Demand for oil a key issue at international tourism conference

19 February 2013

The role travel plays in transforming lives formed the third and final keynote address at the annual Council for Australasian University Tourism and Hospitality Education (CAUTHE) held at Lincoln University last week.

Distinguished Professor and Director of the Centre for Mobilities Research at Lancaster University in the UK, John Urry addressed over 200 delegates from all over the world at the prestigious international tourism forum.

Now in its 23rd year, the CAUTHE conference represents universities in Australia and New Zealand that teach and research tourism and hospitality. This is the first year the event has been hosted in New Zealand.

Lincoln University Professor of Tourism  David Simmons says the address highlighted some of the challenges faced by the Australasian tourism industry.

“There are enormous challenges in a fuel- and carbon-constrained world,” says Professor Simmons. “But there are also significant opportunities for countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, in looking at the current industry in terms of the strength of our market proposition. We need to maintain our unique environment and engagement with our local culture to ensure a long-term point of difference.”

Professor John Urry’s keynote address looked at the importance of tourism and travel in an increasingly mobile world population.

“Although people don’t necessarily spend more time travelling now, they do travel a greater distance, and are able to maintain greater connections across time and space,” says Professor Urry.

“Throughout the 20th Century, an array of fast machines, new technology and streamlined ways of organising people meant an emergence of new environments to be visited – often from afar. It also set up patterns of ‘mobile lives’.”

A significant threat to that mobility is the lack of supply of oil, says Professor Urry.

“Almost all transportation – 95% – is oil-based. Oil is also part of many manufactured goods. 95% of food production and distribution is made possible by oil, and heating and power are also heavily reliant on oil. This means that a concentration of all social and political life is based on a single resource. But what happens when there is no oil? And how do you come up with a plan ‘B’ that will work on a global scale? So contemporary tourism and travel rests on a problematic resource.”

With more than half of the world population living less than 30 minutes from a major city, and only 10% of the world land area classified as ‘remote’, Professor Urry says people place a huge importance on miles travelled.

“If you look at the miles people and products travel, you can see the numerous ways in which people’s lives are dependent on oil. When Hurricane Katrina resulted in a fall in oil production, combined with a shortage in Gulf supplies, oil prices increased significantly. Financial collapse infiltrated ‘sub-prime suburbs’. Oil dependent suburbs were hit hard by these shortages – the further away you were from big cities, the higher the affect of foreclosures.

“Some say the financial crunch was the oil collapse – oil and finance are strongly linked. If there is only a limited amount of oil, the question is: who gets the oil; how much do they receive; and what are the consequences?”

As oil demand continues to outstrip supply, Professor Urry says the virtual world is not a solution. “The virtual world may replace the frequency with which we travel, but, in general, communications tend to enhance physical travel, not the other way around. And a digital world will still be extremely costly in terms of energy. There is a lot lost through digital experiences – travelling in the virtual world will never substitute the real thing.”

The week-long CAUTHE conference included a varied programme focusing on tourism, risk and resilience; global change and the environment; tourism, productivity and innovation; transforming people and places through tourism; and indigenous tourism in a changing world – among many other themes.


Page last updated on: 28/02/2013