ExperiencePlus! Blog

The Future Of Travel – Sustainability

Speculation about who, how, when and what the future of travel will look like fills my inbox every day.  Newsletters from every corner of the travel industry include surveys, articles and industry experts imagining what will happen next. In an effort to summarize all the ideas and speculation we have started a new series in our newsletter called the Future of Travel.

The World Travel and Tourism Council published a report in collaboration with the leading management consulting firm Oliver Wyman in September 2020 that summarizes the four major trends they see in the Travel and Tourism space due to COVID-19.  Here is a summary of the last trend identified in the report and one that we feel is most important to examine as we consider tourism and travel in a post Covid world.

4. Sustainability

When the word “sustainability” is used as a catch all, it often loses some of its power and meaning.  In this case, when we talk about “sustainability” it is an all encompassing idea and way of thinking about how tourism and travel has evolved and needs to evolve.  For years there have been conversations about how over-tourism is becoming a problem as crowds visiting various “wonders” of the world are making those “wonders” erode.  And yet, the importance of the tourism economy to the economic sustainability of certain regions is evident more than ever as we see what happens to certain jobs and demographics as we experience a global slow down in travel.  The main take-aways on why sustainability is so important to think about when considering the future of travel boiled down to 4 topics:

    • Environmental Impacts of Tourism – the environment improved when the world stopped traveling for a few months. This has highlighted that the footprint of travel is heavy and so it seems consumers are more aware of the impact travel has on the environment. Crowd moderation will be vital and digital solutions may be embraced as we all are more used to electronic ticketing systems.  The hardest part of this will be to make sure places won’t start to be accessible only to the highest bidders. Exploring new places is not just for those that can pay for exclusivity but should remain open to all.
    • Conservation needs to not just depend on tourism – As wild animals returned to urban environments (kangaroos in Sydney, lions on golf courses in S. Africa) people seem to be more aware of the impact people have on the animal kingdom.  On the other hand, conservationists have been gravely hampered by COVID-19 due to budget shortfalls (85% of S. Africa’s funding to manage lands came from tourism sources) and a lack of enforcement in areas that normally would have travelers there to sustain jobs means those same people unfortunately turn to poaching.
    • Strengthen Local Workforce Support  – Many of the jobs that were cut during the shutdown in the travel and tourism (and specifically the hospitality industry) were jobs that disproportionally belonged to women and minorities therefore increasing the socio-economic gap that are already causing strife and protests around the world. Highlighting this in a report won’t fix the problem, but thinking about these inequalities as we return to a “new” normal may be important as governments and the private sector think about what protections need to be put in place so that the impact isn’t felt so much by certain demographics if something like this happens again.
    • Nurture Local Communities and Local Voices – The importance of remembering that when we travel we are guests in a community. If we as travelers keep that in mind we can make sure we also keep all of the above issues in mind.  The only way travel can be sustainable is if the places we visit want you to be there.  Understanding how to tread lightly and respectfully will be more important for everyone as we start to cross borders once again.

Here at ExperiencePlus! we feel lucky that when we think about where to travel we are often looking for the “off the beaten track” roads and destinations.  We also feel strongly about supporting the local businesses when we travel by staying in local hotels and not chains, eating at local restaurants and working with local tour leaders. It is also true that some of those places that used to be hidden gems are being discovered and already feel crowded.  The good news is that there are many places to visit in the world and so our goal will be to continue to visit the hot spots, but you may notice fewer departures or more seasonal dates as we try and avoid the crowds.

We are proud to be a part of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. ATTA’s president Shannon Stowell was interviewed in July of 2020 by Sustainability Leaders website in July 2020 and specifically spoke about how niche travel like Adventure Travel will be so important as global borders open and people start to explore the world.

Stowell was listed as one of Outside Magazine’s Outsiders of the year in 2019 and when asked what the solution to overtourism might be he said “The industry should stop using arrivals as a measure of success. Instead we should ask: How are the locals doing? How is the social fabric? How is the wildlife doing? Places that are good to live in are good to visit. I wouldn’t mind seeing arrivals decline until we get it right.”

Now that the world has experienced a year of declining arrivals, we hope there has been some time to reflect and think about how to start to back up and make sure we are being responsible travelers and not forgetting the valuable lessons learned from this past year; travel is a privilege and the environment and local communities need a balanced approach to how we all start to move around again.

For the full WTTC report go here.

See our other posts in the Future of Travel series.