After 18 months confined in our homes, the travel industry is coming back to life putting azure-blue waters, white sand beaches and infinity pools are back on the cards once again. While billionaires might see space as the future of tourism, we are hedging our bets on responsible and sustainable travel.
Travel in the aftermath of the pandemic
Coronavirus brought the travel industry to its knees in 2020. It has been reported that the Covid-19 Pandemic cost the Global Tourism Industry $935 billion in 2020. Spain, one of the planet’s most popular destinations saw its lowest number of annual visitors in 50 years, which resulted in $46,707 million in lost revenue. With the first half of 2021 similarly dominated by the pandemic, this year is likely to be badly affected as well. This UN report confirmed that global tourist arrivals in January 2021 were down 87% compared to January 2020.
For wealthier countries, where travel makes up a relatively small percentage of overall GDP, it is possible to mitigate some of the consequences but what about nations that rely heavily on tourism? The Caribbean, which typically depends heavily on tourism from the US, has been especially hard hit. Aruba, a paradise island in the South Caribbean, saw its GDP drop by 38.1%.
Before the pandemic, the travel and tourism sector accounted for one out of four new jobs created worldwide. According to Forbes, the pandemic put between 100 and 120 million jobs at risk as travel ground to a halt in 2020. The industry, and especially those who suffered significant financial hardship, are more than ready for tourism to restart. Before we pack our bags with the hottest eco swimwear and sunscreen, let’s zoom out and examine all of the ways we can support people on our next vacation.
A chance to build back better
People are craving adventure and respite after a difficult year and a half of lockdowns. While the idea of regenerative travel is not a new one, COVID hitting the pause button on travel for close to two years has provided an opportunity for the travellers and the industry to take stock and rethink how we do tourism. The ability to travel freely and experience the wonders of our beautiful planet is a great privilege and with all privilege comes responsibility. People who have the time and money to travel have an obligation to do so in a way that is positive.
The travel industry can be very extractive – every year, millions flock to the most beautiful corners of the world to rest and pamper themselves, indulge in luxury and take in the stunning natural views the world has to offer. This is often seen as a form of neo-colonialism that is still deeply rooted in the belief that the earth and all its offerings are there for us to take as much of as we like without returning or regenerating.
As an industry, like most, travel has been focussed on growth. Rather than considering impact, a “good year” for tourist boards and travel agents has been one that has demonstrated considerable year on year growth. This has unfortunately been at the detriment of “local lifestyles and landscapes.” When an area is particularly reliant on tourism for income, sustainable travel is sadly an afterthought for the most part.
It’s also noting here that vaccine rollout has been anything but equal. The US and Western European nations have offered vaccinations to the majority of their eligible population now and uptake has been high. However, there are still countries that will not have access to vaccines until 2023. As vaccinated travellers from wealthy countries start to board flights to less wealthy countries on vacation, they are potentially bringing the virus with them and health systems may become overwhelmed.
Depending on where you are travelling from and to, restrictions will vary. Before you fly, check what the requirements are for vaccination status, testing, quarantine at the destination and quarantine when you return. It’s vital to remain vigilant and do everything we can to stop the spread of the virus, even more so in countries where the majority of people work in hospitality or are front line workers without the option of working at home and where the healthcare infrastructure is already stretched. Wearing a mask, using hand sanitiser and keeping a social distance are all still so important in helping to reduce cases of coronavirus, irrespective of whether local laws enforce them. In cases where you are free to quarantine at home, make sure you complete the full time needed.
Hawaii – a case study in tourism gone awry
Documentary photographer, filmmaker and journalist, Marie Hobro, shared photos some worrying photos of her home state Hawai’i on her Instagram account. In her caption, she raises some of the many serious issues that overtourism can bring to preferred vacation hot spots.
“I’ve never seen this amount of overcrowding in my lifetime. I’ve never been around so many people with such blatant disrespect for human life and land. From the crowds of maskless tourists to the heaps of rubbish, being in Waikīkī is infuriating….Tourism does not nourish Hawaiʻi’s people”, Hobro said. She goes on to describe a tourist industry in Hawai’i that is oppressive in its nature and serves only the wealthy – corporations, rich tourists and government officials. She notes several local problems that are commonly described in other popular destinations including the high cost of living compared to low average wages, lack of PPE and protection for workers in the industry, increased traffic which in some instances prevented ambulances from getting to hospitals, vandalised sacred sites and rise in cases of COVID19. Horbo laments that “The people of Hawai’i are tired, angry, and traumatized. It’s so blatant how much money and the “TrAvel BuG” are valued over our lives.”
Most travellers do want change
While this example does paint a bleak picture, and Hawai’i is by no means an isolated incident, research carried out by Booking.com discovered that an overwhelming majority of tourists want to see positive change. This shows an exciting trend towards more sustainable travel.
