17 September, 2021
Global tourism is an industry with huge social, environmental and economic impacts. By 2030 there will be 1.8 billion tourist arrivals, generating almost 2000 million tons of CO2, as well as contributing around 10% to global GDP. Tourism matters, for better and worse.
Although the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the industry, it has also provided a unique opportunity to reset and rethink. And with changes to the travel restrictions announced this week, it’s time to reflect on what a sustainable travel industry could look like.
Operators are under increasing pressure from governments and NGOs and most importantly consumers to make practices more sustainable and elevate the positive socio-cultural, economic, and environmental aspects of tourism. However, at the moment the focus has tended to be on what can be easily communicated in a brochure, rather than sustainable system-wide change. There is too much emphasis on nicely packaged narratives that give travellers a feel-good factor without really addressing the fundamental impacts of tourism. The industry is not helping itself, with over 150 eco-label schemes that make regulation, comparison, and accountability difficult, as summed up nicely in this blog post from Alice Gill.
Instead, the sector needs to ensure the use of more credible offsetting schemes, increased transparency, and the standardisation of certification processes. It needs to measure, publish, and invest in genuine changes to hotels, food, transport, employment and more, and focus on the big hard wins rather than the easy but ultimately meaningless gestures. This means reducing transport emissions ahead of implementing towel reuse schemes or selling an eco-resort holiday without offsetting the long-haul flight required to get there.
We all want a holiday. But not at any cost.
By Chris Perera