Interview – July 2017: Maribel Rodríguez
Regional Director, Southern Europe and Latin America
World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC)
1. From your current role within the organization, what are the objectives that that you have set for the short and medium term?
As Regional Director, my goal is to expand the presence of WTTC in Southern Europe and Latin America.
In the medium term, we hope that by expanding the membership in this region, WTTC can increase support to influence specific government policies on issues that are important within these regions.
In the short term, the next WTTC World Summit will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in April 2018 and I am very involved in the collaboration with our hosts: Ministry of Tourism, Inprotur, CAT (Chamber of Tourism) and Ente de la Ciudad. The Summit will greatly showcase Argentina and its capital Buenos Aires as top tourist destinations and will be a sample of the government’s efforts to develop the sector through investment in connectivity and its many innovative digital projects. It will bring together more than 750 outstanding leaders from the public and private sectors of Travel and Tourism to discuss the most urgent issues that our industry faces globally but also in the region.
2. In the year of sustainable tourism, which were the main activities promoted by the Council? What improvements have you observed driven by the actions you are taking?
In January this year, WTTC launched a Declaration on the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. This Declaration includes a Manifesto that invites all tourism companies and specific member companies to join in the commitment to the sustainable growth of Travel and Tourism.
In addition, the WTTC World Summit in 2017 was one of the iconic events of the International Year. Its theme “Transforming Our World” was in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals launched in 2016 and the Summit program focused on the sustainable growth of our sector.
WTTC’s Future Tourism strategy seeks to balance the growth of the Travel and Tourism sector with the preservation of local communities, the environment and cultural heritage. As part of the strategy we organize the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, a prestigious program that celebrates business leadership in the future of sustainable tourism. Each year the award-winners and finalists demonstrate best practices and business leadership in sustainable growth in Travel and Tourism and set a real example to other companies within the industry.
We also run several social media campaigns that focus primarily on reaching the consumer. At our World Summit in Bangkok in April this year we launched the campaign “Is it Too Much to Ask?”. This is a campaign asking everyone to promise to perform individual actions that can collectively make a difference for the world.
Along with our activities that directly engage travelers and the general public, WTTC talks with government agencies and the private sector about policies and solutions on how to build a tourism product that can really help sustain or rebuild environment and cultural heritage. The basis for these recommendations is derived from our research on a variety of topics within sustainable travel.
Last year, we launched our second research work on climate change “Connecting Global Climate Action” which reports on the commitments and actions of WTTC member companies to reduce the impact of their business on climate change.
WTTC has also developed a paper analyzing the Sustainability Report, which helps companies to report on the Environment, Society and Governance (ESG), and is a method by which companies demonstrate a commitment to transparency and, through the reporting processes, management approaches to proactively address externalities are articulated and advanced.
We will be releasing an update on our report this summer.
At the end of this year, the WTTC will also publish a study analyzing the causes, impact and possible solutions of what in the media is called “overcrowded destinations” and “over-tourism”.
3. What would you recommend to an investor or hotelier to maximize the sustainability of their business? What benefits can they observe in the medium term by implementing good practices for sustainable tourism?
We hope that through the measurement, monitoring and management of negative and positive impacts on destination and company level, and implementing policies that protect people and places through commitment to a growth model that includes all stakeholders, we can grow our industry in a sustainable way and continue to make it economically viable. Our
Sustainability Reports, as mentioned above, are a great guide for companies to get involved in this.
It is not a question of finding out whether companies operating in Travel and Tourism see the benefits of applying sustainability policies, it is a must. If organizations and consumers do not assume their responsibilities to offer more sustainable business and travel in a more sustainable way, in the end there will be no products to offer or enjoy.
Fortunately, we already see an increase in awareness and action among the travel and tourism sector and consumers of “greener” tourism products and of more sustainable options, but we still have a long way to go so the next generations will be key to help us preserve the world’s assets and the key is to get involved.
4. What is your view on the arrival of low cost airlines to Latin America? What factors have contributed to their growth in the region? What is the current percentage of low-cost flights and what is the expected growth?
According to CAPA (Center of Aviation), 20% of the seats of international airlines are low cost (LCC) and about one third of domestic airplanes are low cost in Latin America. In general, low-cost airlines have a low share in the region compared to Europe where Low Cost accounts for about 40% and in Southeast Asia where more than 50% of domestic seats are low-cost.
We have seen in other parts of the world that LCCs can be a stimulus for connectivity and growth by connecting new destinations that may be under-served by traditional carriers and giving access to air travel to travelers who could not afford it before.
5. Over the last years, regional companies have consolidated. How do you see this trend for the coming years and what markets will these companies target?
There has been indeed a growth of consolidation in the sector over the last couple of years. In the hotel sector specific, Marriot acquiring Starwood and then merging is one of the biggest global examples, as bedbank Hotelbeds buying Tourico is in the Latin American market.
Consolidation has been increasing as an effect of the growing international character and scale of the industry, which can give large consolidated companies an advantage over the smaller individual companies.
You can also see this reflected in the growth of online aggregators, which shows that companies (airlines, hotels, etc.) need to compete with them. This is easier if they have a large inventory themselves and therefore companies seek to acquire and merge to operate more competitively.
6. Latin America has great potential for growth in terms of airlines. This arouses the interest of extra-regional investors and several foreign groups have already landed in regional airlines. How is the current investment scenario in the region?
Good connectivity is extremely important for economic growth of countries and/or regions and according to a report by WTTC, “Travel & Tourism investment in the Americas”, many countries in Latin America are not on track to invest enough to address current infrastructure deficiencies. Therefore, there is much room for investment in infrastructure and, while not restricted to aviation or specific airlines, it definitely plays an important role in connecting cities, countries and even regions.
7. What are your expectations for the next edition of SAHIC South America in Buenos Aires?
I look forward to listening to the great speakers and interesting topics that will be discussed at the conference. South America is a major tourist region and has a lot of potential to grow.
In 2016, Travel & Tourism contributed US $ 328 billion or 8.8% of the region’s GDP. It is forecasted to increase by 2.1% in 2017 and increase by 3.5% per year over the next decade. In addition, our sector accounted for over 7.8% of total employment (16,108,500 jobs), which is expected to grow by 2.7% in 2017 and an increase of 2.3% per year is expected by 2027.
In addition, as next year WTTC will bring to Buenos Aires its Global Summit, it is also a great opportunity to get to know the city and its tourism leaders on the way until April 2018.
Maribel Rodriguez joined the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) in June 2014 as Regional Director, Southern Europe and Latin America.
With Chairmen and Chief Executives of 160 of the world’s leading Travel & Tourism companies as its Members, WTTC has a unique mandate and overview on all matters related to business and leisure travel. The organization works to raise awareness of Travel & Tourism as one of the world’s largest industries, driving employment of 292 million people and generating over 10 per cent of world GDP at $7.6 trillion.
She has built an extensive network within the Travel and Tourism industry public and private sector, accumulating over 18 years of sales, marketing, communication and commercial experience in Europe.
Maribel was Commercial Director and Board Member for Travelodge Hotels Spain from May 2008 to June 2014, serving as Council Member of Madrid Hotels Association (AEHM) and the Tourism Commission to promote Madrid as a destination.
Prior to this she spent 11 years in the aviation industry, where she gained extensive experience in all aspects of commercial aviation. She managed the introduction of low cost airline operations in to the Southern European market for the following companies: Virgin Express, Go-Fly, EasyJet and Ryanair. At Ryanair she supervised the opening of 21 airports and over 190 routes across Europe, setting up multiple operational bases on the continent. Additionally she worked for GB Airways, franchise partner of British Airways in Spain, Portugal and France, which was eventually acquired and integrated into that company.
Executive MBA from Comillas ICADE Business School and Industrial Psychology Degree from University of Salamanca, with secondments in Coimbra, Portugal and Leuven, Belgium. She just finished a Senior Executive Program for Travel & Tourism at IESE & JSF.