From responsible to regenerative
Often when we take a vacation, we become a slightly different version of ourselves. Holidays are an opportunity to abandon rigid routines, unplug from devices, embrace a different pace and try new things. Throwing caution to the wind, it’s easy to forget the little green steps we usually take in our day to day lives like remembering our water bottles, composting food waste and saying no to single-use. These options may not even be available to us depending on where we are. Travelling responsibly aims to reduce any harmful impact on people or the environment. But, we can go one step further and use travel to make a positive impact. This looks like viewing everything from transport, hospitality and tours as an opportunity to drive environmental and social change that benefits the local and global community.
Founded by Amanda Ho and David Leventhal, Regenerative Travel is a travel agent for conscious tourists. Sustainable travel is about so much more than just using eco-friendly products. Their tour offerings are based on strong values that any ethical globe-trotter should consider.
> “Honouring Place” – harmonious and integrated with their surroundings and sensitive to the natural environment, history and culture.
> “Inclusivity” – welcoming all people and work consciously to even out the current imbalance for underrepresented communities.
> “Responsible & Ethically” – sound ethical values in every element of operations, taking into account the wellbeing of communities and ecosystems of which we are a part of.
> “Respects Local & Global Ecosystems” – assessed and are aware of any negative environmental impact we may have and show commitment to reducing such impact. We monitor water use, energy use and waste production, and avoid single-use plastic.
The company runs “eco-luxury” tours around and you should absolutely be adding them to your travel bucket list! For those on a tighter budget, you can plan your own trip using these same principles.
Education through travel
Sustainable travel allows us to learn about different geographies and cultures from the people themselves. It also presents an opportunity to build coalitions and amplify marginalised voices. Digital educator and founder of the controversially titled Instagram account How Not To Travel Like Basic Bitch (HNTTLABB), Dr. Kiona creates educational trips in countries like El Salvador and Cuba. Kiona explains what travelling like a ‘basic bitch’ looks like in this amusing blog. Don’t fret, you can keep the pumpkin spice lattes, ‘basic’ travelling is associated with abuse of privilege and disregard for local communities.
HNTTLABB tours are run in collaboration with locals who create unique and educational experiences, allowing them to tell the stories of their country and community in their own way and on their own terms. In addition to stimulating the local economy through tours, Kiona also runs a Patreon page which generates funds to support causes in the area and provide extra cash to her teams on the ground when they need it. On a recent trip to El Salvador, Dr Kiona discovered that many of the locals she was collaborating with had not seen some of the renowned local attractions because they couldn’t afford it. Kiona wanted to change that so she organised a car and took the group out to enjoy the wonders of their own region. You can book these once-in-a-lifetime trips, and check out a library of non-basic travel guides, on the HNTTLABB website.
OK, so let’s address the elephant in the room – air travel. Flying and sustainable travel don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. The aviation industry is majorly problematic for two big reasons; waste and CO2 emissions. For frequent travellers, air travel makes up the lion’s share of emissions. However, the global aviation industry accounts for just 2.5% of global emissions. This is largely down to sizeable inequalities in how much people fly. Most of the world’s population does not fly often, if at all.
You may have heard of “The Greta Effect”. When teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg, famously pledged to go ceased flying due to concerns about carbon emissions it resulted in a global rethink about the way we travel. The term flygskam (flight shame) was coined in Thunberg’s home country of Sweden to describe the shift in attitudes towards air travel.
The concept of slow travel aims to encourage frequent flyers to reassess their habit of plan hopping around the world. One of the most effective ways to do this is to ditch flying altogether and make the most of the world’s extensive train networks. Did you know that the longest train trip you can take will get you from Portugal all the way to Vietnam? The journey covers a distance of 17,000 km and would take 12 to 13 days without breaks to complete but with stop-offs in France, Germany, Poland and Russia you can slow down even further and enjoy all the landmarks along the way.
Advocates for slow travel pose the idea of alternating your overseas trips with a year exploring the hidden treasures of your own country. If you take a longer trip abroad in 2021, think about staying for an extended period. With many jobs now adapted for WFH, you can work remotely for a spell and stay put even longer to soak as much of the culture and beauty as possible before heading back home. Then in 2022, you might choose a staycation you can reach by land travel. We are sure there are many gorgeous spots you’ve been meaning to check out right on your doorstep.
The UK is interesting in case, that bucks a trend or two. While globally, aviation creates 2.5% of emissions, that jumps to 7% for Brits. Flights to Europe have been uber-cheap for decades. Sun-starved Brits flock to hotter parts of Europe like Spain, Portugal and Greece every year for two weeks of sun, sea and sangria costing as little as £9.99. Additionally, domestic travel in the UK can also be inaccessible to many. Train travel is notoriously pricey and the cost of living is much higher. A train from London to Cornwall, England’s answer to the Mediterranean, can cost hundreds and when you get there, accommodation, dining and day trips will keep overall costs very high.
“Revenge travel” is expected as people aim to make up for time lost during the strictest lockdowns and start clocking up those air miles once again causing concern for many environmentalists. Flight Free UK is a social movement to save the planet, by asking people to take a flight-free year. Pledgers can add their name to a growing list of people committing to go flight free for a year, a season or even for life! But until domestic options become more widely accessible, Britons are unlikely to be keen to give up affordable foreign holidays with a guarantee of much-desired sunny weather.
