Matt Damon, Jeffrey Sachs and Conde Nast Traveler Fight for Eco-Tourism

cntworld traveler09.23.08.jpgUnder a quotation chiseled 25 feet up the wall at Gotham Hall reading, “Waste neither time nor money but use both for your own and your neighbors. There is no gain so sure as that which results from economizing what you have.” Conde Nast Traveler held its second annual World Savers Congress, an event aimed at promoting eco-responsibility throughout the $8 trillion (soon to be $15 trillion) travel industry.

“You have the power to effect change,” CNT editor-in-chief Klara Glowczewska told the assorted editors, hoteliers and other industry people. “Nothing opens people’s eyes like traveling… travel breeds empathy.

CNT, which has been giving out environmental awards for the past 19 years, started the Congress in 2007 as a way to highlight resorts and other getaways that were doing eco-tourism right. The magazine honored 38 places in five categories — Poverty Alleviation, Environmental/Cultural Preservation, Education, Wildlife Conservation, Health — for their commitment to the topic and held four panels on subjects ranging from The Consumer to The Middle East.

What did Matt Damon, who wasn’t there, and economist Jeffrey Sachs, who was, have to offer to the proceedings?

Damon, the magazine’s September “Power of Travel” issue cover boy who appeared over video because he was at home with his newborn child, said he agreed to lend his name and face to the magazine because of its “commitment to social responsibility.” The actor claimed that there was no better tool for defeating “ignorance, small-mindedness and fear of otherness” than travel,” adding that “no one begrudges you a dollar of that profit.”

The movie star also issued a declaration sure to make industry experts swoon “The bigger your industry is, the better off we are,” he said. “I really believe that.”

Sachs, the Columbia economist and Bono buddy gave the morning’s keynote address, advocating for increased responsibility. “The one billion travelers every year can be one billion ambassadors,” the director of the UN Millennium Project said. Even when mailing in a speech, Sachs was impressively inspiring.

We tried to speak with him after his address, but he was already gone onto something else. Honestly, we were glad. Maybe there is hope for this world after all.

Highlights of the afternoon session included Ashley Judd, who Glowczewska called an “activist and a philanthropist” but not an actress, and a keynote from Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan.