Is 2018 the year of action for sustainable travel?
Last week Holly Tuppen attended the World Travel and Tourism Council’s sustainable travel awards — Tourism for Tomorrow — to find out what trends are leading the way and how we can do our bit.
Mon 30 Apr 2018
Along with the words ‘luxury’ and ‘organic’, the term ‘sustainable travel’ is becoming so overused, it’s in danger of meaning nothing at all.
Hot on the heels of consumer demand for brands that ‘do good’, bandwagon-jumpers (from the hotel chains expanding so fast it’s hard to keep up, to the bloggers posting photos of themselves riding elephants with hashtags like #saveourelephants) are in danger of putting everyone off.
So how can you identify what’s genuine?
The Tourism for Tomorrow Awards is a good benchmark. Organised by the World Travel and Tourism Council, a panel of judges including academics and experts collectively spend more than 100 hours assessing applications.
While interviewing the fifteen finalists last week, some common and heartening characteristics stood out; embracing the grassroots, long-term commitment (over a period of 10 years or more) and putting purpose before self.
If 2017 was the year of sustainable travel awareness (partly thanks to the UNWTO’s ‘Year of Sustainable Travel’ campaign), 2018 should be the year of action.
Here’s how the Tourism for Tomorrow finalists are leading the charge:
Designing ‘impact travel’ experiences
Move over transformational experiences and eco-travel; the next trend is ‘impact travel’ where the very act of travelling has a positive impact on people and the environment.
Winner of this year’s Tourism for Tomorrow community award, Global Himalayan Expedition proves that the simplest ideas are often the most effective.
Since 2015 Paras Loomba has been leading trekking groups to remote Himalayan villages to install solar micro-grids, often to a chorus of tears and laughter as villagers see electric light for the first time.
If hiking up the world’s highest mountains sounds a little strenuous, TREE Alliance might be more up your street. TREE identifies children-at-risk in locations throughout South East Asia to provide them with support and work skills. TREE's restaurants facilitate the process — profits go to support networks and employees are mostly former street-kids training on the job.
Image From social enterprise restaurants to expeditions that give back, make your trip achieve more than just great photos
“If the communities surrounding the parks have a meaningful relationship with the land and wildlife, they have a reason to protect it”
Putting people first
Investment in people is a theme that rings true time and time again when it comes to the travel companies and hotels getting it right by their guests, local communities and the environment.
For Hans Pfister, founder of Cayuga Collection in Central America, the growth and development of an (over 95%) local workforce is what makes the business tick — from construction worker to assistant manager, from receptionist to general manager, from gardener to bamboo-straw entrepreneur — the examples go on and on.
&Beyond knows that people need to be at the heart of conservation too. When asked why working with local communities is a priority, Jason King, regional director of Southern Africa for &Beyond observes, “If the communities surrounding the parks have a meaningful relationship with the land and wildlife, they have a reason to protect it.”
Image Book your hols with hotel brands and tour companies who demonstrate how they support local communities
Creating intelligent destinations
The world is open to more people than ever before (by 2030 two billion people are expected to travel overseas every year) and poorly managed hotspots are crumbling under strain.
Some destinations are taking warning signs, like the recent closing of Boracay in the Philippines, seriously.
The Riverwind Foundation is paving the way for 42,000-square-miles surrounding Jackson Hole in Wyoming to become a world-leading sustainable destination; there over 300 businesses have united behind a vision that puts long-term environmental and social prosperity before short-term economic wins.
In Canada, the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association is using ‘Big Data’ to divert tourists to under-visited areas, promote cultural and environmental tourism over ‘summer fun’ and increase the length of the season to 200 days — making tourism a more sustainable option for everyone.
Making nature inclusive
It’s all too easy for the natural world to become the preserve of a wealthy elite, or worst still, tourists.
It’s heartening to see organisations trying to shift the balance. The creation of Parque Arví outside of Medellin in Colombia, which is connected to the city via cable car, is an inspiration for cities around the world.
Since 2010 over four million people have visited the park, 80% of which come from Medellin’s poorest demographic. Before it opened there were only four metres of green space per resident, now there are 12.
After realising how hard it is for residents in Toronto, Canada to access nearby parks without a car, Boris Issaev and Alexander Berlyand set up Park Bus. Now operating in four locations across Canada and on trial in Mexico City, Park Bus not only reduces traffic but provides a support network to refugees, single-mums and other less mobile parts of the population who would otherwise struggle to get out in nature.
For more information about the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards click here.