tourism) must play.
As the President (and only employee) of the then newly created World Travel & Tourism Council, I wanted to get my head around the sustainability issues. Back then we were preaching the importance of Travel & Tourism as a socio-economic agent, so sustainability was a crucial aspect.
Later at the Rio conference [Earth Summit], I found myself among a handful of tourism people who were thinking about sustainability. It was the moment when some of the most thoughtful and committed people in the world joined together to make our future sustainable. I just wanted to be a part of it and believed that WTTC had a possibility and obligation to be in a leadership role.
During the meeting I met many leading thinkers – most notably Jonathon Porritt (Founder of Forum for the Future), who convinced me that we needed to go further, faster. So I asked Maurice Strong what he would advise and he said do an Agenda 21-focused study of the tourism sector. We did that and shared it with UNWTO (WTO as it then was), and together held regional educational sessions on all continents to spread the findings and the sustainability message.
My then Chairman at the WTTC, James Robinson (who was Chair of American Express), was incredibly supportive of this work, as were others in the Board, like Paul Dubrule and Gerard Pellisson of Accor. Without that early support nothing could have been achieved in WTTC, because sustainable development was not the raison d’etre of the organization.
We created a research centre, launched one of the first industry certification programs – Green Globe, which later helped to spawn Earthcheck and CAST Caribbean. We also started some of the first Sustainable Travel & Tourism events and Awards with World Travel Market.