Perhaps the rail network in the UK could look to its German neighbours for some inspiration? The German train company, Deutsche Bahn, launched a campaign a couple of years ago addressing a similar issue. Their mission was to encourage Germans to take staycations instead of jetting around the globe and to make use of their train network to do it. The eye-catching campaign featured much-loved landscapes and city skylines popular with travellers, with uncanny German look-alikes and price comparison of airline tickets vs train prices. Why travel by plane and pay EUR1,000 when you can hop on a train and see the same thing right on your doorstep for EUR19!
It would be fantastic for the sustainable travel movement if more countries rolled out similar messaging making exploring your own country every bit as desirable as flying overseas.
Top Tips – from our friends at @ecomadic
Ecomadic is an online travel magazine and marketplace that curates the best food, destinations and experiences on offer for the conscious traveller. They have compiled a comprehensive checklist for before, during and after your trip to maximise the positive impact you can have on your favourite far-flung destinations. They include everything from how to reduce plastic use to where to buy an ethical souvenir and how you can continue to create a positive impact after your stay.
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Before your travels…
Pre-plan your trip to be sustainably efficient.
> Book with trusted eco-accommodations and ethical tour companies that are accessible to your specific needs.
> Strategically route your trip to produce the least amount of carbon — especially if you’re hitting more than one destination!
> Buy a pre-carbon offset flight on Ecomadic or contribute to trustworthy carbon projects.
> Consider your own needs and ensure that your health and safety will be properly accounted for in case anything goes awry.
> Be sure that your passport is up to date and check whether you will need a visa to enter your destination(s).
> Check your local government websites to read up on travel warnings and advisories issued for the countries you’ll be visiting.
> Stop by your local travel clinic to get any necessary vaccinations and fill any prescriptions to keep you safe and healthy while abroad.
> Familiarise yourself with the local laws, customs, norms, and traditions to leave a positive impression and avoid any offensive behaviour.
> Learn some of the language basics. A simple “hello” , “thank you” , or “goodbye” in the native tongue is a simple way to show your appreciation to the local people.
Be considerate about:
> How you dress.
> Who and what you take pictures and videos of.
> How you handle business transactions — haggle like a pro when appropriate (sometimes it is expected and rude not to!) but don’t take it too far, chances are the people making the sale need that extra dollar more than you do. And don’t forget to tip if customary!
> Engaging in public displays of affection — there’s a time and place for everything, and it’s best not to risk offending the local community.
> Making direct eye contact or disrespectful gestures.
> Recognising the alcohol & drug policies.
During your travels…
> Respect the local culture & heritage.
> Embrace unique traditions by trying something new — who knows you may even surprise yourself!
> Follow traditions to the degree that is expected by tourists. While you may not agree with all practices, you are the guest so it is best to be tolerant.
> Do not remove or purchase any historical relics.
> Spend your money locally to support the people both socially and economically.
> Choose wisely where you shop, dine, stay, and tour.
> Buy souvenirs/handicrafts that are ethically sourced or made by local artisans.
> Say no to exploitation. This includes child-related situations (i.e. handing out gifts/money to beggars, orphanage tours), sex tourism, and disadvantaged individuals.
> Conserve the natural environment and protect wildlife.
> Minimise your impact by limiting the amount of single-use plastics and other disposables.
> Do not litter and properly discard all waste.
> Consider the local community’s access to water and be mindful of any excess usage.
> Save energy where possible (i.e. turn off lights/aircon when not in use, unplug appliances, re-use linens/towels).
> Consider alternative travel methods that produce less carbon. Such as, walking, biking, or taking public transportation.
> Opt for plant-based, local, and sustainably sourced dishes to lessen your CO2 emissions, save water, combat the ongoing deforestation crisis, and aid in saving our oceans.
> Do not remove any objects from their natural habitat or purchase any souvenirs/products that negatively impact the natural or living environment. For example, corals, seashells, animal parts.
Think before you participate in any wildlife activities. Be mindful to:
> Support places where animals are free to express normal behaviours, roam free, and safe distances between humans are kept.
> Ensure animals are not in any pain or discomfort.
> Never touch, feed, or take pictures with animals who are supposed to be wild unless under special circumstances; such as: the saving of disadvantaged/exploited animals who cannot be released back into their natural habitats.
After your travels…
> Continue to leave a positive impact by:
> Leaving reviews with constructive feedback and comments for local businesses and fellow travellers.
> Following through with any promises made abroad.
> Reporting any human rights or wildlife exploitation that you experienced to appropriate bodies.
> Educating others on how you travelled sustainably so that they can also make a positive impact.
We hope you have a safe and restorative break this summer, wherever you decide to go!
FEATURED IMAGE: by Florida-Guidebook.com via Unsplash | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A brown road sign reads “Please Take Nothing But Pictures, Leave Nothing But Footprints”. In the background is the lush green foliage of a tropical forest.
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